No Place Like Home with The Architectural Digest, 1925, Part One

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

A recent post here featuring the story of Walter P. Story included some images of his Studio City ranch house from the pages of a 1925 issue of The Architectural Digest and it was noted then that we would return to the magazine and post more about it—so here we are. We’ll break this into parts because there is so much of interest in the 114-page publication, which was recently launched by Tennessee native John C. Brasfield (1880-1962), who was a suit importer and advertising agency owner in New York City and Evanston, Illinois (near Chicago), respectively, before coming to Los Angeles in the early 1920s.

Evidently, his publication, established in 1920 as something of a directory for the construction trade, was a sideline as Brasfield, known generally by his middle name of “Coke,” still listed himself as a “general advertiser” in the 1930 census, but, later he concentrated solely on the magazine. The magazine was issued by his own company and, after his death, was edited and published by a daughter and acquired by her son. In 1993, The Architectural Digest and a related magazine, Bon Appetit, were acquired by Conde Nast Publications and the Digest celebrated its centennial three years ago.

Los Angeles Times, 3 June 1928.

The foreword for the magazine observed that

Artistic designing and building in California have created for themselves an enviable position in the world of Architecture. Reared upon a foundation, the legacy of the days of Spanish Romance in California, and blended with the necessities of modern living, there has been evolved in California a distinctive type of building which is admired and imitated the country over.

It was added that this did not happen without the work of “artists and artisans, men with vision and foresight” who “laid the foundation upon which has been developed the particular style of architecture which has become peculiarly characteristic of California.” Of course, there wasn’t just one style, though Spanish Colonial Revival was then very popular regionally (including with the Temple family’s La Casa Nueva, then under construction) and in the pages of the periodical.

Brasfield added in an “Our Service” note that “the brief resume under illustrations” in the pages of the Digest “is merely a suggestion, whereby the architect and the builder may readily locate the name of the manufacturer or contractor supplying the material used in construction” and consider hiring them for their own projects.

Speaking of La Casa Nueva, there is one image in the magazine of the remarkable Spanish Colonial residence of film studio owner Thomas Ince, whose death in November 1924 aboard the yacht of media mogul William Randolph Hearst was the subject of all manner of rumor and innuendo but which was almost certainly a simple matter of heart failure. Known as “Dias Dorados,” the Beverly Hills house was designed by Roy Seldon Price, recently profiled here (and whose middle name was, as commonly the case, rendered as “Sheldon” in the magazine), and it was this work that drew the attention of the Temples, who hired Price in 1924 not long after the Ince mansion, razed in the 1950s after it was owned by Carl Laemmle of Universal Studios, was completed.

This first part of the post will focus on the dwellings in the first section of the magazine, beginning with another imposing Beverly Hills Spanish Colonial residence, that of Union Bank and Trust president Benjamin R. Meyer, a native of San Francisco who married Rachel Cohn, daughter of the prominent Los Angeles merchant Kaspare Cohn and Hulda Newmark, whose uncle was another important Angeleno, Harris Newmark.

A connection of these major Jewish figures to the Homestead comes through the fact that, when the bank owned by William Workman and F.P.F. Temple failed in 1876, the commercial building in which the stricken institution was located, part of the multi-structure Temple Block, was acquired by Harris Newmark. Many years later, he, a son, Cohn and Meyer, incorporated the Temple Block Company to manage the property, though just after this issue of the Digest was published, the complex was razed to make way for Los Angeles City Hall.

Meyer’s estate was featured on six pages of the issue and it was noted that the house, designed by the firm of Reginald Johnson, Gordon B. Kaufmann and Roland Coate, was given a Certificate of Honor by the American Institute of Architects. Views included several of the extensive gardens and grounds, one of the residence’s exterior and nine of the interior, including the building’s library, living room, main hall, breakfast room and dining room.

Floor plans of the L-shaped structure were also rendered and an extensive listing of contractors included those for electrical, plumbing, flooring, roofing, tile, doors and furniture, painting and decoration, and much else. By any standard, the Meyer House was a spectacular and this also included the work of Paul G. Thiene, the landscape architect, and its success was such that Edward L. Doheny, Jr. and his wife Lucy, hired Kauffman to design their incredibly lavish Greystone estate, built nearby in a very different style.

Two pages were devoted to the Pasadena house of the young architect Wallace Neff, who turned 30 in 1925. Neff was born on the La Mirada Ranch established in what is now the city of that name by his maternal grandfather, the Chicago map publisher Andrew McNally (whose partner William Rand, was co-publisher of the first newspaper in Los Angeles, the Star, before relocating to the Windy City). The house of the Neff family, with Wallace’s father Edwin serving as McNally’s ranch manager, which was built in 1895 is the core of a ten-acre city-owned park.

Neff, who grew up in Pasadena, where his father became a manufacturer of patent medicines, studied art in Europe and then went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he learned architecture under the prominent Ralph Adams Cram. In 1919, he joined the firm of the prominent architect George Washington Smith, a pivotal figure in the development of the Spanish Colonial Revival story. The feature of his Pasadena residence in the magazine, includes a broad view of the front elevation, a detail of the rounded arched entry above which was a balcony and a photo of the living room, as well as a floor plan.

The Spanish Colonial house of real estate broker John A. Vaughan was designed by the firm of Chisholm, Fortine and Meikle, which was listed as one working in architecture, engineering and construction and which designed and built quite a few upscale residences in the prestigious Hancock Park neighborhood. The facing page included a front elevation view and a detail of the expansive front entry of the Colonial Revival house, designed by prominent firm of Marston, Van Pelt and Maybury, of Southern Counties Gas Company president Ferdinand R. Bain in the Palms area of west Los Angeles, where Bain owned the 90-acre Rancho La Lomita.

Furniture manufacturer George S. Hunt of Pasadena employed Marston, Van Pelt and Maybury to design a relatively compact and restrained two-bedroom house with a steep-pitched two-gabled roof with uneven shingles, tall chimney stacks at the ends, rough plaster finishing and a cozy living room. This house was also given a Certificate of Honor by the A.I.A. The Beverly Hills Spanish Colonial residence of Edson M. Scofield, a civil engineer with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and designed by Alfred S. Nibecker, Jr. also featured a rough stucco exterior.

Another Neff design in the Spanish Colonial style was for the Pasadena house, situated very close to the California Institute of Technology, of Mrs. M.L.H. Walker, and a broad view shows the front elevation with a wrap-around second floor balcony not unlike what Price designed for La Casa Nueva and there is an attractive view of the approach through what look like eucalyptus trees from the drive to the front entry.

Neff’s former boss, George Washington Smith, was the architect for the San Marino Spanish Colonial dwelling, situated very close to the Huntington Library, Art Gallery and Botanical Gardens, of Otto E. Osthoff. Osthoff retired in his forties after serving as chief engineer and vice-president of the H.M. Byllesby Company, whose founder was an associate of Thomas Edison and who made his name as an electrical engineer with lighting, street railways, hydro-electricity and other enterprises. Two pages are devoted to the Osthoff house, including a couple of interiors, as well as views of a portico and balcony area, the front door and a wider view of the structure.

Across the street from Osthoff’s dwelling was the house of investment banker George Parker Toms, whose Spanish Colonial house by Neff had a curved staircase at the front to the second floor an a deep-set front entrance with brick lining, as well as a beehive-shaped arch leading into a living room. Toms was a hearing engineer who worked with a radiator company in St. Louis before coming to California for that firm and moving into finance, including the Pasadena investment house of Hunter, Dubin and Company.

Aleck Curlett was well-known for his partnership in the 1920s with Claud Beelman and such projects as the Eastern Columbia, Roosevelt and Wholesale Jewelry Mart buildings in Los Angeles. A product of Columbia University whose career began with his father William, Curlett designed his Beverly Hills house, of which there are four pages devoted to it in the magazine. Two pages provide floor and plot plans, a broad view of the residence, and some details of intriguing features of the entrance, including a tall arched section, a rustic wood trellis and other elements. The other pair of pages show the expansive ad well-appointed living and dining rooms and the hall stairway.

The imposing Los Angeles dwelling of steel and iron manufacturer William Lacy, Jr., also designed by Chisholm, Fortine and Meikle has extensive brick facing, a steep shingled roof, a porte cochere on one side, and an ornate entrance with Gothic elements to it with an arch and quoins. Lacy was also president of Pacific Clay Products, which provided the brick facing that was one of the distinguishing features of the exterior, while the brick contractor was Harlan C. Davidson, which provided that material for some of Walter P. Temple’s commercial buildings during the era.

Lacy’s mother, Isabella Pigg, was from a village near Carlisle, England, about 30 miles north of William Workman’s hometowns of Temple Sowerby and Clifton, and his father, William, Sr. was from the Chelsea area of London. When the family came to Los Angeles when Lacy was a boy (he was born in northern California), his father, previously an architect and merchant, worked as a bank teller before becoming a partner with William R. Rowland, son of Rancho La Puente co-owner John Rowland in developing oil on the younger Rowland’s share of the ranch where Harbor Boulevard/Fullerton Road crest in the Puente Hills.

The younger Lacy and a brother Richard (who was married to a sister of the famous British musical composer, Arthur Sullivan, or Gilbert & Sullivan fame) got their start in steel and iron manufacturing thanks to their father’s involvement in what became the Puente Oil Company and expanded their work more broadly within the oil industry as well as in other areas. Sadly, despondency over the Great Depression and other worries led Lacy to take his life in his Hancock Park home in June 1932.

We’ll return tomorrow with part two and more interesting photos of notable greater Los Angeles houses and the history of some of the owners and architects from this edition of The Architectural Digest, so be sure to check back with us then.

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