Posts filed under ‘500 Block Figueroa’

Architects’ Building

It’s not an Edwardian octoplex full of grime and grifters. It’s not even on Bunker Hill. But we’re going to tell the tale of the Architects’ Building, and if not to you, faithful OBHer, then to whom?

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All and sundry weep for the Richfield. It’s not altogether true that everyone turned a blind eye during its ‘68-9 demo. Even the Government knew enough to come on out with its Instamatic and take lots of snaps.

The November 1968 Times article “Black and Gold Landmark: End Arrives for LA’s Richfield Building” discusses those architecture students who believed the structure a remarkable example of “Jazz Moderne” worthy of preservation.

Wreckers who inspected the building the other day couldn’t believe the beautiful condition it is in. Atlantic Richfield officials, who completed the move of their offices to temporary quarters in Union Bank Square over the weekend, have acknowledged its beauty. The structure is being torn down “with tears in our eyes” they once said.

And the only mention of the Architects’ Building at 816 West Fifth (which by 1968 had been renamed the Douglas Oil building) and which shared the block with the Richfield was as such:

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…and that was the end of that. According to Cleveland Wrecking’s general manager, the million-dollar site clearance project, of the block bordered by Fifth, Flower, Sixth, and Figueroa, was the largest ever undertaken in the West.

What is this Architects’ Building of which we speak? Who architected this interbellum edifice?

Downtown is very nearly defined by Parkinson, and you can’t mention LA without Morgan, Walls & Clements (Stiles sitting in the softest spot of this writer’s heart), and if I mention Walker and Eisen, you’ll say Yaaay! and I’ll agree, and we’ll high-five, and then get cut off and kicked out of wherever we are. It sure is swell to take those Conservancy tours and see all these places, but when the Conservancy cats go back to their digs, they return to a Dodd and Richards.

And you say, who?

William J. Dodd, student of Jenney and Beman is one of the great Midwestern architects. He came to California and is credited—though scholars still dispute to what extent—with a portion of Julia Morgan’s 1914-15 Examiner Building. This he did with his partner at the time J. Martyn Haenke. In 1916 he partners with engineer William Richards. They produced so many an important Los Angeles structure that I will at some point in the near future add their full history as a comment appendage to this text, to keep from having too many appetizers before our twelve-story entrée.

We’re talking about the southeast corner of Fifth and Figueroa, not to be confused with our friend on the kitty-corner to the northwest, the Monarch Hotel.

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The first rumblings about the southeast corner of Fifth and Figueroa come in February 1926, when mention is made of preliminary plans and lease negotionations for a million-dollar skyscraper to house LA’s building trade. Sponsoring the project are Morgan, Walls and Clements, Dodd and Richards, Reginald D. Johnson, Webber, Staunton and Spaulgin, Carlton Monroe Winslow, Elmer Gray and McNeal Swasey.

The big announcement is made in February 1927 about the $650,000 height-limit to be built on the southeast corner of the Fifth and Figueroa. To be known as the Architect’s Building, after New York and Chicago, it would be the third of its nature in America: a whole structure exclusively devoted to the various branches of the construction industries. It is to be of a “modified Italian” architectural treatment according to the associated architects drawing up the specifications: Roland E. Coate, Dodd and Richards, Reginald D. Johnson, McNeal Swasey, Carleton Monroe Winslow, and Witmer and Watson.

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Twelve stories high, with a site of 60 by 156 feet, it is to be of steel reinforced concrete, 143 offices, its exterior finished in plaster with cast-stone trimmings. Its seven upper floors of the building are to be leased to prominent architects, its first floor and mezzanine to be occupied by the Metropolitan Exhibit of Building Materials—a massive exhibit of every branch of the building industry, renamed the Architects’ Building Materials Exhibit.

By November of 1927, the building was nearing completion. Preston S. Wright, president of Wright-Aiken, owners of the AB, ran down some of the tenants: Rapid Blueprint Company; D. C. Writhg, insurance; E. E. Holmes, insurance; William Simpson Construction Company, builders; Brian D. Seaver, attorney; and architects D & R, Coate, Johnson, Winslow, and William Lee Wollett.

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816 opens in January, 1928. It came in at $662,000.

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The depression would not be good to the Architects’. It was foreclosed on its $360,000 outstanding bonds in February 1933. It was put under federal receivership and forced into a court-ordered sale, which didn’t occur until May of 1938, when an F. V. Fallgren and associate could pony up the 300k to a trustee representing the bondholder’s committee.

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The Architects’ Building survives just fine through the 40s and 50s.

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One bit of drama: Evans Erskine, 34, a jobless Air Corps vet, figured that 1955 would be Year Last. He climbed to the ninth-floor fire escape of the Architects’ Building and hoisted himself over the railing. Richard McGowan, a controller for Dames & Moore Civil Engineers, ran down the hall and and grabbed the hands of the nattily dressed, ledge-teetering Erskine poised 100 feet above Fifth Street. Here, McGowan reenacts his daring hand-grabbing:

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In 1959 it is purchased by Douglas Oil, a southern California independent who run three refineries and 300-some gas stations in the Southland. It remains the Douglas Oil building despite Douglas’ purchase by Continental Oil (AKA Conoco) in 1961.

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It’s the 1960s when the folk in 816, heck, the building itself, could hear the dirge of doom wafting on the wind. Listen, it’s coming from over by the Richfield building.

Richfield, another oil company, who owned that big ol’ black and gold tower to the south, had merged with east coasters Atlantic Refining in 1966. Richfield had already begun buying up the block for piecemeal parking, and as Atlantic-Richfield Co. they purchased the whole kit. And kaboodle. That called for the end of the Architects’, as ARCO intended to build not one but two Miesian towers (though their New York twin-tower counterparts broke ground four years earlier, there appears to be an aesthetic epoch between AC Martin’s work and Yamasaki’s tube-frame twins of lower Manhattan, whose postmodern sensibility stems from a neo-Gothic use of aluminum).

1967, and all’s well:

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1969, during the demolition. The Architects’ Building, now one-fifth off! The Richfield, now with two-thirds less Richfield!

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1970, towers going in.

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Left to right, the Tishman Building (Victor Gruen, 1960, though you know it like this), Glore Forgan Staats, the Gates Hotel (now a fine Brooks Bros), St. Paul’s Cathedral (razed), the Hilton (note how it changed from the Statler to the Hilton between 67 and 69), the Jonathan Club , the Carlton Hotel (razed), Caldwell Banker.

Below, today. Note the wee bit of the Jonathan peeking out.

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The ARCO Towers still stand in all their glory. For now.

Another shot of the demolition. The Sunkist, Engstrum and Edison line Fifth. The Telephone Tower on Grand. In the distance, left, Bunker Hill Towers going up.

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A mid-60s aerial. Central Library bottom right. The Sunkist at Fifth and Hope. Halfway up Hope behind the Sunkist, the tiny Sons of the Revolution and the Santa Barbara. The big apartment building at the southwest corner of Fourth and Hope was the Barbara Worth.

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Of course we’re not getting away without the requisite model and Sanborn additions:

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Note how Fourth Street ends at Flower. Compare to the 60s aerials which indicate the magnitude of the 1954 Fourth Street Cut.

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Just to clear up one bit of confusion. Despite early mention that this building was to be of the combined effort of Roland E. Coate, Dodd and Richards, Reginald D. Johnson, McNeal Swasey, Carlton Monroe Winslow, and Witmer and Watson…it’s a Dodd and Richards. Even Adrian Wilson, who in April 1967 wisecracked “I hope our new location won’t be so temporary” in an article about his having to move out of the AB after thirty-nine years, remarks that Dodd and Richards designed the building—and he should know, the plans for 816 are inscribed with his own initials, as he was their draftsman before he hung out his own shingle when the building opened in 1928.

Clockwise from the south: Sixth, Figueroa, Fifth, Flower:

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That then is the tale of the Architects’ Building at 816 West Fifth. Remember the diaspora the next time you’re in the neighborhood.

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Images courtesy Los Angeles Public Library photo archive, University of Southern California, and Arnold Hylen and William Reagh Collections, California History Section, California State Library

March 13, 2009 at 10:19 pm 15 comments

The Monarch

GARAs has been noted, when it comes to Bunker Hill, there is no image as iconic as Union Bank Square—the Redevelopment Project’s first great endeavor—towering over remnants of antiquated Los Angeles. (One could argue there are few sights as telling when it comes to defining Los Angeles in general.) But while we’re all familiar with those 42 stories of mid-60s glory, who remembers what stood there before? It was that hitherto unsung monument of Los Angeles deco: the Monarch Hotel.monarkedelic

The Monarch opened in mid-October, 1929. It contained sixty-six hotel rooms, fourteen single apartments, twelve double apartments, a five-room bungalow on the roof, three private roof decks planted rich with shrubbery, and a lobby embellished with hand-decorated ceilings. It was entirely furnished by Barker Brothers with furniture of “modern type and design.”

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From the outset, crime dogged the Monarch. Sort of. The first occupants of the bridal suite, in November 1929, were Motorcycle Officer Bricker of Georgia-Street Traffic Investigation and former Miss Losa Pope (the now newly-minted Mrs. Bricker, a purchasing agent at Forest Lawn).
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They met when he had arrested her for speeding. On their first morning together as Man and Wife, breakfasting on the roof garden outside their bridal suite, they were mobbed by twenty some-odd members of the Force who decided to burst in and make merry with fellow officer and his tamed scofflaw.

Real crime did, in fact, visit upon the Monarch. (This may have had something to do with opening two weeks before the Crash.) For example:

betrayalNight clerk H. N. Willey was behind the desk at the Monarch when, just after midnight on June 16, 1930, a bandit robbed him of $26. Willey phoned Central Station. Meanwhile, officers Doyle and Williams, on patrol, observed a man hightailing it through an auto park near the hotel. Deciding that he wasn’t running for his health (this being some years before the jogging craze), they gave chase and caught him in an alley. They next observed a patrol car flying to the Monarch. Putting two and two together, they took their prisoner to the hotel, where he was id’d by Willey. Turns out he was George H. Hall, 24, a recent arrival in Los Angeles.

H. N. Willey continued to ply the night clerk trade, and was doing so when two men entered on the early morning of August 31, 1931. When Willey showed them to their room, they pulled out a gun and tried to lock him in the closet. The attempt failed because the door had no outside lock, so the hapless crooks ran downstairs, recovered the $2 they had paid for the room and fled.

H. N. makes the papers again in November of 1931, when on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Los Angeles is hit by a massive crime wave, in which over a dozen brazen robberies of hotels, groceries, theaters, pedestrians, folks in autos, etc. are shot at and robbed; Willey looks down the barrel of a large-bore automatic and forks over $25.

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One thing that’s nice about the Monarch? It’s nice to have a bar downstairs. Edgar Lee Smith lived, and drank, at the Monarch.

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August 23, 1946. Smith, 51, had been drinking in the Monarch bar but neglected to keep to the cardinal rule of always keeping on the good side of one’s bartender. This resulted in an after-hours duel that left his bartender, James Donald Chaffee, 28, stabbed to death. When the Radio Officers Hill and Finn found Chaffee’s body on sidewalk, they went to Smith’s room, where they found him changing his clothes, and seized a penknife with a one-inch blade.

The fight began when, according to Smith, “Jimmy got sore because I stole his girl.” Smith added that barkeep Chaffee, in retaliation, cut Smith off. Smith, in counter-retaliation, cut Chaffee.
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Smith plead guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to one to ten in San Quentin.

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Gilbert Carvajal was a 17 year-old Marine stationed at Del Mar, part of Pendleton. He was at the Monarch on May 9, 1957, with his 45 year-old lady-friend Frances Nishperly when it all began. It was 1:15am and he decided it wise to hold up night clerk Frost E. Stacklager (H. N. Willey having retired, apparently) and make off with $22 and jewelry. A few minutes later the two robbed the Trent Hotel of $57.50; despite holding the clerk at knifepoint, the two next fled the Floyd Hotel empty-handed, but snagged $45 from the till at the Auto Club Hotel minutes later. At 23rd and Scarff Sts. the police began shooting into Carvajal’s car—he tried to make a run for it but was shot down in the street, taking one to the chest. Ms. Nishperly insisted Carvajal had kidnapped her from the corner of Pico Blvd. and Hope St., but police elected to discount this story.

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Now, people are forever plunging off the precipices afforded by tall structures (a quick peruse of On Bunker Hill proves that) and that’s a person’s right and due. But it’s different when it’s an excited doggy.

Buddy was one such excitable pooch, who went nuts and ran right off the top of the Monarch Hotel! Of course the Hand of God intervened, and Buddy—a 2 year-old fox terrier–fell one hundred feet, landing atop an auto roof, but emerged without a scratch, May 1, 1931. (Apparently Buddy had landed on one of the small unbraced portions of the auto top; parking station attendants ran out when they heard a windshield smash and found a confused dog standing on top the machine, looking for a place to descend.)

Buddy’s daddy, Jimmy Van Scoyoe, was looking frantically for his pooch and had no idea of his aerial adventure when he peered off the roof and saw his Buddy surrounded by a puzzled crowd. Jimmy is reported to have tightly clasped Buddy in his arms and vowed to never let him out of his sight again “even if I have to keep him in bed with me when I go to sleep.” Damn straight!

 

 

motoronCWLead architects on the Monarch are Cramer & Wise, who did pioneering auto-culture work with their 1926 “Motor-In Markets”—one at the NW corner of First and Rosemont (above, demolished 1962) and another at the NW corner of Sunset and Quintero (still there, vaguely recognizable):motorin

One can also go visit Cramer & Wise’s Van Rensellear Apartments,
SE corner of Franklin and GramercyVanRad…of course, what they’re best known for is La Belle Tour.

Consulting architects on the Monarch were Hillier & Sheet, probably best known for Beverly Blvd. landmark the Dover.
NewAlohaWhile Mediterranean in manner, their 1929 complex on the NE corner of McCadden and West Leland Way is mysteriously named the Aloha.

 

This 1929 31-unit Mediterranean complex in the Wilshire District still stands: 837ssandrewz
But this one on El Cerrito was demolished; an 80s building of unusual blandeur has taken its place. elcerritodemo

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Hillier & Sheet announce this height-limit Norman job will go up at Fountain and Sweetzer; it does not materialize.

S. Charles Lee’s El Mirador, though, does.

 

 

 

 

Who loves the lost Monarch? People are quick to fetishize the felled Richfield Tower, and with good reason (I, too, am an ardent obsessive—even owning parts of it); but isn’t it a bit…New York? Doesn’t it owe a major debt to Hood’s American Radiator Building? Sure, some might argue that the Streamline Moderne is more natively Angeleno, but not only was that industrial-inspired application an Internationalist movement, but one also feels in its nautical element a particular evocation of our neighbor to the north, San Francisco.

What is elementally endemic to the land, here, is the Ziggurat Moderne of the Monarch Hotel—that there is something in the setback style that elicits a feeling for the indigenous, the “really” American, in that the mock-Mayan comes closest to the true architecture of this part of the world. The core of this argument comes, of course, from Francisco Mujica’s 1929 History of the Skyscraper, where he hints at just that—that pre-Columbian pyramids are the correct expression of modernity, and vice versa (hence the natural evolution of the 1916 New York setback laws…glorious mother of what Koolhaas termed the Ferrissian Void).

Thus—where one might see the Monarch as somewhat squat:
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…we should take that as monumentality in its most impressive (if not oppressive, if that’s what reverberates in your Incan blood) form.

1906, the NW corner of Fifth and Figueroa at bottom right:

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1950, twenty years after the installation of the Monarch:

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1953, with the addition of the Harbor Freeway:

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After fifteen years of Sturm n Drang, on February 3, 1964, the $350 million Bunker Hill Urban Renewal Project got its first bite—Connecticut General Life offered $3.3 million for the block-square site that housed the Monarch Hotel.

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CRA Chairman William T. Sesnon Jr., expressed his elation: “The sale is virtually completed. We are overjoyed by this development. It’s our hope it will serve as the real kickoff for the entire Bunker Hill project.”

Thirty days later—March 4, 1964:
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On March 30, 1965, red-jacketed attendants ushered dignitaries under a white-fringed canopy, where they watched a bulldozer tear up some concrete. “Welcome to Bunker Hill—at last,” proclaimed Sesnon. “This is the start of something dramatic.”
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Some of the luster of Sesnon’s kickoff was dulled when in 1966—with the Union Bank half built—City Administrative Officer C. Erwin Piper and his staff issued a scathing report on the CRA. It sited faulty operational control, an absence of clear-cut policies and poor internal coordination, at terrific taxpayer expense. By the end of 1967 no more land had been disposed of, the CRA had lost half its department heads, had no executive director, and Sesnon had been replaced by Z. Wayne Griffin.

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The Battle of Bunker Hill would continue to be waged—that long, slow, protracted engagement, which like its previous fifteen years, would need another fifteen years before things shifted into high gear again.

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Images courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection; opening Monarch shot (1930), Mott-Merge Collection, California State Library, and back of Monarch shot across Fremont St., Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library

September 13, 2008 at 11:14 pm 2 comments


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