Saturday, September 29, 2012

John A. Murphy -- 419 West Washington Street

419 West Washington was the last space on the block to have a house built.  In 1894, the corner lot was just an empty space on the map, but by 1904 it had filled in. It may have been built for James D. Schuyler and his wife Mary around 1899 or so, as James and Mary are listed as owners in the 1900 census.  James by 1900 was a world-renowned hydraulic engineer, working on multiple water projects in California including the Sweetwater and Hemet Dams.  In 1903 he was involved in early plans for the Owens Valley Aqueduct, the largest water project in Los Angeles city history up to that time.

Engineers planning the L.A. Aqueduct to Owens Valley, 1903. (L-R) John R. Freeman, James D. Schuyler,
J.B. Lippincott, Fred P. Stearns, William Mulholland.
(courtesy of
By 1905 the Schuylers had moved out. Perhaps the new Polytechnic High School across the street made the block a bit too noisy. Instead it was occupied by the Oren D. Brown family, who celebrated with a wedding reception there for their daughter Cecile that year.

Meanwhile John A. Murphy (1856-1931) with a partner named Crook (honest...), was working in his career as a contractor while living nearby at 118 W. Pico. In 1906 he retired from contracting, and joined in the incorporation of the National Bank of Commerce as a Vice-President. In 1909 the family had moved to the new house at 419 West Washington Blvd. At home included John, his wife Alvina (1855-1949), and their son Gustave (b. 1889). Gustave is listed as a hardware store clerk, while John is noted as President, Costa Rica Rubber Co. in the 1909 street directory. The house stood on the northeast corner of Washington and Flower Streets.

419 West Washington Street (viewed from Flower St.)
(could be John & Alvina in the photo)

John and Alvina stayed in the house through the mid-1920's. As can be seen from the photo, apartments are next door on Washington Street, and by 1925 the block of Flower Street was mostly apartment rentals. They moved to the newer Los Feliz neighborhood to 4626 Finley, where they were at the time of the 1930 census. Daughter Loretta had come back to live with the parents too. She had married, had a daughter Esther who was now 19 and working at the phone company, and also living on Finley. Meanwhile back at 419 W. Washington, the house was now cut into multiple apartments, with the census showing three families at the residence.

By 1942 the house is no longer extant, replaced with a service station owned by General Petroleum, a then subsidiary of then Mobil Oil. It remained under the General or Mobil brand, and in 1987 was recorded as being "Fred's Mobil Service".

Today a transport of another sort has intruded on the property.  The service station is gone, and part of the property is park space used by the L.A. Trade Tech College, now located across the street where the high school had been.

419 West Washington -- today's aerial view
And this is pretty close to a then and now photo--
A 2012 view from Flower Street
Thanks to John--another house photo retrieved from the past...

Further info:
John A. Murphy in 1909

Sunday, September 9, 2012

John W. Whittington -- 2801 Budlong Ave.

L.A. Herald in
Jan. 1909
The National Life Underwriters convention at long last had come to Los Angeles.
And it was there due to the efforts of John Whittington (1867-1943). An Englishman turned U.S. citizen, John settled in L.A. in the 1890's, and parlayed his employment as Southern California's general agent for Aetna Insurance into president of the Life Underwriters Association of Los Angeles in four short years, leading the Association in 1907-1908. In 1908 he was successful in bringing the national convention to Los Angeles.

A 1909 article on his retirement from office in the L.A. Herald was important enough news to hit the front page. The article spoke of "traveling the country", which probably helped him in his run for president of the National Association of Life Underwriters (NALU) later that year.

At the 1909 NALU convention in Louisville, the delegates elected John to be the president for 1910. John engaged in considerably more travel, criss-crossing the U.S. that year, giving addresses to conventions where he urged for better state underwriting laws to protect consumers from "get-rich quick" schemers.

Life's fortunes were going well on the home front, too, as the family had recently (in 1906) moved into a new, large, airy, house at 1801 Budlong. Living there were wife Ina May (1868-1922), children Wayne (1896-1989), Wentworth (b. 1901), and Dorothy (b. 1904), as well as a live-in servant. Son William came later in 1910.

The Whittington Residence in 1909 (including the dog)
(That may be Dorothy on the porch)

(As an aside, the photo appears to have a large antenna mounted on the roof, but nothing could be found connecting John with the then new-fangled notion of wireless.)

John in 1910
(portrait by Marceau)
After a gracious writeup in 1913 in Notables of the West, things turned decidedly at home.  In 1914 John is out of the house and residing at the Sierra Madre Club. In 1915 he changes employers--he now works for Southern California National Life Insurance Co. of USA. His residence is not shown. Two years later, Ina and the four children have moved out of 1801 Budlong to lodging on Dalton Street, about 2 1/2 miles south. Son Wayne, who files a draft card for WWI, asks for exemption from service for "support of mother, brother, & sister". John, meanwhile, is now employed in Phoenix for the Inter-Mountain Life Ins. Co., living in town at the Hotel Jefferson. From there John has a short return in 1920 to the house on Dalton, according to the street directory. He joins another new resident Mattie Murphy, Ina's mother. Son Wayne has left to open a tire store on Vermont, and married a girl named Louise.  He was soon to leave that business and begin one that all of Southern California would eventually know about.

By 1922, John had departed for New York, as a partner in investments with local entrepreneur Garson J. Kahn. Known as Whittington & Kahn, Investment Specialists, they disappear from the street directory by 1925. Meanwhile both Ina and her mother Mattie die in 1922. Youngest son William was just twelve. John remains out of the public record until his death in 1943, when he is interred next to Ina and Mattie.

In 1920 the house is shown as being rented to an iron works engineer. The census for the neighborhood shows many other houses in the neighborhood as now being rented. By 1926 the property has suffered a common fate to large, older properties.  The front yard now has six additional apartments in two buildings, while the main house has been segmented into two apartments. In the 1909 photo the door on the left is the entry for one, while the large awning out front shelters the door for the other. All the housing is rented according to the 1930 census, with three separate families living in the north half of the main house.
2801 Budlong in its new configuration (1926 and later)

Meanwhile son Wayne started a new business in the nearby Exposition Park area, calling it "Dick" Whittington Studio after the 14th century tale of a young man and his cat. Wayne's business logo was a cat.

In the beginning Wayne and Louise rented a place at 3845 Wisconsin, living in part of the building. By the late 1930's they had remodeled, employed 20+ employees, becoming the largest photography studio in Southern California. Brother William was recorded as working at the studio in 1936.

Dick Whittington Studio in the 1930's
(Ebay via skyscraperpage forum)

The studio outgrew the Wisconsin street location, moving to Olympic Blvd. The business continued until 1987. Wayne passed away in 1989, and his son provided many of the studio's 500,000 photos to USC (which Wayne attended in his youth) and Huntington Library.

And the house?  It's still there, albeit hidden behind the six apartments which remain out front.  Judging from the Google Maps view below, it's a real standout.
The neighborhood today.

The main house second story is viewable from 29th Street, but the front of the property is gated and barred, as is much of the neighborhood. Rents appear to have gone up from $35/month in 1930 to around $1200 today.

(Updated Apr. 2022)