by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Yesterday’s “Beyond the Grave” special tours looked at attitudes towards death and remembrance with elements of the program focused on the Workman and Temple families, El Campo Santo cemetery, and other site-related aspects.
Today we link that program to the “All Over the Map” series of posts, focusing on a trio of early 1920s artifacts from the Homestead’s collection related to the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles and a pair of maps and a price list for lots in the Ponet Terrace neighborhood. The objects came from a host of material formerly owned by Sidney H. Woodruff, developer of the Hollywoodland (where the famed “Hollywood” sign was an advertising piece) and Dana Point (in southern Orange County) tracts, among others.
With the deaths of William Workman (1876) and his son-in-law, F.P.F. Temple (1880), the undertaking firm was Ponet and Orr, comprised of Victor Ponet and Benjamin Orr. The principal figure in the business was Victor Ponet (1836-1914), a native of Belgium.
Trained as a cabinet-maker and employed for some years in Paris, Ponet migrated to the United States in 1865. After brief stints in New York and San Francisco, he moved to Los Angeles in 1869, just as the city was entering its first period of sustained growth and worked as a laborer and then a picture dealer. In 1873 he became an American citizen and married Irish-born Ellen Manning.
Ponet soon turned to undertaking and coffin manufacturing, probably as a way augment his cabinet-making and picture frame making skills, while Ellen Ponet was a rare female entrepreneur, operating her millinery shop just across Main Street from her husband’s business.
Ponet then dabbled in real estate and found that, returning home from Europe in 1887 after a two-year absence, Los Angeles was fully in the grip of a massive real estate and population boom, the great Boom of the Eighties. He owned land in downtown Los Angeles, south of downtown in an area subdivided and sold as Ponet Square, and also had a 230-acre ranch in Hollywood, on which the Sunset Plaza retail center was developed by his daughter and son-in-law. An unusual situation there is that, because the tract runs on both sides of Sunset, Ponet’s descendants still own the property that the City of Los Angeles continues to lease from them where the famed boulevard passes through!
After leaving the undertaking and other enterprises behind, Ponet was a founder and president of the German-American Savings Bank of Los Angeles, a trustee of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and then served as Belgian consul in Los Angeles and vice-consul for the southwestern states. Ponet was awarded a medal by King Leopold of Belgium in 1906 for his contributions as a Belgian in Los Angeles. In 1914, at age 78, Ponet died at his Hollywood residence and it was reported that he was one of the six wealthiest persons in Los Angeles.
There was a Ponet Terrace Hotel built in 1907 on the corner of Pico Boulevard and Grand Avenue in Ponet Square and that name was reapplied to the “Ponet Terrace Syndicate,” which in late 1922, purchased fifty acres of the Joseph H. Spires estate, for a subdivision named Ponet Terrace.
It was yet another in a long series of development booms in greater Los Angeles and the creation of Ponet Terrace came along at the same time Walter P. Temple embarked on the formation of the Town of Temple, renamed Temple City in 1928.
Location at the western edge of Griffith Park and east of Beechwood Canyon and where Western Avenue terminates at Los Feliz Boulevard, Ponet Terrace provided hillside properties for an area that featured large executive sized homes for professionals. Marketed at one point as the “Acropolis of Hollywood,” the tract boasted a number of Spanish Colonial Revival residences, as well as those of other popular styles of the 1920s.
One of the houses in the tract is a City of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument because it was built in 1930 for pioneering woman film director Dorothy Arzner and her partner, choreographer Marion Morgan. Another was the longtime residence of Will and Ariel Durant, who wrote the massive 11-volume “Story of Civilization” between 1925 and 1975 that is still being read. Other homes include two designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and one by Richard Neutra. It has also been known for its popularity among those in the entertainment industry, including actors, musicians and others.
The community is now known as “The Oaks” or “Los Feliz Oaks” because the street names of the hillside tract, which has stunning views of the city and, on good days, to the Pacific, have names like Black Oak, Red Oak, Speading Oak, Live Oak and Canyon Oak, among others, including Ponet, Cazaux (a French family of longstanding in Los Angeles) and, my favorite, Tuxedo Terrace. Prices for homes look to fetch between $1,250,000 and over $3,500,000.