by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In the recent resurgence of what, in the these days of initializing virtually everything, is now deemed not to be downtown Los Angeles, but DTLA, one of the busiest and liveliest areas of the central core of the City of Angels is the area generally bounded by Interstate 10 to the south, Interstate 110 to the west, Figueroa Street to the east and Olympic Boulevard to the north.
Embraced within this section are the Los Angeles Convention Center, the Staples Center, and the LA Live complex with the Grammy Museum, the Ritz Carlton and Marriott hotels, the Microsoft Theater and plenty of restaurants, night spots and other attractions. With music, sports, entertainment and other leisure opportunities abounding, it’s more than a little jarring to look at tonight’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection, a snapshot from 1914, and see what this part of downtown looked like more than a century ago.
Of course, in the 1910s, those who knew the area well were probably pretty shocked at the transformation of this once-quiet sectiom from one dominated by single-family and some multi-family residences to more increasingly becoming a commercial district. The continuing, rapid growth of Los Angeles, marked by remarkable period of boom times with occasional busts, meant the inevitable transition of such locales.
The snapshot is taken from the east side of Figueroa, looking to the southwest, from just above Tenth. An automobile parked near the photographer appears to have the year 1914 on its license plate. A few other “flivvers” are flying (well, perambulating) down the unpaved thoroughfare that has thousands of vehicles plying it now every day and there is a Los Angeles Railway streetcar (the only system serving the city), as well. About a dozen blocks further south, incidentally, is the area encompassed in many of the 1880s cabinet card photos from yesterday’s post.
Off to the right side are two structures that were likely more typical of the buildings found in the area prior to the time the photo was snapped—that is, single-family or smaller multi-family homes and apartments. It seems apparent, though, that the unidentified photographer was training his or her attention on the newer examplars of the area’s transition–the four commercial buildings on the west side of Figueroa and south of Tenth.
Fortunately, an inscription on the back tells us what the focal point of the image was. The four-story building (with a basement) at the corner was denoted as the Alco Hotel (or Hotel Alco), with Glick’s Drugstore occupying retail space on the ground floor. Also mention was the Hollman Business College “down the street”, this being the two-story structure third down from the intersection and which, conveniently, has a painted advertisement on its north wall.
Not identified are the second and fourth buildings, though the latter does have an ad for Lee tires on its north side, so the structure may have been a tire store, an auto repair shop, or both. The second one was identified through some research into the Hotel Alco and turns out to have been the Hotel Loma.
The business college opened in its new building at 1017-19 South Figueroa in fall 1912, moving from its previous cramped quarters on a floor of the B.F. Coulter Building at Broadway and Second Street. Hollman’s was one of several prominent business colleges that opened in Los Angeles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and followed a long tradition of commercial schools and business colleges that grew in popularity during the 1800s.
In fact, John H. Temple, owned of the Homestead from 1888-1899, graduated from Bryant and Stratton’s Commercial School in Boston in 1876 and his brother, Walter, who owned the Homestead from 1917-1932, attended the Woodbury Business College in Los Angeles in the early 1890s.
While private colleges of various kinds are the subject of intense scrutiny today for their tuition, loaning practices, and graduation and job placement rates, government, from local to federal, had a definite laissez faire, or hands-off, approach to such educational institutions as it did for many elements of American business life.
Though the Figueroa Street structure was purpose-built by the Milwaukee Building Company (we can suppose the college was hopping when it opened in late 1912) and the nearly 10,000 square foot structure was deemed to be much superior in size and amenities to its former Coulter quarters, the Hollman institution did not remain there long.
After fewer than five years, the college headed back into the busier area of downtown and established its new campus on Spring Street south of Sixth Street in what was then the financial district. Hollman’s was only in these quarters for a couple of years when it merged, in 1920, with another business college, Sawyer’s.
As for two hostelries, the smaller, the 47-room Hotel Loma opened at the end of 1913, several months after its larger neighbor. Most commercial endeavors involve the risk of speculation with capital expended, generally through business loans, to buy or lease space, build and furnish the space, market and promote the product and then hope to provide attractive pricing that still brings a tidy profit.
The Hotel Loma, designed by prominent Los Angeles architects Morgan, Walls and Morgan and built by the United Investment Company, was leased for ten years to Flora Snyder of Chicago. It offered some of the newest amenities among hostelries, including steam heating and telephones in each room, while half of them had private baths. Rates were 75 cents a day and $4 a week and up. The first floor street front spaces were devoted to retail space.
After just three years, however, the hotel went belly up and the furnishing were offered for auction in spring 1916 by a local company. Among the items were brass beds and mattresses; Circassian walnut dressers and desks; oak and mahogany tables and chairs; lace curtains; carpeting; bedding; kitchen appliances; a mahogany piano; and more.
The adjacent and larger Hotel Alco, however, had a much longer life. Also designed by the architects of the Hotel Loma, the four-story structure of 60 rooms was built by Abraham Bernheim and leased, in early 1913, for ten years to Michael Cagney, said to have been an experienced hotelier from Texas.
Again, the storefronts on the ground floor were dedicated to retail, including the drugstore noted on the back of the photo and there was initially a cafe ran in conjunction with the hotel. There was a lobby of 30 by 60 feet, an elevator and the steam heating and phones in all rooms advertised in the Hotel Loma. Rates were just slightly higher than that of the Loma, as well, at $1 a day and $4.50 a week.
As did many hotels in the region, the Alco advertised for winter guests and there were at least some “winter birds” who “flew” in from the east. One that got notice in the local press was Granville Sturgis, a dramatist and author of some note in the time, and who stayed for the winter of 1914-15.
There were, however, many permanent residents, as discovered by looking at want ads. These might be for those living at the hotel advertising a business, property for sale, or seeking work. For example, a Mrs, Pratt ran ads for a lengthy period in 1914 and 1915 as a “modiste,” or a milliner (dressmaker) of fashionable clothing. Sometimes, professionals lived there, such as Dr. Frederick E. Tulley, found in a listing of medical practitioners.
A reference book for some 30,000 motion picture actors included the listing of Blair Chevalier as a Hotel Alco denizen in 1920, though nothing could be found of him in the IMDB or other sources for the industry. One ad from 1922 was from a resident who stated he was a former publicity director for a couple of studios, such as Al Christie’s comedy company and for “Tarzan of the Apes” and was looking for a job in the industry or in the automobile line.
After just two years, a new lessee for the building was sought and it seems there were changes in the lease at least every several years for some time—this, again, being a tough business in which to run a decent profit. The building was also sold in the early 1920s and, presumably, changed hands after then, as well.
The Alco sometimes made the news for more nefarious or tragice reasons. In November 1922, a fire broke out due to an overflow of oil from a heater and, though the blaze was contained before doing much damage, a Los Angeles Fire Department firefighter was killed when he crushed between his engine and a Los Angeles Railway streetcar that, apparently, misjudged clearance with the firefighting apparatus. H. Clyde Powell, of Engine Company #9, was crushed by the impact and died at the scene.
Soon after the Alco opened, in spring 1913, William La Casse, a car salesman who skipped bail on a charge of the statutory rape of a 15-year old film actress, Evelyn Quick, whose stage name was Jewel Carmen and who appeared in about thirty films during the decade, was sought along with a married woman, whose husband alleged was having an affair with La Casse. The two were said to have been registered under assumed names at the Arco while being sought by the police. La Casse was acquitted on the charge involving Quick, who married a film director, Roland West.
In 1935, West was having an affair with actress Thelma Todd, who ran a restaurant a block from the home shared by West and Quick and which was financed by West and owned by Quick. It turned out that West and Todd were having an affair and Tood was found dead of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in her car parked in the garage of the home. Apparently, Todd sought to warm herself in the vehicle when locked out of the residence. The scandal led Quick to divorce West and, having retired from film, she receded from the public eye, dying in the 1980s in the San Diego area at age 86.
There were at least a few robberies of the hotel through the 1920s, including one that was made an object of comedic coverage by the Los Angeles Express, in its 15 April 1926 edition. It reported that night clerk, T. Cottle, was enjoying a nap, when “suddenly in his dreams he thought he was standing at Second and Hill street looking into the Second Street tunnel.”
Instead, the article cheekily continued, “suddenly the sides of the street seemed to cave in and strike him on the shoulder.” Startled from his slumber, Cottle “still believed he was gazing into the tunnel, but in a moment realized it was the barrel of a bandit’s pistol.” The clerk was relieved of $75, his wallet, watch and chain, and likely his pride. Shortly aftterward, a guest at the Alco was arrested in Inglewood on suspicion of the robbery and it was said he could not pay his bill and, having gotten drunk, decided the robbery was his way of avoiding what he owed.
The Alco managed to stay open for nearly a half century (10th Street was changed to Olympic Boulevard in honor of the 1932 games held in Los Angeles) and the last references to it were as the “New Alco Hotel” in 1961 when rooms were $8.50 a week, not much more than the most expensive rooms in 1914. It is not known when the two hotels and the Hollman college buildings were razed, but a look at that area today is a dramatic transformation, which could obviously be said about many parts of DTLA today.
Here is a Google Maps image of the area now!