705 East Adams Street

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On the northeast corner of East Adams and San Pedro streets stood one of the imposing residences of the eastern reaches of Adams Street, that of John Fremont Salyer, who with his older brother Alfred Mark Salyer was the proprietor of a large, well-established music emporium downtown at 353 Broadway. Well-established but short-lived: The principals of Salyer's Piano House went their separate ways at just about the same time John spent $7,000 to build 705 East Adams Street in the spring of 1902, moving from a cottage nearby, one still standing at 916 East 27th Street.


One of the last advertisements for Salyer's Piano House
in the Times, 1901: Soon asunder.

  
One wonders what might have caused the dissolution of the Salyer brothers' business partnership; perhaps the split was amicable, or perhaps John was given to overspending and managing his personal life in ways that did not please Alfred. In any case, Alfred proceeded forthwith to open his own operation, the Pacific Music Company, with retail and, later, piano manufacturing divisions. John's assets in Salyer's Piano House, which apparently included the real estate, were merged with the Bartlett Music Company, founded in Los Angeles in 1882; John became secretary of the new venture. When A. G. Bartlett retired in 1906, John bought him out and, while retaining the Bartlett name, became president of the firm, remaining associated with it until it closed in the 1920s.


John Fremont Salyer, 1910



On East Adams Street, meanwhile, things were perhaps not so rosy as they came to be down at the office. John's wife Rosa was raising the couple's two sons, Edwin and Roy, entertaining on occasion the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (Missouri-born herself, Rosa's parents were Tennessee natives). Perhaps she was a modern woman who was happy to have her children and a lovely new house and did not ask too many questions of her husband, but could she have known that he and and a woman by the name of Byrda McGauhey—and Byrda's sister Opal—were issued U. S. passports on the same day in March 1900? The same Byrda McGauhey who was Rosa's fellow member of the DOTC? It is not know whether an elopement was planned; no international travel records or marriage followed on the heels of the issuance of the passports. Could there have been an aborted affair that led tangentially to the dissolution of Salyer's Piano House? It wouldn't at any rate be the last John and Byrda saw of each other, though he remained at 705 East Adams with Rosa for at least the rest of the decade. When a final parting came, John moved to the Jonathan Club. By 1912, Rosa was a grass widow, listed in subsequent city directories as "Rosa Salyer (widow J. F.)"—a annotation commonly used by divorcées in the Edwardian era to save face, and perhaps to subtly wish the ex dead—though in this case it would be Rosa who would be reposing at Inglewood Park by late 1918, way before John. But we digress...in the meantime, before Rosa's demise, waiting like a spider for news of the divorce decree was Byrda. She and John were married before the ink was dry. Rosa decamped for St. Andrews Place and the new Mr. and Mrs. J. F. Salyer took an apartment at the Young on South Grand; the East Adams Street house may have then been rented for several years while John and Byrda contemplated their future and that of their city. It was clear that whatever shred of fashion East Adams Street may ever have had was long gone. Los Angeles was moving inexorably west to the Pacific. If not as far north and westerly to where the newest new development was taking place—from Windsor Square and Fremont Place to Beverly Hills and beyond—the Salyers nevertheless made a big move to a district just peaking in desirability, if in the next decade to begin its decline.


The Salyer house as seen in May 2011, three miles from where it was built



Through his marriages and peregrinations, John Salyer had maintained 705 East Adams Street for nearly 20 years before moving to 2400 South Gramercy Place. It wasn't to a new house that he moved; saving on the Bekins bills and taking advantage of powerful new house-moving equipment developed during the First World War, in 1920 he—or rather Byrda, it appears—simply had 705 and its contents jacked up and transported three miles west to a section of West Adams that would maintain its cachet longer than much of the district, hard as it was by fashionable, gated Berkeley Square. On June 3, 1920, the Department of Buildings issued a permit—to Byrda—to relocate 705 East Adams to the southeast corner of Gramercy Place and 24th Street.




The John Fremont Salyer house was built in 1902 at the southwest
corner of the Menlo Park Tract, as seen in the photograph at top. Baist
fire insurance maps from 1910 and 1921 reflect the removal of 705 East Adams—
at the northeast corner of Adams and San Pedro streets—to the southeast
corner of Gramercy Place and West 24th, where it remains today.



Houses of the size of 705 East Adams usually required trucking in pieces; the presumed route to its new site was west on Adams and then north two blocks to a large double lot at the southeast corner of Gramercy and 24th Street. How this might have been accomplished at a time when Adams on either side of Figueroa still had its median is unclear; one only hopes that far fewer trees were cut down for clearance than the hundreds that were removed to bring the spacecraft Endeavour through South Los Angeles in October 2012. After placement on its new foundation (or perhaps in a subsequent renovation), the house acquired a new flat roofline, though all other major elements, including columns and long oval front-door sidelights, remain. Happily for the neighborhood is that, despite the loss of Berkeley Square in its entirety, the Salyer house remains standing and has recently been restored.




John and Byrda Salyer stayed in their relocated house for only a few years. By 1924 the couple had decamped to San Gabriel, with 2400 South Gramercy apparently passing into new hands. It could be that the Salyers had overextended themselves with the move (not to mention a trip to Hawaii in 1924). In May of that year, a picture of the house appeared in Los Angeles Times foreclosure-auction advertisements featuring furnishings that might have been old Salyer possessions in place since Adams Street. At any rate, it is curious to note that John and Byrda Salyer were later to be found living back at 705 East Adams in a two-family building with which, having retained the lot, they had replaced the mobile house in 1923. Byrda was listed at 705 as late as 1936; the lot now holds only cinder blocks, asphalt, and discarded mattresses. Gramercy Place south of the 10 has hung on in a fitfully gentrifying state since the trauma of the freeway's invasion 50 years ago and in the wake of the grandees of West Adams, long since moved on to Windsor Square, Hancock Park, Pasadena, Beverly Hills and the Westside.


2015: The Salyer House at 112 years old



Illustrations: Tye PublishingLATHistoric Map Works; Google Street View;
Untold LA