by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In the seemingly interminable sequences of booms that characterized the remarkable growth of greater Los Angeles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, one of the largest was that of the early 1920s with development taking place at a rapid-fire pace, including, in 1923—the peak of the boom—Walter P. Temple’s Town of Temple (renamed Temple City five years later) project.
His middle-class suburban tract was modest in comparison to that discussed in this post, with the featured artifact from the Museum’s holdings being an original 1920 tract map, which was the (New) Windsor Square development west of downtown Los Angeles. What the two shared in common, along with almost every other area in the region, was the so-called “restrictive covenant,” which was a racial restriction forbidding the ownership of lots to any persons of color, meaning “not of the Caucasian race.”
The word “new” was because there was an original Windsor Square development, nearly a decade before and to the south, arising from the work of Robert A. Rowan, who was previously highlighted in this blog. That 1911 project was one of the more upscale communities in the burgeoning westside and notable for some commodious residences, such as those built by the Janss family, among the biggest real estate developers in the region including working class areas like Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles as well as tonier districts in the Westwood/Holmby Hills section.
The (New) Windsor Heights, advertised with the parentheses, was a project handled by three other major real estate figures of the era. Sidney H. Woodruff, from whose papers this map appears to have come, is probably best known for the Hollywoodland project, in the eastern extremity of the Santa Monica Mountains range west of Griffith Park and where the development’s hilltop sign still stands, less the last four letters, leaving most visitors to believe it was always to promote the film industry. We’ll feature more information about Woodruff in a future post.
Another major player was Frank Meline, the son of Portuguese immigrants from the Madeira Islands off northwest Africa, also highlighted in a past post here, who was very successful with the high-end developments on land owned by oilman Alphonzo Bell, such as Bel-Air, Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades. Meline was not just a developer, but also designed homes, though it is not known if he was a licensed architect.
Finally, there was Tracy Eldridge Shoults, who was born in Santa Barbara in 1871 and was the eldest child of George, a farmer in Carpinteria, and Mary, neé Alvord, who was the daughter of a Gold Rush miner. The Shoults family migrated to Los Angeles, where George had an interest in mining and Tracy worked as an express driver (and was known for his prowess as a deep-sea fisherman) before getting into the real estate game. It appears some of his early work in the field was during the first decade of the 20th century and largely centered in south and southwest Los Angeles.
Shoults, who was married to Beulah Winslow and with whom he had a daughter Jane, became associated with Woodruff, a relatively new arrival, by the end of the Teens so their project with (New) Windsor Heights represented a major step for both of them in local residential development, especially in the higher-end market. The 7 April 1920 edition of the Los Angeles Express reported that the tract was to be opened on the 11th, weather permitting, and that “it is planned to make [it] one of the most pretentious residential sites in the Southland.”
The property comprised 92 acres (which just happened to be the same size as the Temple family’s Workman Homestead at the time) and “is located in the heart of the Wilshire District,” a key upscale section on the westside, with Third Street and Larchmont Boulevard considered the core intersection. The article observed that the original Windsor Square “is now one of the finest residential sections in Los Angeles” full of houses in the range of $25,000 to $100,000 and it was asserted that “the new tract will be improved on an even more costly scale.”
The piece also noted that Shoults’ firm had just put on the market a pair of subdivisions across Larchmont, these being Windsor Heights and Marlborough Square (obviously, the use of English monikers was calculate to inculcate prestige to the discriminating buyer) and that “the building and improvement activities in these tracts have stimulated unusual interest in this section of the city.” As for the new project, it was concluded that “its natural advantages [will be] enhanced by a lighting system, parkings [?], curbs, sidewalks and other conveniences.”
By early May, a sophisticated marketing campaign featured several advertisements touting that elevated character of the tract. The 2 May 1920 issue of the Los Angeles Times ran one that stated, “we take what we believe is pardonable pride in announcing that (new) Windsor Square is attracting keenest interest among real estate, building and civic improvement experts as a residence subdivision model worthy of emulation.”
It added that a real estate figure from “a large northern city” investigated the property on a special trip, while nearly every day other industry representatives visited and, it was asserted, “these experts are unanimous in their praise of this subdivision and agree that it combines all of the good features and contains none of the faults of similar properties.” This led the developers to proclaim that New Windsor Square was “The Subdivision Without Mistakes.”
The ad did note that the project was subject to “adequate financial and artistic building restrictions” which meant that nothing could be constructed “which do not conform with the general scheme of architectural perfection.” Separately, the Times reported on Meline’s association with Shoults and Woodruff, noting that he “was a member of the original new Winsdor [sic] Square syndicate” along with Shoults. Meline was also identified as “the builder of some of the most pretentious homes in this section,” but also of business and public buildings and “less elaborate dwellings.”
The following week, an advertisement in the Times mused that “fifty years from now men may not be living in houses” but, if that prognostication were to prove prescient, “it is nice to know that until that time it will be impossible for anyone to mar the architectural beauty or detract from the value of your property” at the development. It, for some reason, continued by declaring that it was a major step from the rude log cabin of Abraham Lincoln “to the luxurious and convenient residence of the present day,” though the demographic sought for (New) Windsor Square was, of course, just slightly more elevated!
Even more strangely, it was forecast that while the future would include “even more sensational developments” in residential design and building, “our children may, in another half century, be building their nests in captive balloons or on the tops of high mountains.” Perhaps the developers could foresee hippies getting high or living in remote communes in 1970? Whatever that future held, the piece concluded, buyers at the tract could rest assured they had “greater protection and safer shelter from the ravages of time” at (New) Windsor Square than in any comparable project in the region.
Another advertisement in the Times the next week employed a typical trope in averring that
The same irresistible spirit of progress which has caused Los Angeles to grow from a sleepy Spanish pueblo, grouped about the Plaza mission [Church], to its present proud position as the Metropolis of the Pacific has been exemplified in the creation of (new) Windsor Square.
It was added that some of the investors were those who, four decades before when the Boom of the 1880s marked the beginnings of the region’s phenomenal growth, “saw a vision” of what was possible. These unnamed figures were lauded for their forward thinking and for being “such potent factors in the progress and development of their city.” Buyers could take advantage of this visionary marvel and know that “no subdivision in the boundaries of Los Angeles will be so beautiful or will contain such improvements” as on the tract.
An interesting sidelight was another Times article on the same page in that edition of 16 May that discussed “New Life for ‘Old Shacks'” in which, during the relentless pace of development and redevelopment, “one of the easiest ways of defeating high building costs was to buy a ‘shabby genteel’ dwelling which is about to suffer demolishment because [it is] in the path of progress, and have it moved to your vacant residence lot.
From city building department records, it was observed that hundreds of houses, “ones upon which time has fixed the obvious marks of decrepitude,” were purchased “by thrifty citizens.” Among these “old shacks” were “dwellings [which] formerly belonged to the near-elite sections of Los Angeles of the nineties” but which recently were “pushed back into obscurity and ill repute by the march of business.
Some newer houses, however, were being relocated because of the growing trend of apartment building to maximize lot space (and, consequently, profit for the developer.) Examples were given, including a modern two-story house resituated from near Westlake Park to the new Hancock Park just west of Windsor Square, and a photo of one late 19th century house moved from Main and Fourteenth streets was included.
The Times‘ issue of 23 May featured an ad that appealed to the immigrant from the east and, while it repeated the benefit of design and financial restrictions from earlier examples, it addressed another matter. That is, while it was noted that the Angel City measured up well in population and industrial development with Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and other larger cities, it added that:
Those cities which exceed Los Angeles in actual number of inhabitants have dense foreign populations which are an inconsiderate element in their standing as residence communities.
Therefore, to avoid the annoyance of having to live in close proximity with the “great unwashed masses,” prospective residents of (New) Windsor Square from the east were further informed that values of land in those other cities were five to ten times higher. On the 30th, another ad discussed the importance of the growing manufacturing might of Los Angeles, including the coming Goodyear tire plant, and the “industrial prestige” that would raise property values, though, of course, the tony tracts like this one were far removed from the noise and pollution of the expanding industrial districts of the Angel City.
This takes us to the tract map, which shows the original Windsor Square to the south below Third Street, Marlborough Square to the northwest above Temple Street, soon renamed Beverly Boulevard and Windsor Heights to the west across Larchmont between First and Third streets. What is known as Larchmont Village along that thoroughfare includes commercial structures on the west side in Tract 3501 and on the east side in (New) Windsor Square. To the east, beyond the east side of Irving Boulevard, which is within the tract, and past another tract is the Wilton Historic District.
As part of the map, though, is a “synopsis of the Restrictions and Conditions” for the subdivision, also known as Tract 3743. Among these are that only single-family houses would be permitted, that any plans for improvements had to be reviewed and approved by a three-member committee under the auspices of the Title Insurance and Trust Company (TICOR) and its successors, that no alcohol should be manufactured and sold (Prohibition had just taken effect), excepting those permitted for medical purposes, such as provided by druggists and physicians, and others.
Referring back to the ad about the “inconsiderate element” of “dense foreign populations,” there was also the standard language found in virtually any areas of the city, excepting a few areas like Boyle Heights and sections of South or South-Central Los Angeles, and denoted as “restrictive covenants.” In the synopsis, the language was coldly clinical and crystal clear:
None of said lots shall be sold, conveyed, rented or leased, in whole or in part, to any person not of the White or Caucasian race. None of said lots shall be used or occupied or permitted to be used or occupied, in whole or in part, by any person not of the White or Caucasian race, except such as are in the employ of the owners or tenants of said lots.
Obviously, the last section meant that a person of color who was a cook, maid, butler, chauffeur, gardener, nurse or other employee of an owner of a house in (New) Windsor Square, could resident there. These restrictive covenants were declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in 1948, though more covert means were subsequently employed to keep people of color out of previously restricted residential areas.
In 2019, a Windsor Square Historic Preservation Overlay Zone was developed that takes in eight subdivisions dating from 1905 to 1921, including the original Windsor Square, the new version discussed here, Windsor Heights and adjoining tracts. In addition to the variety and character of many of the houses, the original concrete streets, light posts, and other elements of distinction were noted in the plan.
The exclusivity of (New) Windsor Square, as with many of its neighbors was, of course, built into the planning a century or more ago, and a recent visit to the area was a stark reminder of the fact that, as has often been pointed out, the financial inequities in current American life are at their widest since the 1920s and earlier. When driving from U.S. 101 from downtown and then exiting on Melrose Avenue and heading west to the upper reaches of Hancock Park, this was all-too-apparent as homeless encampments, graffitied and decaying structures, and other examples reflecting financial want are far more common than they were, say, fifteen years ago when the Great Recession of 2007 hit, while the wealthy enclaves to the south and west remain in full flower.
As to Tracy E. Shoults, he did not long survive his work on (New) Windsor Square. The success of the development led him and Woodruff to launch another prominent project, Hollywoodland, which was under the auspices of Shoults’ company. In July 1923, however, just as that subdivision was getting off the ground, Shoults, having returned from a horseback ride, was at his office when, about Noon, he complained that he was not feeling well. In fifteen minutes, he was dead and heart failure was declared to be the cause. Woodruff took over the company, which then took his name, and carried on with Hollywoodland, soon followed by Dana Point, in Orange County.
For more about the Windsor Square area, check out this detailed blog post.