414 West Adams Boulevard


  • Built by Henry Thomas Lee perhaps as early as 1877; the attorney had bought a large exurban parcel not long after arriving in Los Angeles that year. Lee is described in his first listing in the city directory that included his residence, that of 1879-1880, as living on "Adams near Figueroa." On December 4, 1881, The Los Angeles Times described Lee, who had just been nominated to a seat on the Board of Education, as having been a resident of the city for "the past four years. He is a graduate of Lafayette College, Pennsylvania, and [taught at] that institution for a number of years. He is a member of the Los Angeles bar and is U. S. Commissioner for Southern California...." After serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, Lee was mustered out as a major, the rank often preceding his name in news items over the following years. He received his law degree from Columbia in 1869. Practicing in Manhattan, he married Josephine Mason Moir there on January 25, 1877, setting out for Los Angeles, population barely 10,000, soon after. The first of their three children, Thomas Rathbone Lee, was born on April 25, 1878

After the subdivision of his property in 1897, Lee's house, remodeled and enlarged soon after, still
sat on a large parcel six times the size of the lots he had developed. The photograph above is
of the original cottage built circa 1877-79, taken by Los Angeles landscape photographer

Lemuel Ellis; just seen at far right is the water tower depicted on the map above,
which, when viewed secondly in sequence with those below, offers a time-
line of Henry Lee's property from the 1880s into the 20th century.

  • In June 1888, along with other property owners along Adams Street, Lee received the permission of city authorities to tap a zanja as a new water supply. Lee was also planning to drill a new well at that time
  • The Adams district was given its first boost with the establishment of U.S.C. on October 6, 1880, as streetcar service expanded south of the business district with the boom of that decade. New developments along Adams, such as St. James Park, were laid out with high hopes as rail fares from the east famously dropped to $1 in 1887. But the bust came hard and fast soon after, followed by the deep, prolonged national recession of the '90s, slowing Adams district development to a crawl until late in the decade. Whether Lee had been ready to subdivide his property earlier is not known—he had no doubt enjoyed living in a nearly rural area for the past two decades—but as a Los Angeles capitalist he no doubt saw the financial wisdom of adapting to suburbia. Partnering with well-known real estate developer Oscar T. Johnson, the Lee & Johnson Tract was formed in 1897. West 27th Street was cut through it between the Treat Tract to the west and the newly opened and similarly bisected Grand Avenue and Adams Street Tract to the east. There would be 23 lots delineated, with Lot 1 becoming the suburban seat of Henry T. Lee. While considerably smaller than his former personal spread, and extending southward only to 27th Street rather than 28th, it was still six times the size of the other 22 lots of the tract. With financial conditions improving, lot sales in the Lee & Johnson Tract were brisk
  • On May 11, 1900, Lee was issued building permit to make alterations and additions to 414. The value of these renovations, in today's currency, was more than $165,000
  • Henry T. Lee died of pneumonia at 414 West Adams on April 3, 1912, age 72
  • Josephine Lee died at 414 West Adams on August 10, 1927, age 76
  • The Lees' daughter Margaret Koster and her family had moved into 414 with her mother by 1916; the third Lee child, Mary, who never married, was also in residence. After a family tenure on the property for over 60 years, the Kosters and Mary Lee left 414 West Adams in the early 1940s having stayed well into the district's boarding-house and rest-home era
  • 414 West Adams was sold to a nurse, Kathlena Greer, who had plans to open it as a sanitarium of indeterminate description. On October 13, 1944, Mrs. Greer was issued a permit to stucco the house's exterior; in August of the following year, ramps were added. Mrs. Greer appears to have remained in the house until it was condemned for the Harbor Freeway along with its neighbors 422 and 428; it was demolished by the end of 1953

The southwest corner of West Adams Street and
South Grand Avenue, 1894: Henry T. Lee's house may have been
in place since before U.S.C. was founded nearby in 1880. For most of that
period, the Lees would have been living in a nearly rural setting, although within the
original city limits of Los Angeles as incorporated on April 4, 1850. By 1894, the Treat Tract

had been laid out to the west of the Lee property; the rectangle containing the compass above,
the Grand Avenue and Adams Street Tract to the east, would be subdivided within a few years, at
the same time Henry Lee and O. T. Johnson cut most of Lee's property into suburban lots. As can
be seen in comparison to the topmost map, the grounds of Lee's 414, designated Lot 1, were
now less than a quarter of their original  size. Twenty-seventh Street was cut through both
new tracts to Grand. In 1953, the neighborhood would be rent by the construction
of the Harbor Freeway, its northbound Adams Boulevard exit ramp driven
directly through what had been one of the city's oldest houses.

Illustrations: Private Collection; Lemuel S. Ellis