900 West Adams Boulevard

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After purchasing a prime lot at the southwest corner of Adams and Portland streets on August 27, 1892, Russell Judson Waters—a Chicago lawyer who had founded Redlands, where he was a serious citrus grower, later a U.S. Congressman and banker—was issued a permit to begin construction of his new Los Angeles residence on September 22 of the next year; the result was a dwelling in the current high-Victorian style, but one that had barely a decade to be considered fashionable and was distinctly passé by the time Waters died in the house on September 25, 1911, after an illness that had confined him there for five months. While newer and more horizontal domestic architectural modes quickly rendered it a relic, the house managed to survive into the 1960s, an apartment building replacing it by 1964. The Waters house found fame as a movie star in its dotage, appearing to great effect in The Curse of the Cat People (1944) and William Castle's 13 Ghosts (1960), images from which appear below.

At the time of his death, Russell Waters was president of both the Citizens National Bank and the Home Savings Bank of Los Angeles, as well as a director of the German American Savings Bank. He was hailed in his obituary in the Times as congenial man, civic-minded but also noted as one who avoided the club and lodge life that might have been expected of a man of his accomplishments and social connections. His first wife, Adelaide Ballard Waters, had also died at 900 West Adams, on February 5, 1903. On September 1 of the following year, 61-year-old Waters married 36-year-old Miss Maude Crew of Los Angeles, who assumed her wifely place at 900. Over the next 16 years, various members of the Crew family would live at 900 with various Waterses. To accommodate the household, a second-floor porch was enclosed in 1907; otherwise there seems to have been little change in the house's 1893 configuration during the family's ownership. It wasn't until Maude Waters left the house in 1920 that major alterations occurred—West Adams Street, as it was then still designated, was losing favor among the rich, which meant changes in domestic uses. The big wooden houses strung along Adams were beginning to become maintenance headaches—especially with the complicated surfaces of houses such as 900—newer suburbs were calling, and the population of Los Angeles was on the verge of more than doubling within the decade, putting pressure on housing. 

The exodus of the Old Guard would occur just as West Adams was reaching its verdant charm that made it seem as ageless as, say, the Garden District of New Orleans, despite the fact that much of its housing stock was barley 20 years old.  Fusty, dusty Victorian houses were especially in disfavor, as the style was all across America, making them ripe for redevelopment into income-producing flats or demolition for new apartment buildings. The Waters house appears to have become the former early in the '20s. Before long it gained a name—the Stonewall Apartments—though it would be referred to variously as a hotel, a rooming house, a boarding establishment, as well as offering "furnished rooms." The owner during the '20s is unclear, but it appears to eventually have been managed if not owned by Sarah Teschke, a real estate agent, who in 1929 had seen to the installation of an early form of Sheetrock on the walls and ceilings of the second floor. In charge by 1932, and apparently assuming ownership, was the widow Nora Eagle and her daughter Gladys—who was a Christian Science practitioner, handy to worshippers at the Second Church of Christ, Scientist just next door—who rented rooms as well as space to Zeta Phi Eta, a national honorary dramatics society, of which Sarah Teschke, as it happened, was an active member. From mid-decade until 1940, the Eagles let the house out to U.S.C.'s Delta Zeta sorority. The Stonewall name still clung to the house during these years, but, following the departure of Delta Zeta, the Eagles changed the name to the evocative "Green Gables." Coeds would still occupy the rooms of 900: The war years saw its continued use by Zeta Phi Eta as well as for residential overflow for the sisters of Kappa Kappa Gamma and Kappa Alpha Theta. By this time Adams Boulevard in University Park had become second only to 28th Street as a fraternity row.

The atmospherics of the boulevard, ripened to raffishness by the Depression, Greek life, and ever-lusher vegetation, caught the eye of RKO studio scouts as the script of The Curse of the Cat People was being prepared in 1943. The story called for a spooky house that could pass—with tell-tale palm trees edited out—for one in Tarrytown, New York; every burg in America had a dilapidated turreted Victorian, the weirdness of which had been enhanced after the first Addams Family cartoon ran in The New Yorker in 1938. None in Los Angeles could match 900 West Adams Boulevard as the set for a ghost story and the directors of The Curse of the Cat People, Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise, made the most of it while filming in the late summer and fall of 1943. The fees paid to the Eagles might have helped replace a section of roof, or perhaps remuneration by the studio was in the form of a paint job. The real contribution of The Curse of the Cat People, however, has been to help preserve the lost air of ancient West Adams.

On the night of March 9, 1944, just a month before The Curse of the Cat People was released in theaters, a fire broke out in the attic of 900 West Adams; no lives were lost among the sorority girls living there at the time, with the boys of Theta Xi across the street helping them evacuate. Undaunted by their sagging old property, the Eagles repaired the damage and carried on, even adding a room and an additional kitchen to the rear of the house in 1945. Green Gables, if not always referred to by that name, or under the same ownership, would be advertised as having rooms available as late as December 1960. That year, 900 made a comeback on the screen when William Castle, no doubt having seen The Curse of the Cat People, shot 13 Ghosts in the even more seasoned mansion. By this time, those houses on the boulevard that had not been torn down for newer stock were clearly being neglected. A new round of boxy stucco apartment buildings began to be built'

The Waters house—though mercifully not its carriage barn too—appears to have been demolished in early 1963 for the apartment building on the site today, addressed 2611 Portland Street. A building permit for this 41-unit structure, built to the sidewalk to cover all traces of the lush front yard of the old house, was issued on April 8, 1963. Mercifully we have remnants of 900 West Adams in addition to the barn, including the Portland Street side of the fence and another set of gateposts that match those lost at the front. The carriage barn is now addressed 2625 Portland; it is an echo of the lost main house, complete with a turret and multifaceted roofline similar to those of its "mother."



900 WEST ADAMS: A PORTFOLIO




Views of 900 West Adams during its first
decade reveal landscaping coming into its maturity
and the original stone perimeter wall, a common feature
of the large properties lining Adams and Figueroa streets. The 1904
image below includes the Waterses' horse block at the curb;
while not apparent here, these stones were often
inscribed with the homeowner's name.





After Russell Waters died in the house in 1911, his
widow and two of her four stepchildren remained living there;
during Mrs. Waters's last year at 900 West Adams, she had with her
Mabel Waters as well as her sister and nephew. They left the house by
late 1920; the 
Los Angeles Times featured 900 as a recent property transfer
on January 16, 1921. The new owner, Texas banker T. M. Dees, apparently
having bought it as an investment lock, stock, and barrel, auctioned off
the house and its contents toward the end of year, as seen in the

Times on November 6th. Even as early as 1921, a big West
Adams house was being offered for income possibilities.






Forty years later, the low perimeter wall has long
been replaced with elaborate stone-and-iron fencing. By
this time, West Adams was in serious decline, an exodus of the
original homebuilding families having begun after the Armistice and
accelerating through the 1930s. The Waters house had by the
early '40s been converted into a boarding establishment,
with three exterior fire escapes added in 1940.





AS SEEN IN THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE, 1943:


A braver girl, if a lonelier one—Ann Carter as "Amy Reed"—is drawn into the odd world of the Farren
family. The Waters house is a stand-in for one intended by the screenwriter to be in Tarrytown,
New York, perhaps to suggest a connection to Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy
Hollow. 
Palm trees were carefully edited out. The Curse of the Cat People captures
the feel of fleeting Victorian Los Angeles; it is surmised that the producers of
television's The Addams Family may have sought out 900 West Adams
in 1964 after seeing Curse, only to find it recently demolished.
They settled on the former 747 West Adams instead.

Elizabeth Russell as "Barbara Farren" frightens and fascinates Amy. The devilish figures at the
sides  of the steps were added by set decorators. The Curse of the Cat People was filmed
from August 26 to October 4, 1943; Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise were
the directors. The 70-minute film was released by RKO in April 1944.

On March 10, 1944, the Los Angeles Times reported the serious fire at 900 West Adams
the night before. The 50-year-old relic was at the time the Green Gables boarding
house, serving as overflow for U.S.C. sororities. The damage was repaired by
Gladys Eagle, the current owner; Miss Eagle was a Christian Science
 
practioner, convenient for members of the church next door.



AS SEEN IN 13 GHOSTS, 1960:






The 124-year-old carriage barn of 900 West Adams survives
as a ghostly echo of the main house, including its domed turret. The
upstairs window at right—with the air conditioning unit—played an
eerie role in The Curse of the Cat People, seen below in 1943.



The Waters house and its still-extant barn are seen in the late 1920s to the left of the also-still-extant
Second Church of Christ, Scientist, designed by A. F. Rosenheim and opened on January 23, 1910.
Adams would eventually lose its center dividers, despite the roadway's official upgrade from
mere street to "Boulevard" in the '20s along with Washington and Pico, among others.
 



Illustrations: Private Collection; LAPLLATColumbia Pictures/Sony; Kansas Sebastian;