2445 South Western Avenue

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Illinois inventor Robert W. Gardner had made a fortune developing an improved type of engine regulator and other equipment needed by the emerging oil- and gas-producing industries; his daughter Effie Neustadt spent the capital she inherited building houses by top Los Angeles architects. She died just as she had finished her latest, in Pasadena; before that one, she had built at least three on emerging residential Wilshire Boulevard. Her grandest effort once stood in the established West Adams district at the northwest corner of Adams Street and Western Avenue; having hired Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey as her architects, Mrs. Neustadt was issued a permit by the Department of Buildings on April 27, 1909, for an 80-by-40-foot reinforced concrete house. Hired as contractor was the Richards-Neustadt Construction Company, the firm begun in 1906 by Effie's son, Robert. According to the Los Angeles Herald of June 26, 1910, the only wood used in the house was in flooring, door and window frames, and in casings of concrete stairways; in addition, three antique walnut mantels were brought east from old New England houses. The foundation walls were specified at 15 inches; those of the first floor, 12 inches; and those of the second floor, 10 inches. While it seems that there was no rule requiring it, the house, designed to face Western Avenue, was soon given its address on that street, rather than the designation under which the permit was issued: 2015 West Adams Street. Just a year after completing 2445—as seen above in the Herald on June 26, 1910, before garden trellises held their first bloom—Effie decided to move on to Pasadena, selling the house to music dealer James Taber Fitzgerald, who, via South Pasadena, was moving four blocks east from 2415 West Adams Street. (More on Mrs. Neustadt and her houses is here.)

Old-house worshippers tend to drool over the Italianate Gothic house—Munsteresque, if you will—that James T. Fitzgerald built at the western city limits in 1904 and which still molders away, eternally it seems, at its current address of 3115 West Adams. It may have been the intrusion of a bold if hapless burglar there on a November morning in 1907, or it may have been dissatisfaction with the charming though undoubtedly dark house, dated as soon as it was finished—or both—but Fitzgerald and his wife, née Anne Campbell, left 3115 after less than five years. After a stop in a rented house in South Pasadena, the couple decided to give West Adams another chance, buying Effie Neustadt's much grander pile at Western Avenue—modern, white, bright and light-filled, perfect for social mountaineering, and only a year old. 


Anne Fitzgerald was tireless in her efforts to maintain the position she and her merchant
husband held in Los Angeles society. Appearing to have been mentioned daily in the
press, Mrs. Fitzgerald was very active in the Ebell Club and a busy entertainer,
adhering to the privileged notion that women should be satisfied not having
the right to vote. Alongside the large image seen here, the Los Angeles
Times described a dream come true for the hostess at a gathering
on June 19, 1912: "Sunshine, Fair Women, and Flowers: Ideal
weather and a setting perhaps the most 
picturesque in the
city marked the opening of society's 'party season' at
the home of Mrs. J. T. Fitzgerald at Western
avenue and Adams street Wednesday...."



On January 20, 1911, the Los Angeles Times announced that the purchase was made for a consideration of "$95,000, though it is stated on good authority that the house with its site represented an outlay upon the part of Mrs. Neustadt of considerably more than $100,000 [$2,500,000 today].... Mr. Fitzgerald, who at present lives with his family at No. 1109 Fair Oaks avenue, South Pasadena, will at once occupy the West Adams palace as a permanent home." The Times went on to describe the palace as "one of the finest examples of reinforced concrete residence architecture in the United States and has been pictured and praised in architectural publications all over the country." The Times also noted that the architects had just designed Henry E. Huntington's house in San Marino—now the famous art gallery and library. "The house is of a classical colonial type set on the brow of a sightly knoll. Its grounds have been landscaped at a cost almost equal to that expended in the construction of the building itself. Thousands of the rarest bulbs and shrubs to be obtained in the world were planted by the builder's gardeners, and formal gardens were laid out after the fashion of old Roman villas.... The lot is said to have been selected by the architects after the house itself had been designed."




The schematic above appeared in the trade journal 
The American Architect on
January 3, 1912, and can be applied to understanding the layout of the grounds of
2445 South Western Avenue, as seen below in a view from the top of the northeastern
corner of its wall. The property came to the Fitzgeralds having, essentially, no backyard.
Effie Neustadt had originally owned an additional 288 feet west of the rear wall but sold it
off first to investor Lee Allen Phillips before the parcel passed to William Bayly, who built his
house at 2025 West Adams on it. By September 1948, Mrs. Neustadt's entire original 488-by-
225-foot parcel again belonged to one entity, the Hospitaller Brothers of St. John of God. A
curious feature of the house itself is that it includes a motor porch instead of a full porte-
cochère; perhaps preserving architectural symmetry with the south-side conservatory,
seen at top, was more important. The wires appearing along Adams Street would
have included overhead lines for the Yellow Cars of the Los Angeles Railway.



One might get the sense that Mrs. Fitzgerald was something of a princess alone in a hilltop palace, unsatisfied by all the splendor her husband's sales of pianos and Victrolas gave her. It was reported later in the decade that friends were aware of an "incompatibility of temperament" between Anne and James, one that it might appear there was an attempt to heal by the age-old method of having a child, in this case, by adoption. The circumstances surrounding the arrival of Anne Louise Fitzgerald at 2445 in 1916 are unclear; she was not an infant but rather had been born on February 10, 1906. The adoption was, perhaps not surprisingly, a no-go in terms of helping the marriage. It would also turn out to be a mysterious no-go for the little Louise as well.


Theda Bara's publicists at Fox Film Corporation, who famously held nothing back when promoting the
girl from Cincinnati as an exotic French-Italian vamp, made the most of her few months' lease
of the Fitzgerald house by colorizing a wall-top view similar to that in the previous
image and issuing it as a postcard. Bara's next stop—at 649 West Adams,
a mile and a quarter to the east—would be similarly exploited.


In 1918, Anne gave actress Theda Bara a short-term lease at 2445 and took Louise traveling. She divorced James in Nevada. On her return to Los Angeles she was known as Mrs. Campbell Fitzgerald, in the style of the day's divorcées, and would be listed as such in the 1919 Southwest Blue Book. The next edition would restore the Fitzgeralds' prior listing:  "The ceremony which united the pair for the second time [the first had been in San Jose on August 30, 1892] took place very quietly in the parsonage of the Ventura Presbyterian Church at Ventura, on October 24," reported the Times on November 14, 1919, adding that the "...pretty adage that all's well that ends well was given striking exemplification yesterday, when Los Angeles society learned with pleasure—and some astonishment, as well, of the remarriage." After a second honeymoon touring Asia, the couple returned to live at 2445, which had been let to novelist Zane Grey while they were separated, during which time Anne and Louise were based at the fashionable Hartman Apartments on Washington Street while James enjoyed bachelor life downtown at the Athletic Club.




Native San Franciscan James T. Fitzgerald arrived in Los Angeles in
1891 and was soon partnered in a music store with Frederick W. Blanchard;
both men would contribute greatly to the cultural life of the city, if separately after
their breakup in 1898 when they came to blows—literally, as James pleaded guilty that
August to Fred's charge of battery against him. Fitzgerald gained control of the store; the
Fitzgerald Music Company was still advertising in the Times as late as January 1962, the
year of its 70th anniversary, but disappeared from the city soon after. Among the
instruments sold by the firm early in the century was a badge-engineered
upright made by the Krell Piano Company, originally of Cincinnati.


  
Louise did not accompany her adoptive parents on their alleged Asian trip for reasons that become apparent when perusing the federal censuses of Los Angeles enumerated during the first week of January 1920. That James and Anne Fitzgerald do not appear at 2445 South Western in them might be understandable, in that they were, according to press reports, on an extended second honeymoon. Neither does Louise appear at that address. Curiously, all three Fitzgeralds were accounted for elsewhere. Perhaps not off traveling after all, at least not out of Los Angeles County, James and Anne are enumerated at their country house, "Seven Hills Farm," in Tujunga, with Louise listed—under the name "Louise Traversa"—as an "inmate" at a school in Playa Del Rey called Sea Cliff House where a Mrs. Ione Conant was the "superintendent." What happened later in the year is part of the mystery. A small obituary appeared in the Times on July 27, 1920, announcing the death two days earlier of "Louise Traversa, adopted daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. T. Fitzgerald, aged 14 years." The paper noted that the death occurred in San Francisco, although official California records indicate that Louise actually died in Sonoma County. It seems apparent that Louise died at the Sonoma State Home in Eldridge, just south of Glen Ellen, until 1909 known as the California Home for the Care and Training of Feeble-Minded Children. Many residents were epileptics—which could have been Louise's misunderstood malady—and, shockingly, many girls were placed in the home because of the perceived problem of female sexuality. In her book Building a Better Race: Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics from the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom, Wendy Kline cites a 1926 study of the home reporting that almost half of the women at Eldridge "were classified as sexually delinquent, with notes in their records that they were 'passionate,' 'immoral,' 'promiscuous,' or similar." Poor Louise. (The home is now the Sonoma Development Center and is expected to close by the end of 2018.) The strains on the Fitzgeralds' marriage perhaps now become clearer, though their apparent attempt to hide the child and her condition under an assumed name (or her original one) can only be understood by the secrecy and primitive science surrounding disabilities at the time. With servants holding down the fort at 2445 during their absence, James and Anne, perhaps to heal, remained in the country. On February 10, 1921, the Los Angeles Herald reported that the couple had leased the house again and were living in town at the Ambassador.

In time, the Fitzgeralds resumed their well-covered, if now fewer, social rounds. Anne was active in the Ebell Club, among other organizations, and not a progressive, being against suffrage for women. The Fitzgerald Music Company would continue to thrive, with James very active in promoting music as part of the cultural life of the city. On the domestic front, as if nothing but coal dust was in the air—that nothing substantial was in the cavernous house continued to be an issue—Anne Fitzgerald pulled an alteration permit on March 9, 1928, to replace 2445's coal-fired furnace with a pair of modern Payne gas units.




In one of many signs of the residential currents away from the
aging neighborhoods lining West Adams Boulevard—only just upgraded
from "Street"—the West Chester School for Girls moved into the Fitzgerald
house, complete with new furnaces, in time to open for its fall 1928 semester.
Renamed the Monticello School for Girls by the time it opened a year later,
it would occupy 2445 for 12 more school years before moving to yet
another old house in yet another declining L. A. neighborhood.



"A property settlement amounting to $150,000 was made yesterday in the divorce action of Mrs. Ann [sic] Campbell Fitzgerald against J. T. Fitzgerald," the Times reported on May 17, 1928, noting that the judge granted Anne her decree on the grounds of desertion. There would not be a reconciliation this time or a return to 2445 South Western Avenue. The house would also never be the same again. Its 18 years as a single-family house were over. In one of the many signs of change along an avenue of big single-family houses—Adams Street had only recently been upgraded to boulevard status—the West Chester School for Girls would be opening in the Fitzgerald house in the fall of 1928. West Chester, which was moving south from the recently demolished Chaffey house at 3644 Wilshire Boulevard, was renamed the Monticello School for Girls by the time it opened again at 2445 in the fall of 1929, with Madie Burmester McBride continuing as headmistress. Monticello would remain at 2445 through the 1940-'41 school year, after which Mrs. McBride moved it to yet another old Los Angeles house, this one on South Mariposa Street. The Fitzgerald house's grand spaces for schoolgirls would soon be given over to an older cohort: The residents of the Glen Brae Sanitarium, moving from an old house at Shatto Place and Sixth Street, were in residence by January 1942. Owner Jeanne Tersip called in longtime Los Angeles architect Leonard L. Jones to make alterations to 2445 that fall. On  May 26, 1943, Mrs. Tersip received a certificate of occupancy for the building, apparently to include with documents pertaining to the sale of 2445 South Western Avenue that month to the Hospitaller Brothers of St. John of God, the ancient order of caregivers who have to this day occupied the property, if not the old house, along with much of the square block.


By the mid 1940s, the Hospitaller Brothers of St. John of God had acquired the Fitzgerald house
and had begun buying up much of the square block. Among later purchases was one of the
most significant residences in the West Adams District, the Ramsay-Durfee house, in
1978; lovingly maintained by the order, it can be seen at top center left in the
aerial view seen below. Los Angeles houses of wood have, in general, far
outlasted those of seemingly indestructible iron-reinforced concrete.


While the compound that is today the St. John of God Retirement and Care Center began with the Fitzgerald house, it would within a decade include all of the Adams Boulevard blockfront between Western Avenue and St. Andrews Place. In October 1944, the order acquired the house next door from attorney J. Wiseman Macdonald, who had moved to Hancock Park not long before he died in 1942; the house had been completed in early 1912 by businessman William Bayly. (Designed by J. Martyn Haenke for William Bayly, 2025 was on the architect's drawing board at the same time he was designing the gates of Fremont Place, one of the developments, along with Hancock Park, that would drain away monied West Adamsites.) In September 1948, the empty lot just west of 2025—originally owned by Effie Neustadt and later by William Bayly—was added to the brothers' holdings. Four months later, the house at the northeast corner of Adams and St. Andrews Place—2055 South St. Andrews—was purchased from Harold Bayly, William Bayly's nephew. (It had been built a block east in 1904 and drastically remodeled after being moved to 2155 West Adams in 1923.) In 1951, the house at 2442 South St. Andrews Place was acquired from Margaret Anthony, who had built it in 1910 at what was then 2442 Adams Place.

The Neustadt-Fitzgerald house would stand for 70 years and serve the Brothers of St. John of God for nearly 40 of those. In an aerial view taken toward the latter half of 1980, the lot is bare: A demolition permit for the house had been issued—under the address of "2545 West Adams Boulevard"—on March 11 of that year. The corner was slated to become the site of the St. John Grande Apartments, the first building permit for which would not be issued by the Department of Building and Safety until February 19, 1987. The facility was officially opened on January 19, 1990, with Mayor Tom Bradley attending the ceremony. Since 2015, the St. John Grande building has been dedicated to assisted living care.

Postscript on the Fitzgeralds: Neither James nor Anne appear to have remarried after their second divorce; she died in Los Angeles on July 16, 1955, age 88, and is buried at Forest Lawn. James died in the county on December 9, 1956, a month after his 92nd birthday. He is buried next to Louise at Grand View Memorial Park in Glendale. Her grave marker reads simply, "Our Louise/1906-1920."


In an aerial view circa 1960, the Fitzgerald house appears white and bright at center left. While
the house would serve institutional uses for decades, its reinforced concrete walls, inner as
well as outer, would prove difficult to alter and expensive to maintain, if relatively
fireproof. With West Adams Boulevard having long since given up maintaining
its single-family residential character, the vast parcel at the northwest
corner of Adams and Western would eventually be built to the
property lines with institutional buildings. At right is the
top of the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance
Company building completed in 1949
by architect Paul R. Williams.




Illustrations: Private Collection; LAH; LATLAPLCDNCThe American Architect