758 West Adams Boulevard

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  • Built in 1888 by Mark Sibley Severance on part of Lot 2 in Block 22 of Hancock's Survey; the 1.25-acre lot had been carved out of the 10-acre orange grove that his parents had bought in 1875 and subdivided in 1886. T.C. and Caroline Severance remained living next door to their son at what would later be designated 806 West Adams Street
  • Architects: Curlett, Eisen & Cuthbertson (William F. Curlett, Theodore A. Eisen, and Walter J. Cuthbertson)
  • Never disinterested in money, Mark Sibley Severance had married Annie Crittenden, a niece of the late Mark Hopkins, one of the famous Big Four investors in the Central Pacific Railroad, on November 1, 1879. Sibley, as he was known, had been working for the Central Pacific in Salt Lake City when his parents offered him a piece of their Adams Street property to lure him and their grandchildren away from the influence of polygamists. The Sibley Severances accepted the offer, assuming a position in what then constituted Los Angeles society that was ostentatious—more San Francisco–esque, say—in comparison to that of his intellectual, civic-minded parents. There were frequent lavish entertainments at 758, including an elaborate fête champêtre on September 24, 1896. Sibley raised trotters at the Severances' ranch near San Bernardino and was among the founders of the Los Angeles Country Club. Annie had long controlled the purse strings, having Sibley convey the title of the Adams Street property—freely given to them by his mother—to her in December 1888 after the house was completed. While Sibley, Harvard '69, later claimed in alumni reports to be the manager of family investments that included downtown property, it was Annie who most often made the final decisions


A rendering of the Mark Sibley Severance house appeared in the February 9, 1889, issue of the trade
journal American Architect and Building News. The family had only just taken up residence. At
left is the barn that held some of Sibley Severance's horses and was later converted to
hold automobiles. At right would be a house in the Severances' subdivision of
their 10-acre orange grove; the small house of Theodoric and Caroline
Severance at the grove's center, 806 West Adams, is behind
758 in this west-southwesterly view from the street.
 

  • The Severances' extravagances appear to be have gotten the better of them by 1900, when they decided to put 758 West Adams on the market along with other real estate; it could also be that Annie was getting tired of the tut-tutting of her plainer-living mother-in-law on one side of her and of Sibley's spinster cousin on the other at what would later be designated 746 West Adams Street. Sibley and Annie Severance took to dividing their time between the ranch and a downtown Los Angeles hotel suite, often separately, during this juncture, leasing 758 for short periods to a Mrs. William C. Woodward and then to Mr. and Mrs. William M. Graham; both Mrs. Woodward and the Grahams threw big parties during their stays. In between rentals a porchclimber entered the house by breaking a window early on the morning of March 10, 1901, but was scared off when Sibley awoke. (The same interloper had two hours before been scared from the Waters residence up the street at 900 West Adams; it might be noted that Los Angeles wasn't all palms and orange-blossom scent in 1901—its papers appear to have been as full of crime 120 years ago as they are today.) Seven-fifty-eight West Adams was pointedly referred to as being owned by Annie when reports of its sale finally appeared, the first of which turned up in the Los Angeles Times on April 2, 1902
  • On April 6, 1902, the Los Angeles Herald reported that the buyer of 758 West Adams, for $60,000, was William Wallace Davenport Turner, who was moving down from Bozeman, apparently escaping northerly scandal of his own making. Turner was a clearly quite vital 65-year-old lawyer and investor in railroads and mines who had divorced his second wife in 1899 to marry a third, née Carolyn Signor Clough, 30 years his junior and until recently the wife of an ex-mayor of Spokane, quinquagenerian Charles F. Clough. Clough had sued Turner for alienation of affections in 1897 after various humiliations including a catfight in a livery stable between the then Mmes Turner and Clough. While northerly papers had covered the scandal, the Los Angeles press made no reference to Turner's philandering or his wife's gold-digging ways in reports of the purchase of 758. The couple would be bringing horses down from Montana; their new house's barn, well-equipped by Sibley Severance to accommodate an equine presence, may have been what sold Turner on the property
  • The Turners took legal possession of 758 West Adams on April 19, 1902, but found when they came to inspect the house in July after the departure of the Grahams that much of the furniture and many fixtures they claimed were included in the final contract were missing from the premises. Among the loot apparently carted away in a Bekins van by the Severances—or the Grahams—were a six-foot Japanese bronze stork that stood on the lawn, chandeliers and gas fixtures, two carved dragons that were part of the molding of an archway in the entrance hall, and numerous small items including horse-sponge cases, a velvet-lined bit case, and fringed straw panels meant to keep flies off the horses in the barn. On November 23, the Times reported that a $4,000 lawsuit had been filed against the Severances seeking compensation for the goods the Turners had expected to find when they moved in. Whether a monetary settlement was reached or the items returned is unclear, but a later image reveals that at least one carved archway dragon—with an incandescent bulb in its mouth—was in place in the front hall




An early view of 758 West Adams from the street; in his book
Inventing the Dream: California Through the Progressive Era, historian
Kevin Starr called
 the house "Los Angeles's first distinguished mansion." It
did indeed help transform it
s neighborhood, as late as 1888 still one of small
citrus and dairy farms,
 into a suburban district that would replicate west on Adams
through 
the Gilded Age and up to World War I. Note the small blocks on either side
of the driveway just beyond the sidewalk—these are the ends of the small bridge
that crossed the water-bearing zanja in the early years. Below is a view of
758 taken in front of the Charles H. Capen house completed in 1891
at 818 West Adams; at left is a glimpse of 746 West Adams.




  • While the ladies who ran catch-as-catch-can Los Angeles society may have been unaware of the Spokane scandal, they were easily charmed by sexagenarian cigar-chomping swagger and youthful good looks—and money. Despite the Turners' lawsuit against one of the city's most revered families, Carolyn Turner was soon taken up by West Adams matrons bearing the locally august names of Stimson, Keuhnrich, Doheny, von Schmidt, Hellman, Dorsey, Ruddy, and Briggs. Mrs. Turner and her checks were welcomed by the ladies as they planned church bazaars and benefits for, among other organizations, the S.P.C.A. In the meantime, Carolyn's father, Samuel J. Signor, who had come to live in California, died at 758 on June 19, 1904. Then, on April 2, 1905, William W. D. Turner had a heart attack and died in the house. It seems that Mr. Turner was more devout and sensitive than one might have thought—the press reported that he had attended church that morning ("as usual"), later that day witnessing an unspecified accident on the street that caused him great distress, leading to his demise
  • The widow Turner would be left very well fixed; she continued to do good works on behalf of the S.P.C.A., among other causes, though her popularity as an attractive young widow may have kept her from less philanthropic entertainments of society. Perhaps wishing not to be alone in a big suburban house, Mrs. Turner took a suite at the Lankershim downtown, renting 758 during her absence in 1908 to William A. Clark Jr., whose uncle lived a few doors west at 710 West Adams and who would soon be moving to 2205 West Adams, where he would be establishing the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library in honor of his father
  • Also in residence at the Lankershim was Chicago portrait artist Harrison Henrich, who, it appears, had recently painted Mrs. Turner. There was artistic compatibility with Henrich—Carolyn had taken up the brush herself—but, now the romantic partner with the financial advantage, it was she who could choose a younger mate, no doubt a relief after marriages to two old goats. Nearing her 43rd birthday, she eloped with the 35-year-old Harry Henrich to the Hotel del Coronado, where they were married on March 9, 1909. (Apparently sensitive to the age difference, the Henrichs reported themselves to enumerators of the 1910 census as both being 35.) The Henrichs returned to live at 758 West Adams and formulated a plan to exploit its deep lot: After the easterly rear of the property south from West 27th Street, fronting on what was then Key West Street and is now University Avenue, was divided into five small lots, Henrich took out building permits in late 1909 for three houses (2701, 2705, and 2719 University Avenue survived until 1973-74). Such subdivision did not please the Henrichs's neighbors, especially when it came out that Carolyn and Harry also had in mind to replace the 1888 house with an apartment building. With his parents now living with them, the Henrichs decided to leave the stuffy confines of West Adams and move to an apartment district that was already established; in 1914, after a year on Catalina Street, they bought a house at 683 South Carondelet Street that the Hancock family had built in 1901 and were leaving to take up residence in their grand villa at 3189 Wilshire Boulevard. The Henrichs converted part of 683 South Carondelet into flats
  • As it turned out, so disenchanted had their neighbors become with the Henrichs and their plans that William G. Kerckhoff of 734 West Adams stepped in to finance the purchase of 758 to forestall further redevelopment of its lot; neighbors in on the plan would reimburse the lumberman for his advance. As late 1921 the map of the property in Baist real estate atlases indicated that "W. J. Kerckhoff" [sic] was its owner. From 1913 until 1924, 758 was rented briefly between periods of being left unoccupied. (Kerckhoff and his neighbors would soon face a similar buyout for similar reasons—redevelopment for multifamily housing—in the case of 718 West Adams Street)


The writer of a feature that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on April 23, 1950, assumed that
the route of the Harbor Freeway—now the 110—had been finalized and would be taking
out the house that Ralph G. Dow moved into in 1924. It turned out that the
road would run east of the neighborhood, sparing it; 758 West
Adams would stand for another dozen years.


  • Harry Wiseman, a physician, and his wife née Bertha Norton were in residence at 758 briefly in the mid-1910s; by 1918 they had moved a few doors west to 854 West Adams
  • By 1924, ownership of 758 West Adams had changed again, when the family of Dr. James F. T. Jenkins moved in for a long stay. Toronto-born Jenkins had come to practice in Los Angeles in 1893. Also moving into 758 was Jenkins's South Carolina–born wife Marella—Southern shorthand for "Marie Ella"—the Jenkinses' daughter, Shirley Dow, her husband Ralph Getchell Dow, a C.P.A., and their son Ralph Jr., called Getchell, who had for unknown reasons recently changed his first name from Frederick. The West Adams district was as early as 1924 beginning to empty of Los Angeles's old guard, who were seeking more modern houses in suburbs to the north and west; many big residences in the vicinity of 758 were being converted into rooming establishments or U.S.C. fraternity houses, much to the disgust of some neighbors such as William May Garland of 815 West Adams across the street. With the Severance family's small houses on large leafy lots still on either side, the Jenkinses and Dows were well insulated from déclassé boarders and raucous Greeks
  • The Dows appear to have done little in the way of renovation during their tenancy other than replace the roof of the house and barn in the summer of 1924. Chimneys were rebuilt after the Long Beach earthquake of March 10, 1933
  • Dr. Jenkins died at 758 West Adams on November 18, 1932, before Getchell's elopement to Yuma the following June, which caused undo commotion in a family that lived quietly for the most part. The incident, which began when it was reported to police that Dorothy Jane Hollingsworth had been seized at a party and taken away by force, made the New York Herald Tribune and The Washington Post; the Los Angeles Times reported on June 26 that the "investigation disclosed that Dow's attentions as a suitor to Miss Hollingsworth were without the approval of the girl's parents" and that in the end she had wired her father, a San Gabriel physician, that she was now Mrs. Dow and had not been swept off her feet against her will. (The couple settled in San Marino and was later divorced)
  • Mrs. Jenkins died in Los Angeles on October 29, 1935; the funeral was held at 758
  • A fire on January 8, 1943, caused the almost total destruction of the barn and burned three automobiles parked inside. The Times reported the next day that the cause was a short circuit in the wiring of one of the vehicles. The article, which began, "A landmark for more than half a century, the two-story frame stable on the original J. Seymour Severance estate at 758 W. Adams Blvd. yesterday was razed by fire," attributed the house incorrectly to Sibley's brother, as did a number of subsequent reports regarding the address. A permit issued by the Department of Building and Safety on February 5 indicates that the barn was rebuilt as a one-story garage
  • On April 23, 1950, the  Los Angeles Times ran an illustrated article regarding 758 West Adams; the reporter wrote of its imminent demolition for a freeway. The route of the Harbor Freeway had been in discussion by planners, and while a direct route south from the Stack might have brought it directly through the Severance property as well as through Chester Place, Estelle Doheny, the latter's powerful mistress, was rumored to have persuaded her political connections to have the wide new road jog east around the neighborhood, as indeed it came to be routed


Inside views of 758 West Adams appeared in an article in the Los Angeles Times on April 23, 1950,
prematurely reporting the house's demolition for what became the 110 Freeway. At left is
an archway gargoyle that held a lightbulb in its mouth; right, the Persian room.

  • On March 7, 1951, the San Bernardino Daily Sun reported that a civil suit had been filed against Ralph G. Dow Sr. and Ralph G. Dow Jr. charging them with the misappropriation of $10,000 from a client. The plaintiffs won a judgment of $124,500. Ralph Jr. pleaded guilty in a subsequent criminal trial and thus became a convicted felon; the State Board of Accountancy revoked his license. His father was placed on probation by the Board; working in separate offices, it seems he may have been caught unwittingly in his son's scam
  • Ralph and Shirley Dow were still listed at 758 West Adams Boulevard in the Los Angeles city directory issued in October 1961. On October 21, 1962, the Times ran a feature on what it again referred to erroneously as the "James Seymour Severance mansion": The John Tracy Clinic Women's Auxiliary would be staging a "Victorian Rumble" in the house on November 3, the educational institution having recently acquired 758 for expansion. The benefit was to be a costume party and would feature a fortune teller, apparently thought to be the perfect thing for the house's Persian-themed room. The Times also stated, again prematurely, that 758 was destined for imminent demolition. A description of the residence was given: "It has stained glass windows, gargoyles, bird's-eye maple paneling, colored tile, dragon light fixtures, a room with arabesque ceiling and oriental rug portieres. Also, simulated bamboo woodwork, pillars resembling tree trunks, marble fixtures, murals, mirrored nooks, stonework and cupolas, Mottos in Arabic, German, English and Latin adorn the mantels—the one in the entry being "Pax Vobiscum"
  • The Severance/Turner/Henrich/Jenkins/Dow house was destined for demolition, just not immediately, as the Times suggested. The John Tracy Clinic had indeed acquired the lot at 758 West Adams, including the 1888 house, and made it part of its facilities; a certificate of occupancy issued on June 28, 1963, indicates that the residence was now an "office building converted from [a] nonconforming one-family dwelling." On April 10, 1970, the Department of Building and Safety issued a permit to the clinic for the construction of a large two-story research and speech center for the site of the barn that burned and was rebuilt in 1943; the architect was Walter L. Reichardt, who had designed the clinic's first building next door at 806 West Adams in 1951
  • On March 19, 1971, the Department of Building and Safety issued "Mrs. Tracy" a demolition permit for the 1888 dwelling—Mrs. Spencer Tracy was apparently still the actual owner of the now-combined lots of 758 and 806 that was the campus of the John Tracy Clinic. The footprint of the house that historian Kevin Starr referred to as "Los Angeles's first distinguished mansion" was replaced with the parking lot still in place today



    Illustrations: Private Collection; LAT; LAPL