734 West Adams Street


  • Built in 1886 by railroad contractor Alexander A. McDonell on part of Lot 1 in Block 22 of Hancock's Survey
  • On February 17, 1886, the Los Angeles Herald reported that McDonell, who had arrived in the city in three years before, had just bought his 1.5-acre parcel from the Charles O. Taylor for $9,200. McDonell was listed as living on "W Adams third house from Figueroa" in the city directory issued later that year; after uniform street address standards were decreed in 1891, the house was designated 734 West Adams Street
  • There were troubles during A. A. McDonell's time on Adams, some minor, others more serious. The many spelling variations of their surname created a problem for Alexander McDonell in April 1888 when the city threatened to order the sale of 734 for delinquent taxes; the matter was cleared up once records were corrected. Charles A. McDonell, the eldest of five sons, declared bankruptcy in 1891. A downtown druggist, he had been advertising "Eastern prices" for years, which seems not to have been a viable policy; henceforth Charles was listed in city directories, curiously, as a physician and surgeon.) Third-oldest son William had married impetuously in 1889; his wife divorced him in November 1895. On February 3, 1904, not long before the family left 734, a gardener dropped dead on the front lawn. But there would be far bigger scandal when the McDonells' fourth son, 23-year-old George, was charged with the attempted rape of Sarah Campbell, an 11-year-old African American girl, on June 4, 1896. The incident was said to have taken place on the corner of Figueroa and West 27th Street, very near 734 West Adams. The McDonells, unsurprisingly, called it a case of blackmail. On June 19, the Times reported that it was believed by prosecutors that witnesses—Sarah Campbell and her mother specifically—had been bribed and spirited away on the McDonell yacht, the Bonnie Belle, berthed at Redondo. The District Attorney's office considered the disappearance suspicious and the charges to be credible but was forced to dismiss them on June 22 when the witnesses remained missing. Then, in August, the Campbells surfaced and a warrant for the arrest of George was again issued. Evading arrest, he went to live in Mexico, to which his troubled brother Charles would also move, and the story faded from the news, as would the McDonells
  • A. A. and Frances McDonell had four sons and three daughters; their eldest, Elisabeth, married another native of Canada, Joseph M. Taylor, who had come to Southern California in 1883 and acquired large properties, going into the land brokerage business. Their son was Russell McDonell Taylor, who would build 11 Berkeley Square in 1911
  • Alexander McDonell died at home on December 21, 1901; his wife Frances died in Los Angeles on the following April 30. After their estates were settled, the property was acquired by real estate investor James T. Young. On July 1, 1906, the Los Angeles Times reported that Young had recently sold 734 to lumber and utilities executive William G. Kerckhoff, who would be replacing it with his own 734 West Adams, which still stands on the property. Kerckhoff was reported in the Times article to have sold the house itself, and its tall tank house, to attorney James H. Shankland. In October 1899, Shankland had bought two lots, numbers 17 and 18, in what was called Del Valle's Subdivision of the Wheeler Tract, just south of 734; these parcels backed up to the site on which Shankland had built his own home on Lot 29 of Del Valle's Subdivision in 1896, one still standing at 715 West 28th Street. The attorney's acquisitions from 734 West Adams were trucked south on their original lot to West 27th Street and then east about 200 feet to Lot 17 and what would be addressed 710 West 27th. In 1907, Shankland built 714 on Lot 18 next door to the former 734 West Adams, retaining both 27th street houses as investment properties

    In the spring of 1906, the first 734 West Adams was moved to
    710 West 27th Street, as indicated by the red arrow on the map below
    and as seen in the 1924 aerial above. That summer, William G. Kerckhoff
    was issued a building permit for the new 734the garage at the south end of
    the lot was built in the fall of 1907. Also undergoing change between 1900 and
    1907 was the easterly-adjacent parcel containing 710 West Adams, which Samuel B.
    Lewis decided to redevelop. Reserving the westerly 100 feet for himself to build 718,
    he sold the easterly 142 feet to J. Ross Clark, who replaced Lewis's house with a
    much bigger new 710. At right are Caroline Seymour's 746 and her cousin
    Mark Sibley Severance's 758; owned by U.S.C. since 1946, William
    Kerckhoff's 734 is the only house depicted below that still stands.
    Key West was renamed University Avenue circa 1916.

    • James Shankland, an early law partner of Henry O'Melveny, had been a widower since 1889; curiously, little is recorded of Louisa Fowler Shankland. His spinster sister, Sarah, had been living with her brother on 28th Street since moving west from Nashville after their mother died in 1903. After Shankland died at home on January 24, 1923, his daughter Elizabeth and her husband, attorney Jefferson Chandler, moved into 715 West 28th; Sarah then took up residence at 710 West 27th in what had once been 734 West Adams. She was still living at 710 when she died at 92 on September 29, 1952
    • Over the years various alterations and some enlargement had been made to 710 West 27th Street; in a thesis presented to the faculty of the Department of Fine Arts at U.S.C. in June 1941, Masters candidate Frances Burrows Flood noted that the tank house that had been moved from 734 West Adams to 710 West 27th in 1908 was still standing on the property, a relic, along with a few other such water towers, of the 19th century. According to a Sanborn insurance map issued in 1953, the tower was still standing at the time of Sarah Shankland's death
    • Elizabeth Chandler remained at 715 West 28th—with almost all neighboring houses having been converted into U.S.C. fraternities and sororities—until the time of her death on August 4, 1970, family ownership of the house having been maintained for nearly 75 years; 715 is today the U.S.C. chapter of Alpha Rho Chi, a national fraternity for architecture students
    • After the death of Sarah Shankland, the family either rented 710 West 27th for several years or sold it to someone who did. On February 10, 1958, the Department of Building and Safety issued a demolition permit for the house to the American House Wrecking Company. Work on the replacement 710, a 16-unit classic "Dingbat" apartment house called the College View, began shortly thereafter; it remains on Lot 17 of Del Valle's Subdivision of the Wheeler Tract today

    The 61-year-old College View apartments at 710 West 27th Street has been on the site on which the
    original 734 West Adams stood for 52 years. Its "Dingbat" style came to be recognized by
    renowned English architecture critic Reyner Banham in his seminal 1971
    book Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies.

    Illustrations: Private Collection; LAPL