711 West Adams Street


  • Built circa 1876 on part of Lot 8 in Block 17 of Hancock's Survey by retired sea captain Nathan Randolph Vail
  • New Hampshire–born, Harvard-educated attorney Henry Hancock arrived in Los Angeles via San Francisco in 1850. Incorporated on April 4 of that year, the dusty pueblo, founded in 1781, was in need of geographical organization. Having trained as a surveyor on his way west, Hancock was hired to delineate the town's original 28 square miles into marketable 35-acre lots. In 1855 he bought one of these parcels himself, a prime one at the northwest corner of Figueroa and Adams streets. With the prospect of water-bearing zanjas being extended south from the town center, smart investors saw the residential future of the city at its then-agricultural southwest corner. On July 26, 1876, Hancock sold his 35 acres to a syndicate of investors that included retired New England sea captain Nathan Randolph Vail, who took for himself 17 acres fronting Adams Street. Vail then built a large but simply detailed two-story residence a block north of the street at the end of a pepper-lined driveway, more of a farmhouse than a typical suburban Victorian dwelling of the era. Although it is unclear as to when, whether built by Vail or his successor, an elaborate, incongruous stone-and-iron gate appeared out front on Adams. This would become the entrance of the suburban subdivision into which Vail's property would evolve

What almost appear to be long walls of low-maintenance

arroyo stone—but which are actually high-maintenance clipped
hedges—line the driveway of 711 West Adams inside a pepper-tree
allée from the gate to the forecourt of the house. The northwesterly
view below was taken from what would one day be the yard of
10 Chester Place after subdivision of the property in 1898.

  • On November 5, 1885, Nathan Vail sold his property to attorney Charles F. Silent, a native of Germany and former federal judge in the Arizona Territory with whom Vail and his family had various real estate dealings over the years. (Vail would now be spending much of his time developing Inglewood as well as Redondo Beach, off of which he drowned in 1888.) Silent commuted to his downtown office from what was, owing to the establishment of U.S.C. in 1880 and improving streetcar and water service, rapidly developing into Los Angeles's best neighborhood. A sad note was the death of Silent's consumptive daughter Mamie at home on July 1, 1886; this was not to be the last unhappy event in the lives of his children. 

 A prime example of the Los Angeles booster-capitalist of the era, Charles Silent hosted an outdoor
lunch under his pepper trees for the International League of Press Clubs on January 22, 1892.

  • Silent remained at "Los Pimientos"—a reference to the pepper trees—and continued investing. That tourists began to be taken on excursions to the developing West Adams district bothered some homeowners, who would find people unknown to them milling about their gardens; Silent felt differently. On his Adams gate was a sign reading VISITORS WELCOME, "placed there due to his belief that the citizens should allow visiting strangers to see the beauties of their grounds as advertisements for Los Angeles." Silent was, after all, a land developer. Significantly, he hosted a big out outdoor lunch under his pepper trees for the International League of Press Clubs on January 22, 1892; the idea was for the journalists to swoon over the winter virtues of Los Angeles—of which West Adams was its Garden District—and spread the word to easterners to come west to settle if not buy his own lots. On the following May 18, Silent hosted another outdoor gathering at Los Pimientos for the delegates of the visiting National Editorial Association 

Nathan Vail's 1876 Victorian would move with the times, literally

so and in tune with the shift of the outskirts of Los Angeles from rural
to suburban. Built amid orchards and dairy farms, along with other houses
in the neighborhood such as 710 across the street and 414, 746, and 806,
it was moved by Chester Silent 500 feet north in 1898, given a very
fashionable Colonial Revival facelift, and became 4 Chester Place.

  • By 1898, having a decade before sold a westerly portion to the developers of St. James Park, Silent was ready to redevelop his personal spread. An item in the Los Angeles Times on August 26, 1898, reported that he was getting ready to move the house that had come to be addressed 711 West Adams Street slightly north and east to Lot 2 of the subdivision he had was now developing. "Plans have been prepared for Judge Charles Silent for the removing and remodeling of his residence on Adams street near Figueroa. The building will be placed on a lot fronting 150 feet on the new thoroughfare through his property, and will be treated in the heavy colonial style." Silent's driveway from its gate on Adams was being extended north through the house's original site to West 23rd Street, where complementary elaborate gates would be installed, the new enclave given the name Chester Place in honor of Silent's 14-year-old son. His first sale in the new development, in February 1899, was a large parcel to Sarah Posey, who then built 8 Chester Place next door to Silent. Soon after the house was completed, Mrs. Posey was persuaded to part with it by Edward and Estelle Doheny, the newly rich oil couple's first move in their relentless years-long quest to control all of the gated enclave

With a curious misspelling—possibly phonetically in

line with one of the many early pronunciations of the city's
name such as "Los EN-guh-leeze," the postcard view above is the
driveway of 711 West Adams Street in its new guise as Chester Place.
The house has been moved to its new location about 900 feet behind the
right post. The original driveway was extended north to West 23rd Street where
harmonious gates were installed, as seen below. The Vail/Silent house, having
now shed its rural roots, is seen at left; the tower belongs to 8 Chester Place,
Place, built in 1899 and soon after becoming the home of oilman Edward L.
Doheny and his wife Estelle, who would be striving to make the entirety
of the subdivision all their own (and, it must be said, preserving
much of it, if not the Vail/Silent house itself, for posterity).

  • Now made over in the very fashionable Colonial Revival mode wafting west from the East Coast, Nathan Vail's farmhouse had morphed into a suburban mansion. Originally built in sparsely populated southwest Los Angeles with a vague address along the lines of "Adams west of Figueroa," it had come to be designated 711 West Adams Street when citywide house numbering was mandated in 1891; it would now be known as 4 Chester Place
  • Charles Silent and his family would remain at 4 Chester Place until 1913. He continued to invest in property, including "Los Alisos," a ranch for himself near Glendora where he pursued his interest in horticulture. In 1907, the Silents lost another child when the Place's namesake, Chester, died under mysterious circumstances just shy of his 23rd birthday while boating alone in a lake near Palo Alto, where he was in school. Descriptions of Chester in numerous reports of his death describe a personality that could shift dramatically from someone who locked himself in his room to study for hours and who then might emerge in ebullience to entertain his fraternity brothers. Suicide was suspected, though the verdict became that he accidentally shot himself in the head due to the misfiring of his shotgun, perhaps a whitewash by the family to save the reputation of a beloved son whose good moods were remembered, or the truth. Chester's funeral was held at 4 Chester Place on October 5
  • While Silent began to spend more of his time a Los Alisos after Chester's death—he commissioned the esteemed Greene brothers of Pasadena to design a new ranch house and outbuildings there in 1908—he remained ever a booster of Los Angeles. His mayoral appointment to the city's park commission in 1910 was lauded in the Herald on March 1: "Judge Silent has for years been known as the most thorough master of the art of landscape gardening that Los Angeles has ever known." That year, Central Park—known since 1918 as Pershing Square—was redesigned by John Parkinson. (Several subsequent horrendous makeovers have many wishing for a restoration of the plans of an actual talent)
  • Perhaps receiving an offer he couldn't refuse from the rapacious couple next door at #8 next door, Silent decided to sell out to the Dohenys by 1913. He bought a house at 2407 South Flower Street as his city residence; 4 Chester Place was demolished forthwith by the Dohenys to expand their yard. The Department of Buildings issued a demolition permit for 4 Chester Place, nearly four decades after it was originally built, on February 1, 1913
  • Charles Silent's middle son and namesake, Fred, died in Santa Monica at the age of 47 on July 28, 1916. A year later, Charles Silent suffered a heart attack; on December 14, 1918, he died at Los Alisos. His funeral was held in Los Angeles two days alter at 2407 South Flower. (Fred's son, Harold Silent, was a noted physicist who died on a secret mission in the Nevada desert when the Air Force C-54 he was on crashed on November 17, 1955)

In adapting black-and-white photographs,
 postcard artists often took
liberties when it came to colors. It is unknown if 4 Chester Place ever wore
yellow paint or the darker scheme seen two images above. Also curious in the
view here are the additional front dormers flanking the house's original; in addition,
the tower added by Charles Silent, possibly in answer to that of the Posey/Doheny house
next door, seems taller than in views rendered earlier. It is likely that the the actual color of
4 Chester Place was more along the lines of the off-white—perhaps more authentically
Colonial—as seen in the glimpse of the house's façade below. Edward and Estelle
Doheny took possession of Sarah Posey's towered 1899 house at 8 Chester
Place on November 1, 1901. They would demolish #4 in February
1913 to add more property to their already enormous grounds. 

Avid horticulturalist Charles Silent, who appears out front at left, hosted a gathering of the
Los Angeles Pomological Society in 1898; the group was photographed from the porch
of 711 West Adams with its gates in the distance at center. Just visible on the
south side of the street is the first 710 West Adams, another address
 in the neighborhood that would yield to a suburban mansion.

Illustrations: Private Collection; LAPL; USCDL