806 West Adams Boulevard


  • Built circa 1874 on part of Lot 2 in Block 22 of Hancock's Survey
  • The original house was a one-bedroom dwelling topped by scarlet shingles sitting in a 10-acre orange grove; it appears to have been built by lumber merchant Webster Treat, a native of Maine who had arrived in California from Bangor after business reversals in the fall of 1873. Treat came to Los Angeles not long after his fellow Bangorite Colonel John F. Godfrey, who'd bought citrus acreage with banker Jonathan S. Slauson nearby on Adams Street and built his own house on part of it in 1874. By late the next year Treat changed his mind about what he would farm; in December 1875, he left for Northern California to raise almonds. Godfrey, who was to become the city attorney of Los Angeles in December 1876 and 11 months after that marry Treat's daughter Helen, remained on Adams Street; it was he who directed Severances of Boston, newly arrived in the city and in temporary lodgings, to Treat's cottage
  • The press reported that Theodoric and Caroline Severance would be arriving in San Francisco from Boston on June 2, 1875; they stayed briefly with friends in Oakland. Part of their motivation in relocating across the country after an already varied life was that two of the their three sons were living in Santa Barbara, which they reached by June 15. Having taken up their father's notion of becoming a gentleman farmer to raise avocados (despite T.C., as he was known, being the head of a family with more ideas than money), James Seymour Severance and Mark Sibley Severance were looking into San Bernardino County acreage on which to raise the fruit; Seymour and Sibley, as they were called, urged their parents to leave Santa Barbara within a month of their arrival and push on to Los Angeles, where they settled toward the end of July

  • On November 5, 1875, the Los Angeles Evening Express reported that Theodoric C. Severance of "West Newton, Massachusetts, near Boston," had the day before "purchased Webster Treat's place, on Adams Street, for $10,000." The Severances immediately give it the name "Red Roof." From the time of their marriage in 1840, T.C., a progressive and an abolitionist, had helped form the will of his conservatively raised wife, whose great contributions to women's rights and to the civic betterment of Los Angeles are covered in a copious, readily available biography that includes Virginia Elwood-Akers's Caroline Severance. Another history, one in the form Alice Marian Chapman's 1930 thesis in pursuit of a master's degree at U.S.C., describes Mrs. Severance as having come to Los Angeles as a total stranger: "...within two years she and her husband had introduced the Unitarian Church to the city. The following year she founded a woman's club. During the same year she helped found a Kindergarten Association, as well as a Book Club, and interested her women friends in the 'right of suffrage.'" After arriving in Los Angeles, T.C. Severance would be noted in city directories variously as a banker, which he had once been, a capitalist—that signifier of masculine achievement in the 19th century—and, apparently having settled for oranges on Adams Street over avocados in San Bernardino, an orchardist
  • Perpetually unsettled in their careers, Seymour and Sibley both moved to San Francisco, somewhat to their parents' annoyance, within just a few years of the family's arrival in Los Angeles. Never disinterested in money, Sibley married a niece of the widow of Mark Hopkins, one of the famous Big Four investors in the Central Pacific Railroad, in November 1879. Other members of the Severances' extended family would be coming to Los Angeles; arriving around the time of her sons' departure was Caroline's brother James O. Seymour and his wife Christine, who bought a property several blocks east at the northeast corner of Adams and what is today Grand Street; Seymour appears to have built there the first 243 West Adams Street. His children, Orson and Carrie, named for her aunt, would arrive to join them there before long

Various Severances, presumably, in front of 806 West Adams before in an early view, the house yet to
gain its dormer; the center palm and what would become the property's signature Moreton Bay
fig tree to its right are still small. Behind the right chimney is seen the house's windmill,
which supplemented the supply of the zanja—an open ditch that brought Los
Angeles River water via Figueroa Street to the south side of Adams.

  • The fabled Boom of the '80s fueled by the improving rail connections to the east would rescue the Severances from the ranks of the land-poor into which they had fallen. Other investments in mines and property had proven disappointing. Sibley had been urging his parents to sell Red Roof; Seymour was paying his parents' bills. The farmland district centered on Adams and Figueroa streets was rapidly suburbanizing as streetcar service expanded toward U.S.C., which opened in October 1880. Orange orchards provided a lovely scent and perhaps a bit of return, but property was gold; on August 22, 1886, the Los Angeles Herald reported that "Mr. Severance's Beautiful Place On Adams street opposite Judge Silent's home is now being divided into lots suitable for suburban residences, and will shortly be offered at public auction. It is the purpose of Mr. Severance to reserve his home with a few acres adjoining." The auction took place on September 15. The new Severance Tract was comprised of 21 lots on either side of a new street named for the family cut south from Adams to 28th Street 200 feet west of Red Roof, which was retained on a slender 1.5 acre lot. Hoping to lure them back to Los Angeles, T.C. and Caroline gave a 1.25-acre lot next door to Red Roof to the east to Sibley and his wife Annie; they would in 1888 build the extravagant 758 West Adams that towered over his parents' squat farmhouse. Meanwhile, Carrie Seymour had acquired a lot, next to what would be Sibley's new stake, in June 1886; the Severances' easterly neighbor Sarah Bartlett was selling off her property that stretched toward Figueroa. On her new .7-acre parcel Carrie appears to have been the builder of what became numbered 746 West Adams. Christine Seymour died on April 11, 1887; James Seymour sold his house at the northeast corner of Adams and Grand to John G. McCallum early January 1888 and moved with Orson the few blocks west to join Carrie. By the end of the '80s the Boom collapsed, retarding sales in the Severance Tract. Once they had regained their footing after the financial vicissitudes of the '90s, buyers began to seek out leafy suburban West Adams, with Severance Street coming into its own as one of the best addresses in the city

Complete with widow's walk, Caroline Severance's Red Roof was now El Nido—which, with a cocoon
of vines, does indeed resemble a nest. The house underwent several remodelings; it is unclear
as to when the roof revisions were made. It would become an anomaly in the neighborhood
as much bigger houses went up in the neighborhood, including that of Mrs. Severance's
second-youngest of three sons, Mark Sibley, next door at 758 West Adams in 1888.

  • T.C. Severance died on October 15, 1892, after years of ill health. The funeral was held at Red Roof. Caroline gave mourning a month, plunging back into her work in the suffrage movement and in education reform. Among her many contributions to Los Angeles was her founding of the Friday Morning Club in April 1891. No mere collection of early versions of Helen Hokinson ladies, the club's aim of civic and cultural betterment was a serious one, much more than a place to enjoy watercress sandwiches 
  • With their expenditures getting the better of them, including racehorses for him, the Sibley Severances decided to put 758 West Adams on the market in 1900. The house was pointedly referred to as being owned by Annie in reports of its sale; one appeared on the same page of the Los Angeles Times of April 2, 1902, as did a report of the death of James O. Seymour at 746 West Adams on March 31. Caroline Seymour would remain there, with a non-family member now in the house between her and her aunt at 806, for two more decades, well beyond the death of Caroline Severance
  • Still politically active in her 80s, Caroline Severance had earned a reputation that she took very seriously, an egalitarian as long as she was given what she considered her due respect. A little affectation might be forgiven; now often styled in reportage as "Madame Severance," on an apparent whim she took to calling Red Roof "El Nido"—"the nest"—circa 1902, even having stationery printed with the new name. The house's red shingles had probably been changed by this time; at some point the roof gained a widow's walk. In addition to her club work, in 1907 she had the energy to remodel 806 again, adding a bedroom. Madame Severance also found time, circa 1903, to submit a patent for an idea ahead of its time—the paper toilet-seat cover (the patent was not granted)
  • Eight weeks shy of her 95th birthday, Caroline Severance died at 806 West Adams on November 10, 1914; a private family gathering was held at El Nido two days later, after which her body lay in state at the Friday Morning Club before a public funeral there. Caroline then joined T.C. at Rosedale

  • Seymour, who had never married, was living in San Francisco at the time of his mother's death. Afterward, he took possession of "El Nido," although it is unclear if he continued to use the name; the house would now be one the extended family used while visiting Los Angeles. Seymour continued to be based up north; by 1920, he had retired to Redlands, where his brother Pierre's son, William, had taken up ranching at a nearby spread he called "Los Huertos." Seymour decided to move into the city permanently by 1923; at the age of 80 he undertook the building of a house on one of the last unimproved lots of the Severance Tract, once part of the original 10-acre orange grove. He hired the firm of Hunt & Burns to build one of its smaller residential designs at 2716 Severance Street; completed in 1923, it still stands. (In 1928, in concert with other property owners seeking to rid the neighborhood of the Greek presence, Seymour sued U.S.C. and Phi Mu sorority, located around the corner at 801 West 28th Street—one of the earliest houses built in the Severance Tract—for disturbing his peace and violating the local zoning laws; the old neighborhood was changing rapidly, driving most of the old guard to newer neighborhoods to the north and west.) William then assumed control of 806 West Adams; on April 20, 1921, the Department of Buildings issued him a permit to make interior alterations to the house. On October 18, 1926, he received a permit to add a servants' quarters to the property in the form of a 26-by-12-foot building prefabricated by Pacific Ready-Cut Homes. William used 806 until after Seymour's death at 2716 Severance Street on January 24, 1936, at the age of 93. William would soon moved to San Diego County to raise chickens, leaving 806 to the care of his son, William R. Severance Jr. through the war years
  • The house at 2716 Severance was the first of the Severance family's remaining holdings in the neighborhood to be sold; Lewis L. Sanders was in residence there by 1946 and remained for two decades. The Severances appear to have still owned 806 West Adams and its 1.5 acres in 1950, when the lot caught the eye of Louise Treadwell Tracy, the wife of actor Spencer Tracy. In honor of their son, John, born deaf in 1924, Mrs. Tracy had established a school for the education of deaf children on West 37th Street in 1942 with the support of U.S.C. president Rufus von Kleinsmid who, living at 10 Chester Place near the Severance property, might have tipped her off to its possibilities. On July 19, 1951, the Department of Building and Safety issued a permit for the school's new building at 806 West Adams designed by Walter L. Reichardt; El Nido was bulldozed to make way for it. A permit for the demolition of the 1951 clinic building was issued by the Department of Building and Safety on November 19, 2017, and it is now gone. While in 2017 also slated for demolition, the 1926 servants' quarters building added by William Severance in 1926 and moved on the property twice remains as of January 2019. The clinic acquired Sibley Severance's house at 758 West Adams in 1962; it was demolished in 1971

Illustrations: Private Collection; USCDL