1150 West Adams Street


  • Built in 1895 as his own home by real estate investor Ira Phillips as 1110 West Adams on an unsubdivided parcel of 1.86 acres extending 560 feet back from the street. On September 8, 1895, the Los Angeles Times reported that Phillips was building "a handsome residence on Adams street. The foundation is high and built of Arizona brownstone." Phillips, however, appears to have been listed in city directories of the previous few years as living on the property, or near it. The Times item may have been a reference to a large street-side addition to an earlier dwelling
  • Phillips's son, his junior but usually known as Ivar, was an attorney who also dealt in real estate; news reports make it hard to decide which man was the more unpleasant, or which loathed the other more; there would be bad blood between them from at least the 1880s. By 1887, Ira Phillips, who had been dealing in real estate in Rockford, Illinois, had moved to California and acquired a very large spread in Tulare County. In April of that year, Ira had his son arrested on charges of stealing valuable papers; in July, he and his wife, Jane, were divorced after a year of charges and countercharges, he contending that she had deserted him, she that he had abused her physically. Ira appears to have arrived in Los Angeles by 1890, acquiring soon after (if not having done so before he arrived) his Adams property; the two apparently locked in dysfunction, Ivar chose to come west from Chicago, where he had been living with his mother, to live near his father, arriving in mid 1900. Ivar practiced law and began investing in real estate 
  • Ira Phillips remained at 1110 West Adams Street on what amounted to an in-town estate, with tracts of suburban houses rapidly surrounding him, until 1908. In June 1905, either he—or his son—bought Lot 9 of the Nies Tract, a 50-by-123-foot site that backed up to the rear expanse of 1110 West Adams. On June 10, 1908, the Department of Buildings issued "I. I. Philllips" a permit for a six-room house to be built there and addressed 2650 Magnolia Avenue (the house still stands today). Curiously, though his father would come to occupy it, the "I. I. Phillips" cited as owner, architect, and builder on the permits was Ivar, who gave his address as 4212 Pasadena Avenue, his real estate office in northeastern Los Angeles. Fancying himself now as a developer, Ivar had listed himself in the 1904-1906 city directories as an architect. Could it have been his plan to get his father—now 87 and in the constant company of a very attentive 39-year-old nurse named Matilda Bennett—to move into the new cottage so he could get his hands on the largest undeveloped parcel in the neighborhood on which sat only one house? Perhaps Ivar's antenna were up, especially in regard to young women, with his father having not long before fallen victim to the notorious forger Ruby Castleman, a Sunday-school teacher who, in Ira's case, knocked on the front door of 1110 asking to use the telephone and then relieved him of his checkbook. (Miss Castleman, a repeat offender, had also similarly fleeced the wife of a former city council president; she was later sentenced to seven years in the penitentiary)
  • Perhaps Ivar Phillips was settling the score for his mother or other grievances he had with his father, who was considered to be tight-fisted. At any rate, 1110 West Adams was indeed sold by 1908, not to be developed by Ivar after all. The property was divided into two parcels: The rear unimproved 340 feet—1.13 acres—was acquired and held onto briefly by developer Leander C. Crossman; the front lot, .73 of an acre containing the 1895 house, was sold to the Dr. Samuel R. Chamley, a cancer specialist who claimed to be able to cure the disease. It was at this time, and in accordance with several renumberings near the corner of Adams and Monmouth, that the address of the house was altered to 1150 West Adams Street
  • In July 1908, the Department of Buildings issued Dr. Chamley various permits to remodel 1150 West Adams. Contractor Herman Haase was to tear off the "old" five rooms at the rear—these perhaps constituted the house that Ira Phillips may have lived in before 1895—and replace it with a new addition of six rooms designed by architect Julius W. Krause
  • While Ira Phillips had divested himself of his former home and had acquiesced to living quietly around the corner with his nurse in the house his son had built on Magnolia Avenue, a change in his marital status was soon to rekindle his son's ire in a very nasty way. As reported in the Times on March 23, 1909, Ira and Matilda had eloped to San Bernardino the week before. The marriage drove Ivar to seek to have his father declared legally insane, and the marriage annulled, under the guise of being concerned about the safety of the old man's estate as far as people other than Ivar were concerned. After Ivar swore out a warrant, Ira Phillips had been placed in the insane ward of the county hospital on March 20. After a hearing by the Lunacy Commission two days later, Ira was released from custody. "You ask me why I married, and I will tell you frankly," Phillips told the commission in his defense, according to the Times. "This boy, he added, fixing a father's stern eye on his son [Ivar was at the time 50 years old],...wants all my worldly possessions, and I was compelled to marry. I believe such a step would cause him to drop what has seemed to me to be a persecution." It seemed that it did not pay to have a son not only cut from the same cloth, but a lawyer to boot. Ivar let the matter drop after crafting an agreement to let Ira and Matilda stay together in exchange for a will allowing his stepmother a third of Phillips's reported $300,000 estate ($8 million today), himself a third, and a third for his four children when his father died. Which Ira did on December 20, 1912, at the age of 92
  • Dr. Samuel Chamley, a former resident of Los Angeles, had returned to Southern California from San Francisco, where he had gone in 1896 to continue his claims to be able to cure cancer without a knife. The return came after he was charged with manslaughter in February 1903 after operating on a Nevada woman with breast cancer—with a knife. His medical credentials were suspect all along, but he got off, perhaps because of confusion caused by his alleged use of aliases. Despite the notoriety and civil suit he faced, he and his partner in crime, his wife Clara, continued to advertise in California newspapers as "Dr. & Mrs. Dr. Chamley & Co." Soon again raking in cash through mail-order sales of pamphlets and cancer cures through the mails, they accumulated a reported $500,000, more than enough (by perhaps a hundred times) to finance a house in the best section of the city for themselves and their five children. Then, a month after another lawsuit in April 1913 for failure to deliver a cure, and the United State Postmaster having banned them from the mails, the Chamleys shifted their advertising back north. They appear to have divorced or at least separated within a few years. Samuel died in October 1920—perhaps of cancer—while Clara Chamley lived until 1954. Meanwhile, 1150 West Adams would give way to the realities of population pressures being faced by the West Adams district
  • The Department of Buildings issued a demolition permit for 1150 West Adams Street on November 10, 1917; a developer was reassembling Ira Phillips's original 1.86-acre parcel and adding to it three lots at its southern end as plans were being formulated for the seven-building apartment complex on the site today known as West Adams Gardens
  • Precociously anticipating the coming evolution of the West Adams district to accommodate Los Angeles's postwar population explosion, the largest undeveloped tract left fronting West Adams Street soon came to contain not the sort of single-family housing surrounding it, but rather multiunit dwellings. As the Chamleys' cancer-cure scam wound down, they would have been in need of fresh cash, which presumably came with the sale of 1150. The developer of West Adams Gardens is the subject of some debate, with a lady musician and an established construction firm vying for the honor. During the 1890s, Jessie De Arche was living in Little Rock playing the cornet in a local orchestra; one might be tempted to think that she took a stage name from Arch Street, on which she lived in the Arkansas capital, but it seems that her mother, Lydia Gay, who had run a Little Rock boarding house in the 1880s, was once married to a Mr. De Arche. By 1909 Jessie had arrived in Los Angeles with her mother and several sisters and was now known as Jessie D'Arche. It seems that the family brought with them enough capital to build two small houses for themselves on a lot in Edendale in 1910. Where Jessie, still a performer but not a household name, might have within a decade acquired the money to begin investing in large-scale development in one of Los Angeles's best neighborhoods is unclear, but it is her name that appears as owner on building permits of some West Adams Gardens buildings as well as flats nearby on West 27th Street and Magnolia Avenue and others on Western Avenue and Rampart Boulevard. All of these projects were designed by architect Lewis A. Smith, who was employed by the construction firm involved, the Lilly-Fletcher Company. Another party cited on permits as owner of buildings built by Lilly-Fletcher in the development is a C. B. MacLean; the Times spelled his name McLean in an item appearing on February 23, 1919, describing him vaguely as a "local capitalist" who had awarded the contract for two West Adams Gardens flat buildings to Lilly-Fletcher—it so happens that a Scotsman named Charles B. McLean was working as a draftsman in Los Angeles during Lilly-Fletcher's years of operation. (Another name in the mix is that of lumberman Harry W. McLeod; "H W. McLeod" appears on the tract as illustrated in the 1921 Baist real estate map.) It seems likely that neither Jessie D'Arche nor C. B. McLean had financial stakes in any of the buildings mentioned, but rather were merely employees of Lilly-Fletcher; it was not uncommon for even mere secretaries to handle building permits in this era and thus to be noted as the "owner" on the handwritten documents, which were more often than not completed very imprecisely
  • Whatever their parentage, the seven identical Tudor Revival four-flat buildings of West Adams Gardens stand today collectively as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #297. The building at the westerly south end of the street replaced a house owned by Dr. Jarvis Barlow, which he moved three blocks east to the corner of West 27th and Monmouth Avenue. Whether or not an eighth West Adams Gardens building at the easterly south end of the street was ever planned is not known; the original house on the lot was not demolished until 1931, when it was replaced by the current four-flat building that was moved south from its original 1920 site at 633 South Mariposa Avenue, off Wilshire Boulevard, in the Chapman Park Tract

The seven fourplexes of West Adams Gardens are nearly identical to the one at the southwest corner
of Adams Boulevard and the gated lane bisecting the nearly 100-year-old development. The
large apartments would become homes to many of the West Adams old guard who
wished to downsize from single-family dwellings. It offered an opportunity
for them to turn their big houses into flats for income—or to cash
out when developers made them an offer—but stay in West
Adams, now in its leafiest years. Housing pressures
during the 1920s created constant demand.

Illustrations: Private Collection; Library of Congress