421 West Adams Boulevard

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  • Built in 1888 on a parcel ultimately comprised of Lots 93 and 94 of Krutz, Mackey & Gill's Subdivision of the Longstreet Tract by businesswoman and real estate speculator Juana Achey Neal. The parcel would eventually be comprised of the tract's Lots 16, 17, 93, and 94
  • Architect: Robert B. Young
  • The property of Charles A. Longstreet was subdivided and placed on the market by late 1885; real estate operators William G. Krutz, Charles E. Mackey, and William F. Gill acquired the main house and its outbuildings, along with 25 building lots, creating Krutz, Mackey & Gill's Subdivision of the Longstreet Tract. Juana Neal acquired the house and a number of the lots in 1887; moving into the Longstreet residence, built in 1874, she began selling off building parcels, working with Krutz, Mackey, and Gill to develop the neighborhood, riding the wave of the Boom of the '80s just as it was cresting. On at least two of her lots, Mrs. Neal built spec houses, the first in 1887, designed by architect Robert B. Young. In a roundup of Los Angeles building projects completed during the previous year, the Herald reported on January 1, 1889, that Mrs. Neal had had Young design a three-story, $14,000 house at the corner of Adams and the famous Palm Avenue, which led from Adams to the Longstreet/Neal house, an impressive allée of trees, many of which still stand, preternaturally tall. On June 4, 1889, the Herald reported that, the day before, Sue Dunn, wife of former U. S. congressman Poindexter Dunn of Arkansas, had purchased the house and Lots 93 and 94, fronting Adams Street, with Flower Street (until recently named West End Avenue) as the west border and Palm Avenue as the east. Lots 16 and 17 were also purchased and added to the parcel; 421's barn occupied Lot 16
  • On July 27, 1889, a few weeks after the Dunns moved into 421, hay in the barn caught fire; the Times reported the next day that there was no significant damage
  • The Dunns' stay in the house was brief; on June 12, 1891, they exchanged the house and its three lots, valued at $30,000, plus $15,000 in cash, for the 40-acre San Gabriel ranch of Captain Alexander Burnes Anderson and his wife, Violet
  • The Andersons' stay was even briefer than that of the Dunns. Reported to be out in society on several occasions in April 1892, on May 5 the Herald gave a strange description of the Captain as living "in a neat little cottage on Broadway... troubled very much with showers of stones which he thinks come from the hands of spooks." Violet, it seems, was suing him for divorce on several grounds, including infidelity and abuse; 421 West Adams was on the market. Rather than the stones of spooks, it was apparently the attentions of Henry Lovell, an accountant who had been the Andersons' guest at 421 for several months, to Mrs. Anderson that troubled the Captain. That November, Anderson was arrested after threatening to shoot Lovell. Then things moved fast. Violet received an uncontested divorce on December 3 and would go on to marry Lovell on February 22, 1893. Her 27-year-old ex-husband had beaten her to the remarriage punch, however—he'd tied the knot with 21-year-old Virginia Bell three days after the decree was granted. (The bride was a daughter of Horace Bell, a well-known if controversial lawyer who published the crusading Los Angeles weekly The Porcupine; Anderson, ever the charmer, was fatally poisoned on his Nicaraguan estate in October 1896, apparently in retaliation for having whipped a Spaniard to death)
  • Though the next owner's tenure at 421 would be longer, the walls of the house may have sustained additional gouges from flying bric-a-brac hurled between an unhappy husband and wife. Charles James Ball, a retired St. Louis refrigerator manufacturer, and his wife, Laura E. Ball, were in residence at 421 in time to be listed in the Los Angeles city directory published in mid-1892
  • According to court filings in a belated lawsuit against Charles Ball and his then wife Bertha by her previous husband in the fall of 1899, Ball had met the wily gold-digging Bertha S. McClelland six years before. Bertha was alleged to have taken advantage of John W. McClelland while, he claimed, he was suffering from the effects of a horse-kick to the head complicated by a sunstroke so severe that it rendered him not only impotent but temporarily insane; having used the opportunity of his incapacity to transfer property into her own name, Bertha then obtained a divorce from John on October 30, 1893, her grounds being "idleness, profligacy and dissipation." (The judge handing down the decree was James W. McKinley, who lived across the street from the Balls at 507 West Adams.) McClelland, who had described his wife as a "handsome, energetic, robust, vain, superlatively passionate and ambitious woman," was not one to let things go. He would claim all those years later that Bertha had set out to find a new well-set-up husband, and thus pursued Charles Ball for several years. Once Laura Ball had had enough—the rumors and lurid press coverage were no doubt very embarrassing—she recognized that Charles was an old fool and obtained her own divorce on March 6, 1897, citing cruelty (Charles's "always being in touch" with Bertha McClelland being the primary cruelty). Sixty-three-year-old Charles and 33-year-old Bertha were married seven weeks later, on April 24, at her St. James Park residence; Laura moved out of 421 and Bertha in. Laura E. Ball took her settlement and began investing carefully and lucratively in local real estate, including, as the "West End" of the city developed out on Wilshire Boulevard, in Windsor Square after it opened in 1911. (It should be noted that the one-time far southwest corner of Los Angeles in which 421 West Adams stood was itself once referred to as the West End)
  • McClelland's suit against the Balls, which continued into the next year, was described as a "delicious morsel of scandal" in the Herald on March 16, 1900. McClelland told the court that "he had become unable to make the appearance and maintain the position [his former wife] deemed suitable to and commensurate with the condition in life her ambition craved and her talents demand." He charged that his wife set out to ensnare Captain Ball. Implicating McClelland as colluding with Bertha, however, a letter to him from her was introduced into evidence during the proceedings. Written several years before, it read: "About the mortgage, it is in my name, and you have nothing to do with it. I will redeem it for you some day, so don't worry about it. I will be worth, some day, lots of money, if I can only get the old man I have my eye on; have patience and take good care of yourself, and you, too, shall be rich. I may be in my new home [421] the last of the month or first of April, and it is a beauty, as said by all; if any one asks you, say I had money; please burn this." The start of the proceedings were described in a press report this way: "[The former] Mrs. Ball swept into court, attired in fashionable costume, and with languid grace took her seat between her counsel. Captain Ball followed, hobbling along in attendance upon his spouse." The case ended on March 31 with Bertha triumphing over her first husband. Ten months later, she was able to cease the work of bamboozling her second husband as well
  • Charles J. Ball died at 421 West Adams on February 3, 1901, after a stroke. He was 67. By the end of 1902, Bertha had found another husband; then—as perhaps was her calling all along—she appears to have become a character actress in films, billed as both Bertha Brundage and Mathilde Brundage. She died in 1939, her obituary appearing in Variety as well as The New York Times
  • Among the property listings in a prominent advertisement appearing in the Los Angeles Times on June 22, 1902, was one for 421 West Adams placed by real estate dealer and investor Byron Erkenbrecher of the Erkenbrecher Syndicate: "Eighteen room residence, N.E. cor. Adams and Flower, lot 120x250, magnificent home, $18,500"
  • Renting 421 while it was on the market was mining magnate Oliver P. Posey, who had just sold the house he built in 1899 at 8 Chester Place to oilman Edward Doheny. Before briefly occupying that house, Posey and his wife Sara had rented David Cook's house at 2530 South Figueroa Street, a few doors west of 421 at the northeast corner of Adams Street
  • The Herald reported on September 13, 1903, that "One of Los Angeles' landmarks on West Adams street was last week purchased by recent arrivals in California." The Ball estate had sold the house to Michael Robert Morres and his wife, Constance, an English couple recently arrived "from Madras, India, where Mr. Morres has been engaged in extensive landscape gardening for the Indian government. Mr. Morres was attracted by the long avenue of beautiful palm trees which border the property." The price paid for 421 was noted as $16,000
  • Over the years, Michael Morres was described as a miner as well as a landscape architect. While his family would be mentioned often in social columns during the aughts and would continue to be on occasion, they turned toward trade by 1907. In perhaps the earliest example of a large single-family house on West Adams Street becoming a lodging establishment, the Morres were advertising furnished rooms for rent by 1907. The 1910 Federal census, enumerated on April 15, lists Constance and the Morreses' two daughters—Michael was apparently away on business—along with 32 boarders; the 1920 census enumerated 44 boarders in residence. The Morreses added rooms to the rear of the house in 1910, expanding it onto Lot 17. What was at first called simply The Palms was by 1914 The Palms Hotel
  • The Morreses moved out of 421 West Adams by 1927 and into the house just north at 2500 South Flower. It was listed as the Palms Apartments, which may have been the couple's continuing operation. Michael Morres would die there on March 2, 1931
  • Dr. John Brockman, who had acquired the old Longstreet/Neal/Singleton property north of 421, donated it to the Los Angeles Orthopedic Foundation in 1920. The Foundation opened the Orthopaedic Hospital-School for Crippled Children on the site in April 1922
  • Up to mid-1931, Flower Street ran only piecemeal south of downtown; one segment ran between West 23rd and Adams, there forming the southwest corner of 421's property. With the city's decision to create a major route toward the harbor, Flower was to be widened and driven through many blocks, including those south of Adams. While 428 West Adams across the street was moved slightly out of the road's new path, with the neighborhood having faded drastically in appeal over the decade, other big houses were demolished to little protest, including 421
  • The Department of Building and Safety issued a demolition permit for 421 West Adams on January 27, 1931
  • The lengthening and widening of Flower Street (as well as other north-south thoroughfares) sufficed as a traffic reliever for only 20 years. After much excavation and the destruction of still more old West Adams houses, the Harbor/110 Freeway was opened southward to West 42nd Street on March 27, 1956, its lanes skirting 421's former site. Those trees of the famous ancient palms of Palm Avenue that still stood were spared; 23 remain today on the grounds of what is now the Orthopaedic Institute for Children




Thus far, only sliver views of 421 West Adams have surfaced; the
 view above is of an adolescent Palm Avenue, circa 1894, looking north toward
the Longstreet/Neal house. What is by this time Charles J. Ball's house is among the
palms at left. The William E. Morford house—he was the city's Superintendent of Streets with
family connections to Theodore Roosevelt—would be built at the right corner by 1896,
as seen below, circa 1902. The Morford house was moved back from Adams
street in 1905 and replaced with the Holton Arms Apartments in 1916.



A rare view of the palms of Palm Avenue with beards intact, circa 1905; at right is 421 West Adams in
the late 1920s, the wrecking ball near. The Orthopaedic Hospital-School for Crippled Children is on
the site of the Longstreet/Neal/Singleton house at the end of the lane; the Holton Arms is at
right on the site of the Morford house. By this time, the West Adams district was fading
rapidly, its original homeowners having moved on to newer, northwesterly
subdivisions or Pasadena. Their houses were being demolished or
becoming residences for transients, the old, and the infirm.
The streets are notably dirtier with Superintendent
Morford having long gone to his grave.




With the Depression having taken a toll on the neighborhood even before the
Harbor/110 Freeway came barrelling through 20 years later, the palms remain, circa
1932, as do some of the streetlamps that characterized West Adams Street—now ironically
and grandly redubbed West Adams Boulevard. The house at 421 West Adams was demolished

in 1931, its lot then left vacant for eight years. At bottom is the same view in January 2015; just
below is a mid-1940s view of the Richfield station built on Lots 93 and 94 of Krutz, Mackey & Gill's
Subdivision of the Longstreet Tract—those that held 421 West Adams—in 1939. At left is seen the
clock tower built after Juana Neal sold her property to miner John Singleton in 1899. Singleton
added the tower (the works of which survive at John Brockman's later Glendale estate) and
then dubbed his property "Singleton Court." For more on Palm Avenue, please see the
excellent Los Angeles Pasta brief history of palm trees hereand more here.







Illustrations: Private Collection; Peter Starr; LAPL; USCDL