by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Tomorrow is the first of two days of the Homestead’s “Ticket to the Twenties” festival and our series of posts based on interpretive themes for displays in our historic houses moves right along with a look at one micro-intensive aspect of a big theme: real estate development in greater Los Angeles during the 1920s.
Having already touched upon the importance of expanding the region’s infrastructure through water and electricity; looked at the growth of industrial areas, such as a district along the Los Angeles River in the “flats” of Boyle Heights; and analyzed the vital component of the area’s agricultural might, it makes sense to take a look real estate development, particular residential activity.
There is no better study on a very local level than what happened in Alhambra during the decade. The western San Gabriel Valley town parlayed its proximity to downtown Los Angeles and its job centers to promote growth that was substantial during the period.
After all, not long after Walter and Laura Temple realized their first impressive royalty payments after the first well on their Montebello oil lease came in during the summer of 1917, they purchased a large Craftsman home on a large lot in the city. Clearly, they were drawn to the vitality of the town and remained residents there for several years, at the end of which time Walter Temple, months after his wife’s untimely passing (more on that in tomorrow’s post), acquired land to the east that he developed, in 1923, into the Town of Temple (renamed Temple City in 1928). Temple had a number of real estate development projects in the area as the boom continued through most of the decade.
Today’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection is a circa 1923 photograph of the tract office of prominent Alhambra realtor J. Homer Hough. A native of Boonville, north of Utica in northwestern New York, and born in 1890, Hough came with his family to Los Angeles in the early years of the 20th century and graduated in 1909 from Los Angeles High School. His parents were in their forties when Homer (first name: John) was born and his father was a retired grocer when the family came out to this area. Homer’s first job looks to have been as a bookkeeper for a street railway company, probably what became the Pacific Electric system.
Hough then got into the real estate game and had an office on West Main Street, while he and his family lived on East Main just across the street and to the west of the Temples. Later, Hough and family moved to San Gabriel where they lived for years.
One of his early major projects, starting at the beginning of 1922, was selling the Stoneman Homestead Tract, named for Civil War general and later California governor George Stoneman, who had a large property called “Los Robles” with oranges after coming to what was called the San Gabriel district not long after conclusion of the war. Stoneman and his property were covered in a post here in May 2017 and it was noted that the first subdivision of Los Robles took place during the famed Boom of the 1880s.
Generally, these agricultural properties (this was mentioned in yesterday’s post) gave way to suburban development as the population grew and land values for subdivision for housing, commercial uses and other purposes were higher than for farming. Now, in the early 1920s, a re-subdivision of a portion of Los Robles took place and Hough was the realtor for what had been the ranch house and surrounding land. This encompassed three blocks between Garfield and Third, east to west, and Grand to Alhambra, south to north.
Another major project by Hough was Country Club Crest in San Gabriel, situated near the intersection of Las Tunas Avenue, the extension of Main Street through San Gabriel and Temple City, and Del Mar Avenue. Launched in summer 1923, just after the Town of Temple was opened, the subdivision, adjacent to the San Gabriel Country Club (where Walter Temple was a member) became Hough’s tract office location in a structure shown in the photos and in the ad below.
This was a highly distinctive Mission Revival style building including a two-story square central section surmounted by an octagonal dome with arched openings. There also appear to be short projecting wings on the north and south sides (the view looks north up Del Mar from across Las Tunas.)
Over the tall arched front entrance is a sign with the name of Hough’s firm and that he provided general real estate and insurance services. On the sidewalk in front of the nicely manicured landscaped grounds are message boards advertising specials on lots, a bargain home, and other parcels in the tract. To the right in the undeveloped field is a sign stating “Stop Here” for a “Cold Drink.”
In addition to selling lots and houses in subdivisions like these, Hough was secretary of the Alhambra Building and Loan Association; secretary and manager of the First Bond and Mortgage Company of Alhambra; was a director of the Citizens’ Savings and Commercial Bank of Alhambra (which was bought out and turned into a Bank of America branch location); and was a prime mover of a large syndicate the acquired and developed 100 acres of southwest Alhambra for an industrial district, not dissimilar to the one described in this week’s post on the Boyle Heights district.
Hough continued in real estate for many years, lived for a time in the Windsor Hills area of Los Angeles, and died in Orange County in 1969 at age 79. He was not a big player in regional real estate like Harold Janss, the son-in-law of Arthur Letts the founder of The Broadway department stores; Alphonzo Bell of Bel-Air fame; Frank Meline, who worked on Bel-Air, Pacific Palisades and many other projects; and S. H. Woodruff, developer of Hollywoodland (the iconic Hollywood sign actually was a marketing tool for that project) and Dana Point, among others. Yet, in Alhambra, he was a significant presence in real estate development for residential and industrial purposes, banking, mortgage lending and other enterprises.
Not to mention the fact that he a distinctive office with unusual architectural features at Country Club Crest!