919 West Adams Boulevard

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  • Built in 1907 by lumber dealer Clarence Eastman De Camp as his second residence on the 75-by-188-foot parcel comprised of Lot 125 and the east half of Lot 124 of the Ellis Tract. The Department of Buildings issued De Camp a permit for it on September 26, 1907. He would acquire in addition Lots 126, 127, and 128 of the Ellis Tract, for a total Adams Street frontage of 248 feet at the northwest corner of Scarff Street, on which frontage was 188 feet
  • Architect: Hudson & Munsell (Frank D. Hudson and William A. O. Munsell); the Alta Planing Mill was the contractor
  • The first 919 West Adams Street was built circa 1893 by Mary J. Cooper, the widow of fruit grower Andrew J. Cooper, who had died on February 8, 1891; Mr. Cooper had purchased the building parcel from bank president Asa D. Childress in October 1890
  • Mrs. Cooper sold the first 919 to De Camp in 1899; De Camp was moving from a house around the corner at 2359 Thompson Street (now Portland Street) with his wife, Mamie, and adolescent sons Elmer and Frank. On June 13, 1907, in preparation for the construction of his new residence, the Department of Buildings issued De Camp a permit to move the original house to his easterly side yard for the time being; it was noted as "911 West Adams" on the document. Whether De Camp's original intention was to keep the old house there is unclear, but a demolition permit for it came to be issued on December 10, 1908
  • Among Clarence De Camp's interests were rabbits, as is reflected below in an advertisement that appeared in the 1900 Los Angeles city directory
  • It seems that Clarence De Camp might have better given more time to raising his sons than to rabbits. On May 27, 1902, local papers reported that 16-year-old Elmer and a companion had been arrested the night before after robbing a Ferguson Alley prostitute; they were caught fleeing from her "crib" with $4.35 and a silk handkerchief. "The young men were sent to the city jail handcuffed to each other and were booked for petit larceny." The Los Angeles Herald wrote that Elmer and his friend "are young men belonging to excellent families in this city, who have been leading a wild life and the police have for some time kept a watchful eye upon them." The boys were members of a club called the Night Hawk, the purpose of which appears to have been committing small crimes for pleasure. "Only recently [Elmer] was found at 2 o'clock in the morning with a sack containing two Plymouth Rock chickens. He was taking them to market to sell...." He had stolen them from his father, who, it seems, was still keeping livestock. On June 3, 1907, just as his parents were planning their new house, Elmer, apparently driving the Pierce-Arrow he'd bought the year before, struck and severely injured a boy outside of the Burbank Theatre on Main Street. He married in 1911, moved to San Francisco to work in the family business, and was divorced in 1924
  • On February 15, 1919, the Los Angeles Herald reported that Clarence De Camp had just sold 919 West Adams to Helen L. Brown for $35,000. Helen Brown was the wife of Union Oil Company executive Chester Wallace Brown; the couple, who had five children—a teen-age boy and four younger girls—appears to have had serious social ambitions, with plans to utilize the large east-side yard as a venue for large-scale entertaining. The Department of Buildings issued Mr. Brown a permit on January 2, 1920, for an 18-by-38-foot garden pavilion that was centered in the yard, straddling Lots 127 and 129 (technically, the structure had its own address of 915 West Adams Street). The Los Angeles Times announced on the following August 10 that the Browns, "by way of formal opening of their handsome new gardens," would be issuing 600 invitation to a party on September 17. "The affair will be in the nature of a reception and tea during the afternoon, while the evening will be given over to dancing on the handsome tennis court, which is illuminated by hundreds of electroliers. They will be assisted in receiving by a coterie of maids and young matrons." The Browns went so far as to give their creation of an in-town estate a name, Norchester Gardens, where there would be many benefit events and fêtes champêtres over the next decade. Architect Luther L. Fentress was hired to enclose the garden pavilion with windows in 1922
  • Chester Brown would retire from business in 1931, moving to their summer home in Balboa. Named Norchester Lodge, it was, according to his obituary, "a social gathering place for the beach city." Per the 1934 annual report of the Union Oil Company of California, "C. W. Brown was identified with the Company at its inception in 1890 and was a member of the Executive Committee and Director of Exploration and Production at the time of his retirement in March, 1931. He remained, however, as a member of the Board of Directors until his passing on October 5th [1934]. Mr. Brown was one of the pioneers of the California Oil Industry and was known as the 'Dean of California's Oil Men'" 
  • By the time of Brown's retirement, the deepening Depression had wrung most of the remains of capital-S Society out of the aging neighborhoods adjacent to West Adams Boulevard, as the Street had been redesignated in the mid 1920s. With the sale of the aging 919 likely to bring a disappointing return, Brown followed the path of many owners of rambling University Park houses by leasing it to an institution. U.S.C.'s Alpha Psi chapter of Alpha Delta Pi sorority held a formal opening of its newly acquired house on November 6, 1931
  • The Department of Building and Safety issued Brown a permit on May 1, 1933, for the installation of a rear fire escape
  • Greek-letter social organizations would occupy 919 West Adams Boulevard for the remainder of its life. Alpha Delta Pi would remain through U.S.C.'s spring 1940 term. The now-defunct Phi chapter of Chi Omega sorority was in residence during the 1940-41 term. The Alpha Nu chapter of Theta Xi fraternity held a housewarming at 919 on October 11, 1941; it would remain through the 1945-46 term. U.S.C.'s Delta Pi chapter of Delta Tau Delta fraternity would move in in the fall of 1946 for a long stay
  • While remaining at 919, Delta Tau Delta would, on the site of the Brown's garden pavilion, complete a new chapter house in 1966; the Department of Building and Safety issued a permit on November 11, 1965, to begin construction of architect Eugene Hougham's design. (Hougham had lived in the old house during his college days; since 2000, the new building has housed the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives division of the U.S.C. Library)
  • A demolition permit for the De Camp–Brown house at 919 West Adams was issued to the Delta Pi chapter of Delta Tau Delta on September 22, 1966. Its site became a parking lot for the new fraternity building


U.S.C.'s Alpha Nu chapter of Theta Xi was in residence at 919 West Adams from 1941 to 1946




Delta Tau Delta's U.S.C. chapter moved into 919 West Adams Boulevard in the
fall of 1946; the fraternity would remain there until completing a new house on the
grounds of the original in 1966. The old house was then demolished. The photograph

above appeared in the 1953 El Rodeo, U.S.C.'s yearbook, cleverly titled "Adams
and Eaves." The architect of its replacement was in residence at this time.





A drawing of each fraternity and sorority house appeared in the 1954 El Rodeo, U.S.C.'s yearbook


Clarence De Camp's commercial rabbitry, as seen here advertised in the 1900 Los Angeles city
directory, does not seem to have lasted the year. His classifieds in local and San Francisco
newspapers ceased in mid April. Perhaps his neighbors objected to the aroma of the
hutches as well as to commerce in genteel West Adams, no matter how
impressively aristocratic the hares' lineage may have been.




Illustrations: LAT; USCDL; LAPL