240 West Adams Boulevard


Olive Jane Stimson Fay was the only daughter of the six children of lumber baron Thomas D. Stimson, who built his famous and still-standing red–New Mexico–sandstone house at 2421 South Figueroa Street, just above Adams, in 1891. One of her brothers, Ezra, had built a house at 226 West Adams in Victor Dol's tract, on the south blockfront of Adams between Main Street and Grand Avenue, in 1893. Olive, having married John Joseph Fay Jr., then one of her father's Michigan employees, in Muskegon in 1876, was not going to be left out of the family's wholesale move to sunny Los Angeles. Once settled in—for the time being at his father-in-law's house—J. J. was drafted at the end of 1896 as president of Citizens' Bank; it didn't hurt, of course, that the generous T. D. Stimson was a large stockholder. As for Olive—she was, by all accounts, the apple of her father's eye. The Los Angeles Times would report after her death in 1907 that she had been left one-third of her father's estate in 1898, despite being only one-sixth of his children. The year before that he had also, according to press reports, advanced her the money to build a new house at 240 West Adams, on a 100-by-228-foot parcel at the prime southeast corner of Adams and Grand, two doors west of her brother; the Times described the house as having been "presented" to the Fays once they arrived in Los Angeles. (As had Ezra and Annie Stimson, Olive and J. J. lived first with their father on Figueroa.) Olive was issued a permit for the new house in April 1897; the Fays were in residence by the third week of that October. A Los Angeles Herald editorial roundup of local building during 1897 cited Frederick L. Roehrig as the architect of 240, while Sam Watters, in his Houses of Los Angeles 1885-1919, claims that the original designer was Carroll H. Brown, who had built T. D. Stimson's Figueroa house.

A capsule history of the westward development of the West Adams district is traceable to Stimsons, with the family and others who settled first near Main Street now seeking, after just a decade, to build even more impressive houses for themselves. While the seminal Wilshire Boulevard Tract was opened for lot sales in 1895, quickly attracting the likes of Harrison Gray Otis and Edwin T. Earl, Adams Street would maintain its social self-confidence for another few decades, even as alternatives as far as Pacific Palisades emerged. Ezra and Annie Stimson decided to leave 226 in 1900, renting temporarily two successive houses nearby. It was not a matter of downsizing, however; they had in mind a larger house in the extremely fashionable St. James Park tract less than a mile to the west. St. James Park, laid out around a square in 1887, had seen slow lot sales during the recessionary 1890s. Ezra's father's death in 1898 made him, as it did Olive Fay, even richer in his own right. In 1901, the Stimsons bought a building site comprised of five St. James Park Tract lots facing Adams Street rather than the subdivision's interior greensward and, hiring as architect F. L. Roehrig—not Carroll H. Brown—built an extravagant new house, one much more modern than less-than-a-decade-old 226, at 825 West Adams Street, which still stands on the boulevard today at the northeast corner of Scarff Street. The Stimsons sold 226 West Adams to another family who would figure into West Adams history, one with business and social ties to the Stimson clan. Hannah Llewellyn, a widow, moved into 226 with five of her children, who ranged in age from 19 to 38, all unmarried. The four sons of the household were partners in one of Los Angeles's leading, if not most important, iron purveyors. The Llewellyn Iron Works supplied much of the structural and decorative metal that literally made the city—including the gates of Berkeley Square, which would open in 1904 as the West Adams district expanded over ever more barley fields to the west. It was to 7 Berkeley Square that the Llewellyns would move en masse from 226 West Adams. Despite the call to the rich of many new suburban developments, loyalty to West Adams was strong.

As seen from the corner of Adams and Grand, 240 West Adams during its brief incarnation as
La Casa de Flores. The property was comprised of four lots of the Victor Dol tract that
appear to have been originally intended for houses facing Grand Street. Much of
the lot with Adams frontage was given over to lawn, conforming to the
tract's generous setback requirement. The Fay/Banning house
was, however, non-conformist in that it was arranged
at a 45-degree angle toward the corner.

Meanwhile, two doors away at 240 West Adams Street, Olive Fay was getting restless once her daughter Anna was married to attorney Walter Ransome Leeds in the Fay parlor in November 1903. She had become displeased enough with her husband to sell 240 out from under him; on October 27, 1905, the Herald reported its sale to Anne O. Banning, wife of Hancock Banning of the Wilmington and Catalina Bannings. Soon after, Olive went abroad with friends for nearly a year, returning at the end of 1906 to write a new will that bequeathed to J. J. exactly nothing. She left town again the following March—with her brother Ezra T. Stimson in the party—only to die in Rome two months later. J. J., in the midst of contesting his first wife's will and squabbling over money entrusted to him by his daughter, remarried in July 1908; his bride was the very rich Agatha Sabichi, whose family had been next-door neighbors of the Stimsons on Figueroa Street. By this time Anna and Walter Leeds, who had been living in their starter home on Van Buren Place just south of Adams Street, bought a lot even farther west in the recently opened Berkeley Square. Their choice of a house there would extend the Stimson and Fay family connections from the older reaches of West Adams to its newer ones for two decades more until Anna Leeds died at 14 Berkeley Square in 1928. A little over three years later, Walter Leeds remarried another old West Adamsite, May Fulton, who had grown up around the corner from 226 West Adams; in a sign of the decline of the old district, Walter and May Leeds settled in the Windsor Square house to which she and her first husband had moved in 1919.

As the seminal stretch of Adams Boulevard evolved, it would be the first of the neighborhoods lining the length of the thoroughfare to see its houses converted to flats or replaced with apartment houses as owners upgraded and left the district or sought maximum profit from their lots. Prominent real estate developer Wesley C. Clark had built his own house next door to Stimson's 226, and also in 1893 (a glimpse of it is seen at right in the image above); while living at 234 West Adams Street, Clark was busy organizing one of many competitors for the housing funds of the well-heeled, the obscure Westmoreland Place. (The exclusive gated core of the eponymous subdivision, which failed to draw many rich families away from West Adams, opened on April 27, 1903; a remnant of it remains at the southeast corner of Olympic and Westmoreland Avenue.) Clark moved to his new development in 1905, attempting to sell, then rent, 234. Then, in 1909, altering the neighborhood permanently, he picked up 234 and trucked it less than a block east to 340 West Adams Street. Clark immediately redeveloped the vacated lot with a five-story, 70-foot-high apartment building named the Darby, after his mother's family, which stands today as the Grace Apartment Hotel. The construction of the Darby—especially that it would cast the Llewellyns at 226 into dark afternoon shadow—no doubt prompted the family to move on to newer, safely gated Berkeley Square. The single-family residential character of eastern West Adams was beginning to alter, following a 20-year pattern of change in the housing preferences of the affluent of Los Angeles, not dissimilar to their counterparts' contemporaneous move up Manhattan's grid on the opposite coast. There were, however, holdouts in even the eastern reaches of West Adams, the Hancock Bannings among them—despite the Darby now looming their house at 240. Perhaps it was that the shade in which the hotel cast the Bannings until noon produced just the right light for an abundance of flowers. In later years, the house would reflect such an abundance when it was named "La Casa de Flores," the words even appearing over its front door in large letters.

In a view of the house's west-side garden and pond is seen the solarium, part of the 1897 plan,
and an angle revealing the junction of the plot-conforming rear additions with the
original house. Through the arched gate is the lawn toward Adams
Boulevard. Above a side entrance is a sleeping porch.

Though commodious, the Fay house would not be able to contain the full Banning household. On December 26, 1905, Hancock was issued a building permit to add a two-story, 54-by-63-foot addition to 240; cited on the document as architect is Carroll H. Brown, which might be seen as further confusing the issue as to who may have been the original designer of the house in 1897. At any rate, the Bannings now had room for all, which by May 1910 included Hancock and Anne and their three children, Hancock Jr., Eleanor, and George; Anne's widowed father, Colonel George Hugh Smith, and her widowed half-sister, Eleanor Brown, and her four grown sons; Hancock's brother William; and four servants, including, as the census enumerator spelled it, a Japanese "schoffur." The Browns appear to have moved into their own house by 1912; in July of that year, a curious addition was made to the household—or the Bannings went off on an extended trip or decided to hang out in Wilmington for a spell—when their friend Senator John Percival Jones, having just sold his famous Villa Miramar in Santa Monica, moved in with his wife. Jones had struck it big in the Comstock Lode in 1870; three years later, he was elected as a Nevada senator, serving in Washington for the next 30 years while also developing Santa Monica and the first rail connection between the coastal town and inland Los Angeles. The Joneses, planning to build a West Adams Street house of their own on a lot they had purchased near Western Avenue—presumably the architect would have been their son-in-law, Robert D. Farquhar—considered 240 West Adams their home in the meantime, whether or not they were renting or borrowing it, or were simply guests of the Bannings. During their stay, Mrs. Jones entertained the sculptor Frederick William MacMonnies as well as other visitors, despite her husband lying upstairs with a kidney ailment. Then, as the Times reported on November 28, 1912, "With the passing of ex-Senator John Percival Jones yesterday at his home, No. 240 West Adams street, this city, one of the unique figures of the last century was called to his reward."

The Hancock Bannings now back in full control of 240 West Adams, their own life events resumed there. Anne was reported by the Times of November 13, 1913, to have had her jewels stolen in a burglary. Her father, Colonel Smith, one-time personal attorney of Pio Pico, died on February 6, 1915, reports varying as to whether he expired at his desk at 240 or in bed at Good Samaritan Hospital. After a few years' flurry of schoolmate, then debutante, then prenuptial entertainments, Eleanor Banning was married at St. John's, the establishment Episcopal church three block west on Adams, on June 6, 1917, guests afterward strolling down the street for the reception at 240. Anne Banning busied herself hosting meetings of the Colonial Dames and formulating her idea of a service organization, still in existence, to be called the Assistance League, a local version of the Junior League, which had yet to establish a Los Angeles chapter. In April 1920, harking back to Mrs. Jones's prior entertainment at 240, Mrs. Banning co-hosted a viewing with the artist's wife of a dozen sculptures by Frederick William MacMonnies.

As advertised in the Times on August 2, 1921

By that time, it was only Hancock and Anne and 24-year-old George rattling around the cavernous old house. The neighborhood was changing, with householders moving west to newer areas of West Adams, or, in ever-increasing numbers, to the new subdivisions out on Wilshire Boulevard—Windsor Square and Fremont Place had been open for nine years, lots in Hancock Park were going on sale, and Beverly Hills and platted acres beyond also beckoned. Houses near 240 were being cut up into flats and were now being seen as old-fashioned. While they were not yet going to give up their house, the Bannings decided to go with the flow, decamping to the family stronghold at Wilmington. With Hancock maintaining city digs at the Jonathan Club, 240 had to earn its keep. The Times of March 6, 1921, announced that Mrs. Hancock Banning had leased the house to Allen J. Chandos, who had recently been the proprietor of a downtown restaurant. "Mr. Chandros will conduct the home under the name La Plaza [sic] de Flores as an exclusive club and home for bachelors, physicians, and professional people"—the actual name was La Casa de Flores, as it would appear over the front door. A classified ad in the paper asserted that "discriminating guest will appreciate the quiet elegance of appointments and excellent cuisine of this palatial home with hotel facilities"; a woman named Grace Miller was listed as the contact under the establishment's listing as a boarding house in the city directory. The venture did not last long. While apparently still not thinking of selling the house, the Bannings did decide to auction off its contents, which appear to have been left in place during the lease to Mr. Chandos. Large advertisements for the March 1924 sale appeared in the press.

After the apparent failure of La Casa de Flores, in which the Bannings appear to have
left their furniture as part of the lease to the hotel proprietor, an auction
was held, as advertised in the Times on March 16, 1924.

Even the death of Hancock Banning on August 7, 1925, at Good Samaritan Hospital was not enough persuade his widow to dispose of 240 West Adams; perhaps she had been advised to hang on to it as a good investment. One would not have expected her to move back in to the old barn, but, now doubling down on her philanthropy in the city, Wilmington was not a convenient address. A large house would also be suitable for entertaining. Mrs. Banning remained in the house, furnishing it with either new things or what didn't sell at auction in 1924, as well as with her substantial collection of paintings. She stayed well into the Depression, which had quickly frayed the values and ambience of a neighborhood that begun to decline a decade earlier. All of West Adams was feeling forlorn, including august Berkeley Square; so, in fact, were all affluent neighborhoods of the city, but they would recover faster than West Adams, the day of which, you might say, was done.

Either nothing much sold in the 1924 auction, or Mrs. Banning went shopping
again after she returned to live at 240 after her husband died in 1925.
Another auction, this one definitely less than successful, took
place as Mrs. Banning attempted to downsize during
the Depression. The Times notice seen here
appeared on November 29, 1932.

Anne Banning was ready for more manageable digs, which she found in at 1120 Garfield Avenue in South Pasadena, another destination for old West Adamsites. A Times society columnist announced the move by intoning, "Bang goes another landmark of old Los Angeles! Doesn't it make you sad to think of Mrs. Hancock Banning's lovely house at Adams and Grand being sold?...where the lovely and gracious Anne has offered us such charming hospitality...with a darling house in Pasadena we know that she won't miss the old house half as much as we will." Well, not so fast. Another auction was scheduled to take place at the house on December 1, 1932, this one including 240 West Adams itself; it was later rescheduled to December 5. A sale also held on the 5th at the Beverly Galleries on Wilshire Boulevard included Mrs. Banning's trove of English portraits. The white elephant of a house, at least, was a no-sale item. Giving up on South Pasadena for the time being, that house was rented, Anne resuming residence and entertainments back at 240. Then it was back to South Pasadena in early 1936. When—or if—the Fay/Banning house ever found a third owner is unclear; neither is it clear whether the building was even occupied before a demolition permit for it was issued by the Department of Building and Safety on October 21, 1949.

Anne Ophelia Smith Banning, having now moved to San Marino, died at home at the age of 80 on December 19, 1951.  

By the time this image was made in 1928, the Taylor family of 243 West Adams had recently
developed their corner with the commercial structure seen at left. The Banning house
sits behind the trees at right, with the Darby—today the Grace Apartment
Hotel—peeking out. The fortunes of the east end of West Adams
were changing fast, even before the Crash of '29.

Illustrations: Private Collection; LAPLLAT