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)

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