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

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Continuing on with the third and final part of this post featuring, from the Homestead’s collection, a 1925 issue of The Architectural Digest, we begin with one of the few featured houses that is not Spanish Colonial Revival, though the Tudor Revival was quite popular during that period. The structure on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills was that residence of actor David Torrence, who hailed from Scotland (his younger brother, Ernest, also had a busy movie career) and appeared in over 100 films between 1913 and 1939. The architect, Henry A.J. Laver, was previously in advertising sales and ship building, and, though he was listed as an architect in the 1930 census and in a Los Angeles city directory seven years later, nothing more about him could be located.

Spanning four pages in the magazine is the large Beverly Hills dwelling built by cement, marble and tile contractor Charles E. Clifford, who may have designed the structure himself, as there was no attributed architect. Built on a large corner lot, though the location could not be determined (someone reading this might know?), the building featured a large front courtyard surrounded by a low wall and a lavish interior with art glass windows and a wide variety of stone and tile flooring, provided by Clifford’s firm.

The sun parlor of the Charles E. Clifford residence in Beverly Hills.

A cozy parlor with an ornate settee, phonograph player and other fine furnishings features two arched windows with pictorial scenes that are somewhat reminiscent of those found in La Casa Nueva. The dining room has a rough tile floor, looking like saltillo, with more beautiful furnishings, including a handsome table and sideboard. The stairway is made of marble with a iron railing with an unusual post at the bottom and the sun parlor, which looks to have a flagstone-like flooring, as well as wicker furniture with floral upholstery and a large fern high off the ground on a tall stand, has what looks like a Tiffany-type skylight.

The Studio City estate of Walter P. Story has already been discussed in a recent post about him, so we are skipping ahead to what is more of a Pueblo than Spanish Colonial style house in Los Angeles, owned by Gustave William “Billy” Saurret, a long-time Angel City resident who was the construction superintendent and manager at the well-known Llewellyn Iron Works, which handled much of the steel structure construction in the city. Saurret’s house is also unattributed as to designer and there is no information on contractors, but the exterior, with its square shape, broken up by some sections with gabled tile roofs, belies the lushness of the interior with its fine furnishings, rugs, art works and mirrors, and other details.

An interior of the Los Angeles house of Gustave “Billy” Saurret.

Thaddeus L. Up de Graff was a Pasadena physician of note and who was married to Emma Libby, of the famous Chicago food production company, founded in 1869, while their daughter, Louise, married architect Wallace Neff in 1924, just prior to the publication of the magazine, and there was also a son, Thaddeus, Jr. Not surprisingly, Neff designed the Up de Graff house, which was located in Altadena, but, unfortunately, has not survived.

This is unfortunate, because the images here show it as a very handsome Spanish Colonial with a front stairway leading to the second floor and a photo of the rear shows pointed arched entries into two rooms of the structure. The younger Up de Graff, incidentally, went on to be a prominent figure with the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Descanso Gardens.

The Altadena dwelling of Dr. Thaddeus L. Up de Graff.

Charles E. Toberman, a very important figure in the development of Hollywood, has been briefly mentioned here before, but four pages of the magazine are devoted to his palatial estate, called Villa Las Colinas. Designed by Clarence H. Russell and Norman W. Alpaugh, whose work included the Temple Emanu-El, Harding High School (renamed University after the president’s administration was found to be ridden with corruption), and the Asbury Apartment in Los Angeles as well as Santa Monica City Hall (Alpaugh also designed the Town House Apartments, featured previously in this blog), Las Colinas has a remarkable iron entrance gate with a tall wall and, on one side, a pedestrian gate matching the larger one.

The expansive living room featured a massive rug from John S. Keshishyan, classic furnishings and décor from the John B. Holtzclaw Company, fine bas relief carvings on the fireplace and other impressive details. In addition to the detail of the gateway, there is an image of a sweeping curved exterior staircase with intricate brick work leading to the front entrance. The nearly 10,000 square-foot mansion, roughly the same size as La Casa Nueva, with an 1,800 square-foot guest house and large indoor pool, was added to the National Register of Historic Places forty years ago, with the City of Los Angeles designating it as a Historic-Cultural Monument. Toberman, whose uncle James was profiled here recently, lived to be 101 years old, though he moved to a house in the Outpost Estates area, one of many areas he developed.

The Hollywood Hills estate, Villa Las Colinas, of Charles E. Toberman.

Irwin J. Muma, a native of San Simeon where Hearst Castle is located, came to Los Angeles in 1913 as an agent and then general manager of the Aetna Life Insurance Company and became vice-president of the Laguna Land and Water Company, which subdivided the town of Maywood, and a director of the Lincoln Mortgage Company and other firms. Muma was also a member of the Los Angeles Board of Education, founding president of the Angel City’s Rotary Club and was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention of 1924, but died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage at the Windsor Square house, with its very ornate bas-relief door surround, broad views of the front and rear and a very dark interior featured in two pages in the magazine on 31 January 1925, just around the time the publication was issued.

The Spanish Colonial Revival residence was designed by Arthur Kelly, who worked for the famed masters of the Craftsman style, Greene and Greene, and worked on such projects as Huntington Beach High School and many structures in the unique Arizona mining town of Jerome, where his patron was William Andrews Clark, a significant figure in Los Angeles in the first decades of the 20th century. Kelly was especially busy in the Roaring Twenties and sought after for his Spanish Colonial and Tudor revival designs including for actor William S. Hart, the Wilshire Country Club and The Broadway department store founder Arthur Letts, whose Holmby Hills mansion was most recent, and notoriously, the Playboy Mansion of the late Hugh Hefner.

The front entry of the Windsor Square, Los Angeles, edifice of Irwin J. Muma.

Two of the more modest dwellings in the publication belonged to F.A. Bowles, who owned a construction and design firm and who employed the prominent Hammond Lumber Company for much of the work on his Los Angeles house, and Edgar J. Cheesewright, a London-born interior decorator of distinction in Pasadena and whose house, of course, featured draperies, rugs and furniture from his Crown City studios, the building of which had a very interesting history after its use by Cheesewright.

One of the few residences from the magazine not in exclusive areas of Los Angeles, Pasadena and San Marino was that of Eugene T. Williams in La Habra Heights, a community recently developed by real estate figure and avocado promoter Edwin G. Hart. This enclave in the Puente Hills a few miles south of the Homestead and adjacent to Hart’s North Whittier (Hacienda) Heights project, features no small number of large residences, many in the Spanish Colonial revival style, but Williams’ dwelling was exceptional.

A page devoted to the La Habra Heights estate of Wyoming oilman Eugene T. Williams.

Designed by Allen Ruoff and Arthur C. Munson, who worked on the Story estate mentioned above and who had an office in Santa Ana during the period, the mansion sat on an expansive lot and had an entry behind a triple-arch portico, a curved staircase tower with stained glass windows, featured uneven canes not unlike those at La Casa Nueva, a projecting wing for Williams’ bedroom, and had a substantial second-floor ballroom.

Williams was from western Ohio and became an oil and gas prospector there and in eastern Indiana before moving to Casper, Wyoming, as that state’s oil industry was in its infancy. There and at Denver, Williams built his self-named company into a very successful concern and his sons, Phil and Russell, followed him into the industry. The 20-acre property at La Habra Heights, much of which was planted to citrus trees, was a second home to its owner, who died in 1930 at a house he owned in Múzquiz, in the northeastern Mexican state of Coahuila.

The living room of the Pasadena house of Francis S. Van Deinse.

Francis Van Deinse was a manager for the Ventura Oil Company, shortly afterward acquired by the California Petroleum Company and later Texaco, and his Wallace Neff-designed Spanish Colonial was built off the famous “Millionaire’s Row” of South Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena. Notably, this was a rare example in the magazine in which there were no exterior photos provided. Strangely, the two views are basically of the same part of the house, with one being a panoramic image of the extensive living room with a second-floor balcony on which there is a large tapestry, large beamed ceilings with carved ends and substantial furnishings, while the other image is take through an arch looking into that room.

Three pages are devoted to the Ojai estate of Edward Drummond Libbey, specifically the recently erected stables, also designed by Neff with walls and columns crafted to look like plastered but somewhat exposed adobe bricks, and a round tower that is also intended to convey a rustic, country feel. Given a Certificate of Honor by the American Institute of Architects, these palatial dwellings for Libbey’s horses were situated on what he called the “Arbolada,” or “woodland.”

Libbey’s father began working in the 1870s as an agent and sales manager for the New England Glass Company, founded near Boston in 1818, and after a few years, Edward joined the concern as a clerk. Father and son soon took over operation of the plant and, when the elder Libbey died, the younger moved it to Toledo, Ohio, where a new facility opened in 1888 and it still remains in operation. In 1892, the firm was renamed The Libbey Glass Company and, eventually, several other plants were built throughout the country, including one locally in the City of Industry, though this latter closed about twenty years ago as production shifted to China.

Libbey visited in Ojai, then known as Nordhoff, in 1908 and, as with so many others, became enchanted with the Ventura County beauty spot. He established his Arbolada estate and became a chief benefactor to the remaking of the downtown of what he encouraged should be renamed Ojai. A distinctive arcade, bell tower and other features remain today and the Libbey Bowl was named for him and is where the well-known Ojai Music Festival occurs again next month.

There are many industry-related advertisements in the publication—of course, this is how printing costs are largely covered, and some of them are mentioned here, with four pages devoted just to the Los Angeles Pressed Brick Company, which promoted its work on the Thomas Ince House, designed by Roy Seldon Price, the architect who completed La Casa Nueva at the Homestead, and others. Jesse A. Martin, whose house was featured in the magazine, was owner of the Phillips Heating, Ventilating and Manufacturing Company, with his “Martin Unit” highlighted. Van Fleet-Freear promoted its linotile, corktile and linoleum, with a photo of a linotile floor showing the product that may well have been installed in La Casa Nueva’s kitchen.

B.B. Bell and Company, which made lighting fixtures, lamps, console tables and mirrors and more, and rug and tapestry dealer John S. Keshishyan, featured in some of the highlighted residences, are also present in the advertising section, while the Nevada Lime and Rock Company promoted its work on the elaborate Los Feliz dwelling of William C. Hay, well-represented in the magazine. Western Tile and Marble, which imported tiles from Europe, North Africa, and Mexico, highlighted a beautiful fountain, while the Cheesewright Studios showed off a well-appointed interior of its creation.

Pasadena’s Wilkinson-Scott Company emphasized its lighting fixtures, some of which looked like they could have been used for La Casa Nueva and California Stucco Products advertised its work in design, color and texture, claiming that “these three add fifty per cent to the value of your home.” The John B. Holtzclaw Company of decorators and furnishers included a photo showing a remarkable and large room in its galleries on Sixth Street near Vermont west of downtown Los Angeles.

Notable because it trumpeted that it operated “the largest common brick plant in the world” and was “a complete town in itself” was the Simons Brick Company, manufacturers of brick, roofing tile and hollow tile. It noted that it had a 321-acre site, in what is now the City of Commerce and Montebello, with a church, school, post office, railroad station, general store, theater and many other amenities for the 2,000 people living in some 350 residences.

Pacific Clay Products was another major manufacturer of brick and other building materials, including sewer pipe, lining for chimney flues, drain tile, stoneware and electrical conduit and the residence of its president William Lacy, Jr. was also featured in the magazine. Hammond Lumber Company, extensively represented among the highlighted dwellings in the journal, promoted its “Ritter Oak Floors” from the Appalachian Mountains and implored readers “Don’t Pay The Penalty Of Oversight.”

Gladding, McBean and Company was another very prominent firm at the time, with a main plant and office at Tropico in southwestern Glendale, and the company manufactured terra cotta, roof tile and “Tropico Faience Tile” for its customers, including the librarian for Henry E. Huntington, George W. Cole, whose house was featured in the journal. Blue Diamond Service Company featured several photos of its plans for quarrying rock, creating stucco, plaster and mortar, and other purposes. Joseph Musto Sons-Keenan Company, which specialized in marble and tile, provided an aerial view of its plant at Soto and 26th streets on the east side of the Los Angeles River in the city of Vernon.

Poring through the pages of this edition of The Architectural Digest is interesting for seeing where the wealthy and the well-to-do resided and marveling at the design and décor of their dwellings, while the stories of some of the owners can also be of interest. While it would have been good to find La Casa Nueva among the houses profiled in the magazine, those houses that were, especially those in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, provide some notable points of comparison and contrast.

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