This edition of California Fool’s Gold, currently in its ninth year, is about Hancock Park, an affluent, quiet, and mostly residential neighborhood in Midtown Los Angeles that was mostly developed in the 1920s. On this exploration, I was accompanied by Hancock Park resident, Gonzi, and (at the very beginning) the good folks of Walking LA.
INTRODUCTION TO HANCOCK PARK
Hancock Park, according to most folks’ definitions, is bordered by Wilshire Boulevard to the south, Melrose Avenue to the north, and Arden Boulevard to the east. There’s not a consensus on what street forms the western border although the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Department of Transportation consider it to be La Brea Avenue, which is good enough for me — even if the character of the neighborhood changes a good deal on the other side of Highland Avenue, which isn’t covered by the Hancock Park Historic Preservation Overlay Zone. The HPOZ also excludes the buildings along the Wilshire, a corridor known as Park Mile.
Hancock Park is neighbored by Larchmont and Windsor Square to the east, Windsor Village to the southeast, Brookside and Sycamore Square to the south, the Fairfax District to the west, Hollywood’s Theater Row to the north, and the Hollywood Studio District to the northeast.
For tens of thousands of years, natural asphalt seeped up from the ground in this area, sometimes trapping animals whose remains, in some cases, are on display in the George C. Page Museum, located in the park (but not the neighborhood) called Hancock Park.
The first humans (likely the ancestors of the Chumash) arrived in the vicinity of what’s now Los Angeles at least 13,000 years ago. The Chumash caulked their plank canoes (tomol) with yop, a mixture of pine pitch and tar excavated from the area. The Chumash ultimately centered their life around the coast and offshore Channel Islands, perhaps leaving forsaking the basin after a prolonged drought.
The ancestors of the Tongva arrived some 3,500 years ago, from the Sonoran Desert to the east, having apparently originated in what’s now Nevada. Like many of their neighbors (but not the Chumash), they spoke an Uto-Aztecan language. Unlike their non-Chumash neighbors, however, they too were a seafaring people and made canoes called ti’ats which they used to settle the southernmost Channel Islands. Having arrived from the desert, the Tongva almost certainly acquired the knowledge of how to build seacraft from the Chumash.
Spanish explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo claimed California for the Spanish Empire in 1542 but it wasn’t until Catalonian Gaspar Portolà i Rovira led an overland expedition through the area in 1769 that the conquest really got into full swing. In 1781, the Spanish founded El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula just four kilometers to the east of what’s now Hancock Park. Mexico declared its independence in 1810 and emerged victorious in its war with Spain in 1821. In 1828, the 17.96 km2 Rancho La Brea (“la brea” is “tar” in Spanish) was granted to Portuguese-Mexican Antonio José Rocha and Nemisio Dominguez.
The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo required that Spanish and Mexican land grants be respected by the conquering Americans. However, in the case of Rancho La Brea the Rocha family’s claim was rejected by the Public Land Commission in 1860. The Rochas subsequently employed the services of Los Angeles surveyor and lawyer, Henry Hancock, and in 1873, “A. J. Rocha et al” prevailed legally by at considerable financial expense. Henry Hancock paid $20,000 to Antonio Rocha’s son, José Jorge Rocha, for the rancho with profits made from mining gold.
It wouldn’t be the last challenge concerning the ownership of the grant and in the 1870s, the Hancocks deeded some 200 hectares of the Rancho to US Senator Cornelius Cole as payment for his legal services to the family which Cole developed into the town of Colegrove. Henry Hancock died in
1883 after which operations were overseen by his wife, Ida Haraszthy Hancock. Their son, George Allan Hancock, (assisted by William Orcutt) drilled 71 oil wells on his family’s rancho beginning in 1907 which led to the formation of the Rancho La Brea Oil Company. As oil flowed from the wells, money flowed into the Hancocks’ coffers and made the family extremely wealthy.
In 1909, the eastern half of what’s now Hancock Park (east of Seward Street) was annexed by Los Angeles as the Colegrove Addition. Nearby Hollywood was annexed in 1910. By then, Hancock’s oil wells were producing such viscous petroleum that oil production was no longer profitable, and in 1916, George Hancock donated 9.3 hectares of land around the tar pits to Los Angeles County which, like the nearby neighborhood, is also known as Hancock Park. In 1919 he began subdividing most of the rest of his land into residential lots.
WILSHIRE COUNTRY CLUB
The Wilshire Country Club was formally organized as a corporation in 1919. Norman Macbeth designed the course (he also designed the course at the San Gabriel Country Club) along the banks of a stream which feeds the Ballona Creek watershed.
Sumner Hunt (Bradbury Building, Ebell of Los Angeles, Jordan High School, Southwest Museum) and S.R. Brun designed the clubhouse. It is a private country club with no apparent consideration provided for pedestrians so I attempted to walk up the driveway and was rebuffed by security before I could even ask whether or not I might take a picture of the historic building. Something to consider before attempting to visit — there’s also a prohibition against dungarees on the grounds that I provocatively violated.
LOS ANGELES TENNIS CLUB
The Los Angeles Tennis Club tennis club also opened in 1920, near the country club, on Clinton Street. It’s also private and although it used to be Gonzi’s voting place, no one inside buzzed us in, so were were only able to poke around its perimeter.
HANCOCK PARK APARTMENT CORRIDOR
In the 1920s, the rest of Hancock Park was annexed in three pieces: the Hancock Addition (1923), the Rosewood Addition (1923), and the Fairfax Addition (1924). In the 1920s, Los Angles’s population ballooned from 577,000 to over 1.2 million. Glamorous residential high-rises weren’t especially common although they arose in the neighborhoods of Hollywood, Westlake, and Hancock Park. In Hancock Park, much of the early residential development was centered along Rossmore Avenue, which is today both the most-densely populated part of the neighborhood and one of the prettiest corridors in the city.
COUNTRY CLUB MANOR
The Châteauesque Country Club Manor was designed by Leland Bryant (Colonial House, Granville Towers, Romanesque Villa, and Sunset Tower), and built in 1926.
601 N ROSSMORE
The red brick apartments at 601 North Rossmore were built from 1927. I don’t believe that it has any especially noteworthy history but it looks to me like many highschools of the era. I don’t know the architect.
The Spanish Renaissance Revival El Royale was designed by William Douglas Lee (Château Marmont, Downtown Women’s Center, LLO-DA-MAR Bowl) and built from 1927 to 1929. It was formerly home to the late, great California explorer Huell Howser and at one time, Mae West. It was designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #309 in 1986.
The Art Deco Ravenswood was designed by Max Maltzman (Wilshire Bowl/Slapsy Maxie’s, Keiro Retirement Home) and built by Paramount Pictures in 1930. In the past, it was reportedly home to Ava Gardner, Clark Gable, Félix González-Torres, William Faulkner, and again, Mae West (who moved there from El Royale). It was designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #768 in 2003. (Simon Bonney‘s song, “Ravenswood,” is more likely about the town in Queensland than the Los Angeles apartments, but its a great song).
410 N ROSSMORE
Looking like a modest Art Deco hospital or some other institutional building, 410 North Rossmore was completed in 1944 but the story of its troubled construction began much earlier. It was originally intended to be much more grand, known as the Beverly-Rossmore, and intended by its developer Harry Feigenbaum to put its neighbors to shame. It was designed, like Ravenswood, by Max Maltzman and construction began in November 1930, as the Great Depression was kicking into high gear. With only four of its intended thirteen stories constructed, financing dried up and after a failed restart, it was ultimately completed by the Army Corps of Engineers. To read a well-written account on Paradise Leased, click here.
The glorious Streamline Moderne Mauretania Apartments were designed by the versatile Milton J. Black (Victor M. Carter Residence) and built in 1934. It was built for Jack Haley and his wife, Flo, who lived there for for two decades. To me, it almost looks like something Hayao Miyazaki would dream up.
Also built in 1934 and also designed by Milton J. Black is the Norman Revival Chateau Rossmore was built across the street. It’s not out of character with the rest of the apartments but being built at the height of the Depression is understandably comparatively modest.
HOUSES OF HANCOCK PARK
Not all of Hancock Park’s residents were hip to Rossmore’s urban vibe and instead opted for huge mansions with conspicuously large grass lawns. Architects including Charles Gault, Elmer Grey, Frank Israel, John DeLario, Lester G. Scherer and many others used Hancock Park to create some of the period’s most grandiose residential architecture — which led to their use as filming locations and consulate residences (including the British, Canadian, and Turkish).
ROBERT ALDRICH RESIDENCE
This 1923 Spanish home was formerly the residence of director Robert Aldrich. John Lautner later designed obvious, modernist additions. Because it’s currently being renovated, no one seemed to notice at first as we popped our heads in to peek at the Lautner addition and (empty) pool.
EVA K. FUDGER RESIDENCE
THE REYNOLDS RESIDENCE
RALPH J. CHANDLER RESIDENCE
The Ralph J. Chandler residence was designed by Wallace Neff and built in 1960 for a member of Los Angeles’s powerful Chandler family.
300 SOUTH ROSSMORE
Something about the Asian-looking Midcentury Modern home at 300 South Rossmore either caught my or Gonzi’s eye (I can’t remember which). It wasn’t on any list of significant architecture that I knew of but research showed it was built in 1961 and designed by David Hyun (first Korean architect in The American Institute of Architects and designer of the Little Tokyo’s Japanese Village Plaza).
HARRY WARNER MANSION
Harry Warner‘s (Warner Bros) Georgian Colonial Revival mansion was built in 1923 and designed from Burnside Sturges. One of the nice things about Hancock Park is that many of the residences have no fences and at this one you can walk up to the front door to read the plaque.
In 1947, a Jewish Los Angeles Superior Court judge named Stanley Mosk ruled in Wright v. Drye that the enforcement of racist housing covenants was unconstitutional — and Hancock Park was opened at least to Jews, many of whom came not from other parts of the US but Israel. Previously limited to Los Angeles’s Eastside, (particularly Boyle Heights and City Terrace) and excluded from city hall establishment, Jews seized the opportunity to move into new digs.
When Nat King Cole (no relation to Cornelius Cole) and his wife, Maria, moved into Hancock Park in 1948, it proved to be too much for some. Cole practically built Capitol Records with his album sales but the fact that he was black was too much for some of his neighbors — even if they did likely enjoy his music. Racist housing covenants were then in effect not just in Hancock Park but throughout Los Angeles, and the deed on the Coles’ home stated that the only non-Caucasians who could legally enter the premises were to be the servants.
The neighborhood racists banded together to form the Hancock Park Property Owners Association to stop the the Hancock Park from opening up to the city’s then-few wealthy blacks. They even tried unsuccessfully to buy the house from Cole. Someone poisoned the family dog,. Someone also burned the word “nigger” into the Coles’ lawn.
The same year Cole moved in, the case of Shelley v. Kraemer went from Missouri to the US Supreme Court, who made the long-overdue ruling that racist housing covenants were unconstitutional and the Cole family stuck it out. The story is recounted in the documentary, Nat King Cole: Afraid of the Dark. Cole remained in the house until his death from lung cancer (he smoked Kool menthols) at just 45 years old, in 1965.
Other houses used as filming locations include the home at 565 North Cahuenga Avenue which was the Cunningham House on the ABC series, Happy Days (1974-1984). For one summer whilst my mother was on an anthropology dig in South Dakota, I consumed all the Happy Days that I could — but remember nothing except Carol “Pinky” Tuscadero.
The storybook home at 515 South Hudson Avenue was used for an ABC series, The Charmings (1987-1988). Before researching this piece I thought that I’d never heard of that series — but now I remember the great Paul Winfield as the mirror.
The exterior of the home at 172 South McCadden Place was Baby Jane Hudson’s house in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Despite my love of Hagsploitation, I still have yet to see that film!
Il Borghese was Aunt Ruth’s place in Mulholland Drive (2001). “Just call me Coco. Everybody else does. Wait there, and I’ll go get the key.”
THE AHMANSON MANSION
The Ahmanson Mansion was built for Howard F. Ahmanson Sr, who made his fortune selling fire insurance for property under foreclosure during the Great Depression. Ahmanson died in 1968. By the time of the filming of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) it was shown to be home of spoiled bicycle thief Francis Buxton, who like his father, favored short-sleeved, monogramed jump suits worn with ascots — and took his bath in an indoor pool!
108 N SYCAMORE
108 N Sycamore, like many of the residences west of Highland, is a fairly modest apartment building. The building’s unit #1 was where Pamela Courson, overdosed and died on the couch, 25 April 1974. Courson was famously Jim Morrison’s long-time girlfriend and one of the beneficiary’s of his estate (Morrison overdosed in 1971). She also operated a fashion boutique, Themis.
Park Mile was part of Los Angeles’s Wilshire District Plan, designed to prevent Hancock Park’s southern border from being developed along the lines of neighboring Koreatown to the east and Miracle Mile to the west. Before the adoption of the plan in 1979 there was some development, including the construction of two relatively modest office towers — the six-story one at 4727 Wilshire (built in 1970) and the ten-story Wilshire/Highland Building (built in 1973). The low-density Park Mile stretch does include some notable occupants including the Korea Times building; Radio Seoul, the Korea Trade Center; and the consulates of Belize, Egypt, and Kenya. Technically the Park Mile Plan only “protects” the stretch Wilshire between Wilton Place and Highland (which is technically a length of 1.4 English miles (or 2.25 kilometers)).
The half-kilometer west of Park Mile (between Highland and La Brea) is home to much more noteworthy examples of architecture and occupants than its neighbor to the eat — although it hasn’t proven to be any more safe from radical alteration or demolition. In 2008, for example, the Midcentury Modern Lou Ehlers Cadillac and an adjoining Bob’s Big Boy, designed by Stiles Clements Associate Architects and built in 1955, were torn down and replaced by Beverly Hills BMW. The office tower at 5055 Wilshire Blvd, built in 1949, is home to KDAY and the Consulate of Spain and was formerly home to the manufacturers of something called Carnation Instant Breakfast. On the television series The Beverly Hillbillies it portrayed the fictional Commerce bank of Beverly Hills.
West of that is the Avalon Wilshire, an apartment building, the website of which claims it to be “surrounded by Hollywood and Beverly Hills.” The Avalon Wilshire is most noteworthy, however, for also being home to Genwa Korean BBQ — a Korean restaurant known for its large offerings of banchan (and, to confuse matters, which operates an additional location actually in Beverly Hills) that my friend Xu introduced me to. It should be noted, before moving on, that at its very closest the city of Beverly Hills is four kilometers west of this area and isn’t even adjacent to Beverly Hills adjacent neighborhoods.
THE DECO BUILDING
The two-story gold and black building at 5209 Wilshire is now known as “The Deco Building.” It was designed by Morgan, Walls, and Clements and built in 1929. The same firm designed the much grander Richfield Building — built in 1928 and demolished in 1968 (after if was conspicuously featured in Point Blank (1967)). This small building was first used as a bank and later as a nightclub. Now it’s an event space.
E. CLEM WILSON BUILDING
The thirteen-story Art Deco E. Clem Wilson Building was designed by Meyer & Holler (Grauman’s Chinese and Egyptian “theatres”) and completed in 1929. At the time it was the tallest commercial building in the city and a powerful symbol of the westward exodus from downtown of wealth and power. The building portrayed the offices of the fictional Daily Planet on the first season of the television series, Adventures of Superman (1952–1958).
It was originally topped by a dirigible mast but for the past few decades, it’s been been saddled with a large, four-sided billboard of sorts, advertising a variety of corporations. I like big signs that light up and they can actually improve an ugly building’s appearance; this is not an ugly building though. It is tempting for me to draw conclusions about another economic exodus based on the advertisers from Mutual of Omaha, to Asahi, to Samsung — and to bemoan the end of the dirigible’s popularity.
HANCOCK PARK THEATER
The 899-seat, Art Deco Gordon Theater, designed by Clifford A. Balch (El Rey Theatre and the Four Star Theatre Building) for operator David Gordon, opened on La Brea in 1938. It was renovated in 1985 and reopened as the Cineplex Odeon. The theater closed in 2008 and reopened as an art house cinema in 2009. In 2013 it was taken over by a church, Artists Resource Center, and was renamed the ARC Theater. Just up the block, at 717 North La Brea, was the Bell & Howell Building — important manufacturers of motion picture equipment and machinery. The building is now home to an Aaron Brothers.
HANCOCK PARK ART SCENE
The most conspicuous art space in Hancock Park is the Ace Museum. The Ace Gallery was founded in the 1960s. In 2009, the Ace Museum became a separate and independent non-profit organization. It’s not that eye-catching but for Zhen and Qiang Gao’s large sculpture, Miss Mao Trying to Poise Herself at the Top of Lenin’s Head, installed in 2011 and shinily beckoning visitors ever since.
Hancock Park is home to Golden Apple Comics, founded by yo-yo champion Bill Liebowitz in 1979. Liebowitz died in 2004 at which time his widow Sharon and their son Ryan assumed operation. It appeared in “Weird Al” Yankovic‘s “White & Nerdy” video, the NBC television series, Raines (2007), and the 1998 documentary, Free Enterprise. Excelsior!
HANCOCK PARK CHARACTER TODAY
Although its land area is dominated by houses, most Hancock Park residents are renters rather than homeowners. 67 years after Nat King Cole moved to the neighborhood Hancock Park is a much more diverse place. Roughly 71% of residents are non-Latino white — largely of Irish, Jewish or Russian origin. 13% of Hancock Park’s residents are Asian-American (mostly Korean or Filipino), 9% are Latino of any race, and 4% are black.
Many of the Jews in the neighborhood are Orthodox, bound by their religious dogma to live within walking distance of their synagogues, which explains the presence of Congregation Atzei Chaim, Kollel Yechiel Yehuda, Congregation Beth Yehuda, and indirectly, Samuel A. Fryer Yavneh Hebrew School (1958) and Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn Academy.
Christian houses of worship include Christ the King Catholic Church and the Hollywood Church of Christ. Christ the King was established in 1917. We popped in briefly, enjoying the stained glass and atmosphere. My photo, unfortunately, doesn’t do its beauty justice (nor capture the scent of frankincense and myrrh).
HANCOCK PARK EATS
Food is arguably as important to the nourishment of the soul as it is to the body but for this episode, we actually ate both beforehand and after in nearby Larchmont Village, first at Bricks & Scones and later at Larchmont Village Wine, Spirits & Cheese. However, Gonzi did personally vouch for Mario’s Peruvian & Seafood and Tere’s Mexican Grill — the latter of which I think I might’ve enjoyed after a night at Café Bleu.
Other Hancock Park eateries include Ca’ Brea, Café Midi, Café Sicily, Caffe Delizioso, chi SPACCA, Crepe Kitchen, Golden Lotus Restaurant, Graffiti Café, Inti Restaurant, La Brea Bakery, Luna Park, Meshuga 4 Sushi, Osteria Mozza, Pizza Mayven, République, Tinga, and Twist Eatery. There are also at least two kosher markets: Ariel Glatt Kosher Market and La Brea Kosher Market.
Hancock Park is currently served by Metro’s 10/48, 14/37, 16/316, 210, and 212/312 bus lines. The neighborhood was formerly served by the Los Angeles Railway, the R line of which formerly terminated on La Brea and 3rd Street and traveled to Beth Israel Cemetery in Whittier. The yellow cars were replaced by buses in 1945 and the R bus line was decommissioned in 1963.
Hancock Park would be additionally served by subway if not for the combined reactionary efforts of Henry Waxman and the Hancock Park NIMBYs who in 1986 convinced congress to ban the modernization of public transit in the neighborhood. Most of their argument involved correlating the construction of the Red Line with an unrelated methane explosion at a Ross Dress for Less near the Original Farmers Market. 37 years later, the Purple Line is scheduled to arrive at the Wilshire/La Brea Station in 2023 — although there’s more chance of a delayed opening than a premature one.
FURTHER READING AND INFORMATION
Hancock Park is served by the Windsor Square Hancock Park Historical Society, which formed in 1976. The Larchmont Historical Society has archived issues of the Larchmont Gazette, published online from 2002-2010. Relevant books include Cathy McNassor’s Los Angeles’s La Brea Tar Pits and Hancock Park (part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series). There are also at least two blogs about greater Hancock Park (Hancock Park, Larchmont, and Windsor Square); the Larchmont Buzz and the Larchmont Chronicle.