825 West Adams Boulevard


  • Built in 1901 by lumberman Ezra T. Stimson on a parcel comprised of Lots 7, 8, and 9 of the St. James Park Tract; the house straddled all three lots. Stimson was a son of lumberman Thomas D. Stimson, whose famous Richardsonian Romanesque house still stands at 2421 South Figueroa Street
  • Architect: Frederick L. Roehrig
    • Seeking to upgrade from the house he'd built at 226 West Adams Street in 1893, Stimson purchased the three vacant lots as a site for 825 in 1900 along with the Holdridge Collins house at 819 West Adams, which occupied the adjacent Lots 5 and 6 of the St. James Park Tract. A carriage house for 825 went up in the fall of 1900 straddling the rear of Lots 7 and 8; on April 11, 1901, the Los Angeles Herald reported that building permits for the 18-room house itself were issued that day under the initial address of 847 West Adams Street. The Herald projected that the house would be "one of the handsomest and costliest homes in Los Angeles when completed." Ezra Stimson retained the former Collins house as a rental over the next 12 years

      A full-frontal elevation of 825 West Adams appeared in the Los Angeles Herald on April 12, 1901

        • Aside from Mr. and Mrs. Stimson using 825 to its full advantage in terms of entertaining, more mundane occurrences during the early years of the house included a coal-bin fire in the cellar in November 1902 and Mr. Stimson's participation in a protest against telephone poles being erected along Adams Street that gained momentum in early 1903. He was quoted in the Times on January 5: "I think it is an outrage to place...poles in front of our homes. I have a sixteen-foot alley at the back of my house. I tried to have them put the poles there. They would not. There are five big ugly poles on my Adams-street frontage, and four on my Scarff-street frontage. In addition to this they cut up my lawn and put in a big anchor." After petitions and a two-year battle, a city ordinance adopted in November 1904 directed that power lines along Adams be replaced with underground conduits in some stretches and relocated away from the street in others; as Stimson had wished, the poles in front of his house were moved to the rear alley, where they remain today
        • Stimson decided to demolish the 23-year-old 819 West Adams Street in 1913 to expand the grounds of 825. The Department of Buildings issued a demolition permit on March 7 of that year. On April 4, a permit was issued for the stable of 825—now a garage—to be moved just east to the rear of the two-lot parcel about to be vacated by 819
        • In October 1915, newspapers reported that Ezra Stimson's ongoing and ardent attachment to "a notorious woman known as Virginia Gay" had prompted his wife to remove nearly a million dollars' worth of securities from their bank box in August, which she considered community property, fearing that Ezra would squander the funds on the "plump" and "piquant" nurse. It seems that while staying at the Palace Hotel on a visit to San Francisco in June, Mrs. Stimson had intervened in a meeting of her husband and Miss Gay at the latter's lodgings; the three-way confrontation resulted in Annie collapsing on the sidewalk after Ezra announced that he would be leaving her for his mistress. In August, Ezra left 825 West Adams with his trunks; Annie learned that he was back north, "basking in the charms of...Virginia Gay and [indeed] squandering the community property on her." On October 13, 1915, the Herald reported that Annie Stimson had that day filed for divorce. On November 1, it was disclosed that she told the court that she could not live on less than $3,000 a month ($73,278 in today's currency). Half that amount was given to her pending a final decree, which came on March 24, 1916, when she made off with at least half if not more of the Stimsons' net worth—including 825 West Adams Street. (Ezra and Virginia were married in Oregon on May 1, 1917)
        • Later in 1916, the Herald interviewed Mrs. Stimson, reporting on October 9 that she had written songs while having to keep a low profile during the airing of her dirty laundry (even if, it might be said, much of it she had hung out herself). The article was accompanied by a large, full-length photograph of her posing in full Edwardian splendor as she alighted from a limousine; it was announced that her "swinging, catchy air" called "Out in California" would be having its debut that evening at the Burbank Theatre as part of a revival of George M. Cohan's 1908 play "The Yankee Prince." After the reporter gave yet another synopsis of the divorce, including a mention of the co-respondent, the composer was quoted: "I haven't anything to say," she said, going on to say, "I began writing songs last winter when I was not going about much and because this work kept my mind busy. I am going to write more songs because my friends have found pleasure in what I have written." "Out in California" does not seem to have been remembered as fondly as the play's immortal "Yankee Doodle's Come To Town"
        • Even as a high-profile divorcée, Annie Stimson's vast new financial independence appears to have allowed her to hold on to her social position. She resumed entertaining and, never lazy, formed her own investment office to handle her interests, which included valuable real estate other than 825. For the time being, she treated the Adams Street house as a rental. She established new quarters by moving into the St Lawrence, the fashionable apartment building just north on the other side of the alley, leaving the house in the care of her mother and stepfather, Amelia and John Hoagland, for the time being. The Hoaglands would before long move into the Ansonia on Sixth Street; with the West Adams district having become attractive to leading lights of Hollywood (and they to local establishment burghers, at least until the scandals of the early '20s), superstar Clara Kimball Young rented 825 briefly during 1918, joining industry brethren Theda Bara at Adams and Western and Fatty Arbuckle at 649 West Adams. A filmmaker named Edward Oelrich, reportedly the nephew of Mrs. Charles Sharp of 3143 Wilshire Boulevard, was renting 825 later in the year, using the house as a location for an unidentified silent. On December 7, a scene was shot in the ballroom, with a number of local Blue Book listees recruited as extras. On February 4, 1919, the Herald reported that George McClelland Reynolds, president of the Continental & Commercial National Bank of Chicago, had arrived in Los Angeles the evening before to begin his lease on 825 for the balance of the winter. Following him as a renter was Clayton A. Musselwhite, described in the Federal census of January 1920 as a "secretary" in the employ of a private family—which was, in fact, a reference to his position in Annie Stimson's investment firm

        Three-quarter northwesterly views of 825 West Adams such as at top—and above, taken about 60
        years later—belie the size of the house. 
        Once it became part of a four-building apartment
        complex, one later owned by the St. James Park Retirement Housing Foundation,
        the driveway from Adams Boulevard to the porte-cochère was closed.

        • Mrs. Stimson's notoriety was further enhanced in early 1921 when she was called to testify in the sensational murder trial of Louise Peete, a housewife accused of doing away with mining man Jacob C. Denton and burying him in the basement of his Catalina Street house. Annie was getting ready to move on from 825 West Adams and had responded to a newspaper advertisement in which Mrs. Peete was offering to rent Denton's house. Mrs. Stimson noticed a mound of dirt in the cellar as she toured the house, not realizing what was underneath. Mrs. Peete then offered to sell the property to Mrs. Stimson for $25,000 in cash. During the proceedings, the judge was forced to admonish Annie, who was shrewd but perhaps at the same time clueless, when it was observed in court that she was inappropriately chummy with the defendant. In the end, Mrs. Peete was convicted and received a life sentence; Mrs. Stimson continued to look for a new house. (Peete was paroled in 1939, though it soon became apparent that she was a serial killer. Another trial resulted in her being sentenced to death, an end that came in 1947)
        • The most recent district to be called the "West End" of Los Angeles—one straddling Wilshire Boulevard beyond, more or less, Wilton Place, including Windsor Square (opened 1911) and Hancock Park (opened 1920)—began to siphon Blue Book families away from the West Adams district in earnest in the early 1920s, as the old district entered its last decade as a fashionable neighborhood. In 1921, steering clear of Catalina Street, Annie Stimson decided to move to Windsor Square, purchasing the newly built English-style 541 South Irving Boulevard being offered by developer L. Merle Campbell
        • The 20-year-old 825 West Adams Street, situated as it was on a stretch of the thoroughfare that would manage to hold on to its appeal to the old guard even, in some cases, through the Depression, found a new chatelaine in the form of the socially formidable Gladys Huff Bilicke. Her husband, Albert Clay Bilicke, had made as fortune from hotel management and real estate; among the downtown buildings he put up are the Title Insurance Building and the Hollenbeck and Alexandria hotels. He died on May 7, 1915, not technically on the Lusitania itself but when the lifeboat he and his wife were in accidentally tipped as it was being lowered. Bad luck, to say the least. Gladys Bilicke survived, plucked from the sea; having been left $3,521,540 by Albert ($88,000,000 in today's currency), she remained a widow and, in a reversal of the typical migration that was beginning at the time, left South Pasadena for West Adams Street—curiously enough, to a house just down the street from 710, the home of the J. Ross Clarks, who'd lost their son, Walter, on the Titanic in 1912 
        • Mrs. Bilicke occupied 825 with her teenage children Constant, Nancy, and Archie. It seems that Constant had a scientific bent, his 1927 master's thesis at Caltech being titled "The space-group and molecular symmetry of beta-benzenehexabromide and hexachloride"; eventually, he and Archie occupied themselves in the family trade as real estate investors. Nancy Bilicke married Los Angeles real estate scion Henri de Roulet in Paris on July 17, 1923; his grandmother was Germain Pellissier, on the northwest corner of whose property stands the landmark Pellissier Building and the Wiltern Theatre. Two July 17ths later, Nancy was living at 825 with her daughter Joan, sans Henri. Nancy was attentive when Henri contracted polio in 1926, but went on to divorce him; in 1928, she married Dr. John Moore Schmoele soon after his first wife, one of less than four years, divorced him. He adopted Joan de Roulet, with Nancy giving birth to another daughter, Nancy, on August 1 1929. Nancy Sr. did further matronly duty as the president of the Junior League from 1936 to 1938; tragically, she shot herself in the heart while lying in bed at home in Beverly Hills in 1941 with her namesake asleep in the next room. (John Schmoele married again two years later—his 18-years-younger third bride was another Los Angeles real estate heiress, Betty Janss. The wartime match quickly fizzled. Not yet done, Schmoele married for a fourth time in 1947)
        • Gladys Bilicke, now 77, died in Los Angeles on March 3, 1943. Her sons moved swiftly to dispose of 825, though Constant did not lose faith in West Adams. Instead of leaving the old district, he bought a house in Berkeley Square, the gated block of 24 large houses anchoring its larger neighborhood since 1905. The Bilickes' faith in things remaining the way they were always meant to be were not rewarded for long, however; change was coming to West Adams, whether they liked it or not. Dramatic demographic shifts and early hints of what would become the destructive wall of the Santa Monica Freeway caused them to depart 7 Berkeley Square from West Adams by late 1951, along with all but a card-table's worth of Los Angeles's social old guard

        The rear of the Stimson house is seen at left behind 38 St. James Park, built by John Hyde Braly
        in 1902; it was demolished in 1973 for an addition to the apartment complex anchored by
        825 West Adams. The corner house, 34 St. James Park, came down the year before.

        • Paul Otto Tobeler had been a fixture in the neighborhood since 1929, living first at the Mayfair Apartments on Scarff Street, which he later acquired, adjacent to two of the houses he was to own in due course—38 St. James Park as well as 825 West Adams, the latter apparently purchased directly from Bilicke interests by early 1945. Tobeler also had in his portfolio 870 West Adams. With family connections in South America and Michigan, Paul Tobeler had traveled from Peru through New York to Detroit in 1924 as a student. His time in America apparently convinced him to return after finishing his education in Germany. Applying for citizenship in Detroit in 1926, he pressed on to Los Angeles, arriving on June 23, 1927. Described in official documents variously as a merchant and patent broker, his polish, multilingualism, and good looks found him within two years representing the Republic of Guatemala as its consul, a position he'd hold for the next 12 years. Barely 28 years old, it seems he might have brought a few family reichsmarks with him to be able to buy 38 St. James Park—across the alley just north of 825—even if it was in a neighborhood whose incipient decline included fewer and fewer large single-family houses. Tobeler's life, the randy personal side as well as the business side—is described in detail in our story here. As a teaser, there is the story of his annus horribilus, 1955, during his time at 825 West Adams, when he was busted in a paternity suit by the mother of a 13-year-old boy and when his estranged wife of four years went on a rampage through the grand rooms of the house, smashing the crockery and every objet d'art and painting in sight. It seems that Tobeler's charisma inspired extremes
        • Paul Tobeler appears to have retained ownership of 825 West Adams into the early 1970s, when an investment firm acquired the house in order to redevelop the property. On September 27, 1973, the Department of Building and Safety issued a permit not for the house's demolition, as could have been expected, but rather for its official conversion into three apartments. Issued by the city on the same day was a permit to build the three-story apartment building that occupies the east side of the property today and supplants the 1900 Stimson carriage house and the long-gone 819 West Adams Street. This building would be combined with the 1901 house, the previously combined St. Lawrence and Mayfair apartment houses, and a fourth building on the site of 38 St. James Park; today this assemblage is owned by the St. James Park Retirement Housing Foundation and is addressed 839 West Adams Boulevard. Curiously, the website of the owner claims that the Stimson house was once in the possession of Curly Howard, one of The Three Stooges. Howard died in 1952 during the ownership of Paul Tobeler 
        • The Stimson-Bilicke-Tobeler house still stands and was designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #456 on October 24, 1989

        Illustrations: Private Collection; LAHHistoric Places LA