Saturday, February 9, 2013

Newton J. Skinner -- 3507 Grove Place

A letter from the Galveston
Law Office of N. J. Skinner
Born in Northfield, Ohio, Newton J. Skinner first began his adult life in Iowa. Marrying Mattie Ballou Stafford (1869-1911) in 1889, they had three children, all born in Iowa.  Etta M. (b. 1890), Carl Newton (b. 1892), and Gladys M. (b. 1894) all moved with their parents to Galveston, Texas, where Newton ran a law practice until 1902.

He then spent two years in New York City, after which in October, 1905, he moved to Los Angeles, where he was admitted to practice in the state and federal courts. Helping to organize the new Bank of Southern California, he began work for them as Vice-President when they opened their doors in May, 1906. At a time when banks were opening left and right across town, its name was coincidentally very close to Southern California Savings Bank, the oldest savings bank in the Los Angeles area. In today's world where a company sues because someone puts "Mc" in front of something, there seemed to be no indication of concern in this past case (McSettlement here).

In May, 1907 a small article appeared on the front page of the Sunday L.A. Herald indicating plans for a new house. As the article mentioned,
"Paul C. Pape has prepared plans of a two-story and basement frame residence to be built on Grove place, near Bimini baths, for N. J. Skinner of the Bank of Southern California. It will contain ten rooms and will have furnace heat, gas and electrical conveniences, hardwood floors and trim, and up to date in its appointments."
With a roof deck and what seems to be either skylights or passive heating, it appeared to live up to the article...

3507 Grove Place
or 3527 White House Place today

The home was the first on the one-block long street. The earliest Sanborn map (1921) shows the house along with three apartment buildings towards the corner on the west (Bimini Place). Typically Sanborn would show lot divisions--this block showed no divisions, allowing one to infer that all the buildings were in the hands of one owner.

White House Place in 1921
(3507 highlighted)
1909 was a busy year for Newton. Having left the Bank of Southern California, he decided to help start up another bank, called the "All Night and Day" Bank. The first on the west coast and third in the U.S., the bank opened its doors to customers at 7:00 a.m. Monday mornings, and did not close them until Saturday evening at midnight. Opening on January 6th, the bank bragged of its ability to serve merchants late in the day so they could avoid leaving their stores, to serve theaters depositing late night receipts, and any others who wished to relieve themselves of the risk of robbery during other bank off hours.

Early next year Newton and a bank associate took a flyer on the Hotel Redondo, located at Redondo Beach. Bought from manager J. S. Woolacott, headlines exclaimed of an upcoming $25,000 investment to increase occupancy. Evidently the investment was not as lucrative as it first appeared, as in May, 1910 the hotel was sold outright to Miss Emma Summers, known locally as the "Oil Queen". The hotel struggled when Redondo Beach outlawed liquor sales, and its death knell was confirmed when the nation started prohibition in 1919. The hotel closed, was sold for salvage, and was demolished in 1925.

Also that Spring the bank had a run. A large portion of bank stock had been used to secure a $120,000 loan (maybe for a hotel?), and it ended up in the hands of someone who combined it with other stock--forming a new majority, who then declared a new set of directors for the bank. The ensuing fight resulted in the state superintendent of banks closing the bank's doors for a few days, which set off the run when the bank reopened. The bank survived, but fighting continued in court into November, 1910. The stock loan had not been repaid, thus the judge ruled in favor of the new directors, which effectively ended Newton's participation at the bank.

Shatto Chapel window
(click here for larger image)

(courtesy of Michael Locke)
Life on the home front could not have been going too well, either. In 1910, Mattie and the children are all at home, according to the census. Mattie may not have been well, because in 1911, she died. Services were probably held at the First Congregational Church, the oldest continuously-operating protestant church in Southern California. Located in 1911 at Hope & 8th Streets, the main sanctuary held a stained-glass window now used in the Shatto Chapel at its current location of West 6th and Commonwealth. We know this because part of the stained-glass window in the Shatto Chapel holds a memorial to Mattie (the pane devoted to her is at lower right in the window).

Newton returned to his roots as an attorney (and most likely an apartment landlord too). In 1915 he is noted as law partners with his son Carl, who had just obtained his law degree from USC, and living on Wilton Place. But the State of California does not show Carl was ever admitted to practice. By 1918 Carl has moved into an apartment at 3553 White House Place (which has changed street names from Grove Place). By 1920 Carl disappeared from L.A. directories.

The probability is strong that Newton developed the quadriplex apartments along White House Place, due to his long-time living on the street, along with his children taking up residence there. The aerial photo below shows the area in the mid 1920's. A second house has appeared behind the residence at 3507, along with an apartment building to the east of 3507.

Bimini Baths ca. 1925 with
3507 White House Place in view above left
(with roof deck still intact)

Newton and Jeannette on their
passport application 1922
By 1920 Newton has moved out of 3507 and is living in the corner apartment at 3557.  In 1922 he remarried and took a round-the-world cruise with his new bride Jeannette. According to the passport application, they were using Raymond Whitcomb Tours, a major provider of the day. Upon their return, they settled in at 3557, while 3507 (which was now known as 3527 because of the new apartment building to the east) was rented to various people, including lawyer Leonard Thomas (1926), who worked in the same building that Newton had worked in in 1910, and doctor Louis Wyckoff (1930).  Around 1925 the Skinners themselves changed apartments in the same 4-plex, now taking up at 3555, where they remained until Newton's passing.

During the late 1910's and 20's neither daughter Emma nor Gladys can be found in the directories, but in 1932 a change occurred. Jeannette is listed as a widow, still living in 3555, which will be the last mention for her in the apartments of White House Place; and in 1936 a new resident, Miss Orine Emerson, is living at 3555. And in the same building at 3553 we now find younger daughter Gladys, who has married and resides with Mr. Claude Puryear.

White House Place ca. 1929
In 1942 the elegant house begins a new career. Called the White House Sanitarium, it is listed in the 1951 Sanborn map as a "Rest Home". A check reveals that the Sanitarium remained in use through 1965. It disappears in 1967, with no phone listed at that property. Gladys passes away in 1980, and in the next phone book available, there are no listings for the apartment building or the sanitarium addresses.

In 1992 the L.A. Unified School District made purchases on the block, starting up the "White House Place Primary Center".  By 2008 they owned all of the north side of White House Place. Then in 2007 LAUSD contracted for a hazardous materials report for the area. It was entitled..."PHASE I
SCHOOL #20, SITE 1 (CRES #20, SITE 1)

Four hundred fifty pages long, the document listed much of the area's history, along with the contractor's efforts to determine if there were any hazardous substances on the property. Nothing significant was found, so the district went ahead and razed the structures and built a very nice parking lot, which just happened to be directly across the street from Virgil Middle School. No elementary school in sight just yet.

Thanks to Newton Skinner for his house photo--another element of Los Angeles now gone.
Today's aerial view of White House Place

More info:
A  visit to the All Night and Day Bank

Newton Skinner in 1910