Monday, September 26, 2011

J.V. Vickers -- 624 West 28th Street

John Van Vickers (1850-1912) came to Los Angeles in 1899 after a colorful past in Tombstone, Arizona.  Seems J.V. was previously Cochise County Treasurer 1888 and 1895-1896. He was there during the Gunfight at the OK Corral, building a significant cattle business, including the Chiricahua Cattle Company, one of the largest in the West.

Originally from Pennsylvania, he moved to Illinois where he met and married Anna Childs (1855-1946), who along with their five daughters came to Los Angeles with him from Arizona. Daughters Florence (1873- ) and Dora (1876- ) attended school in Philadelphia, with Florence then attending and graduating from Bryn Mawr College.  Third daughter Lillian (1879-1901) also went to Bryn Mawr, but died from a tragic accident there in December, 1901. The accident was carried by the New York Times on their front page.
"At 8 o'clock Miss Vickers rose and retired to the bathroom, situated near her own apartment.  Half an hour later she came rusing forth enveloped in flames." She died by 1 o'clock without regaining consciousness. The Times delicately stated "...the victim had rubbed her body with alcohol, which in some way became ignited." 
The New York Evening World was less delicate in their assessment.

Evening World Article on Lillian Vickers' death

To this day "ghosts" supposedly haunt the Bryn Mawr Dormitory where the accident occurred.  Daughter #4, Anna (1882- ), did not attend Bryn Mawr, instead going to the local upstart Stanford, as did daughter #5 Clara (1886- ). They were both members of Delta Gamma sorority there.

After arriving in Los Angeles J.V. continued his cattle business, which included partnering  up with Walter Vail, who was also a major rancher in Arizona. Together they formed Vail & Vickers Company, purchasing Santa Rosa Island off the coast of Santa Barbara to raise cattle, which had previously been used for sheep ranching. The island became the last ranching enterprise on a Mexican Land Grant in California, and was run by a third-generation Vail descendant. In 1980 the island was declared part of Channel Islands National Park, and the Vail and Vickers Company knew it was inevitable they would lose the land. So in 1986 the partners sold the island to the federal government, with the caveat that the company could continue ranching for 25 years.  The federal government reneged via years of lawsuits  and forced the Vail family to stop ranching in 1998. Quoting from the linked article:

"At that point the name Santa Rosa became shorthand for government treachery within the Southern California agricultural community."

In 1904 J.V. led a syndicate which bought a large parcel of land in Orange County. Realizing they needed transportation to the area if they were to develop it, they succeeded in luring Henry Huntington to extend his extensive trolley network by providing him a significant share of the operation, and even renaming the area from Pacific Beach to Huntington Beach. Little did they know the amounts of money in the ground, which did not appear until the 1920's.

Around the same time J.V. purchased a house in fashionable West Adams from Max Meyburg, a well-known retailer and light manufacturer in town.  Max had had the house built sometime around 1898, but had decided to move a few blocks west. Our 1910 photo of the house looked like the below:

624 West 28th St. in 1910

J.V. in 1910
Now located in the new social center, two doors west were the Laughlin Jr. family, and the Vickers were just two blocks from Figueroa and West Adams. By this time (1910) Florence and Anna had married, Florence in 1905 to Franklin Allister McAllister, with two daughters, and one son. Anna about the same time married a Clarence Crawford from Oregon, whom she'd met while matriculating at Stanford. Clara still lived at home.

Then while celebrating the Christmas season at home on December 28, 1912, J.V. had a heart attack while playing dominoes with his family. Clara stayed on for awhile, marrying Roy Naftzger, a real estate broker, in 1920. Mother Anna C. continued to reside in the house until her death in 1946.

A sample bookplate
Daughters Clara and Anna founded a Memorial Book Fund at their alma mater in honor of their father.  Many of the books in the library provided by the fund carried their bookplate, indicating the donor.

The neighborhood had changed significantly since the Vickers purchase. By 1942 the house was surrounded by sororities and fraternities of USC, and after wife Anna's death, the house took its new place along Greek Row. In the 1950's AO Pi sorority was in the house.

AO Pi, Nov. 1951 in the front yard at 624 W. 28th St.

By 1962 Alpha Epsilon Phi moved into the house from their smaller location a block west, staying through the 1980's. Today the house still stands, its latest resident Beta Omega Phi, an Asian-American interest fraternity. The house's outline, while substantially altered, is easily identifiable.

Recently at 624 W. 28th St.
(courtesy of the author)

By January 2023 Beta Omega Phi had left the property.

Link checked 7/19/23


  1. Wow, my 6th cousin 3x removed. Awesome!

  2. My Great, Great Grandpa J.V. Vickers. God rest his soul. Thank you SO much for publishing this.


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