1315 West Adams Boulevard


  • Completed in early 1900 for William Hartshorn Bonsall and his wife Ella McFarland Bonsall. The Los Angeles Times reported on September 22, 1899, that the contract for 1315 had been let; the paper had reported on September 14 that the Bonsalls were taking out a $4,000 mortgage to finance the property, which was comprised of Lots 2 and 3, block 3, of the Urmston Tract
  • W. H. Bonsall, who had been born in Cincinnati in 1846, was mustered out of the Union army as a major, a title often attached to his name in later years, as was the style in post–Civil War times. After the Late Unpleasantness, he settled in Portsmouth, Ohio, went into the insurance business, and married Ohio-born Ella McFarland. Her father, Albert McFarland, was editor of The Portsmouth Tribune, which may have influenced Bonsall's giving up insurance to himself become an editor on the Tribune. After a stop in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where he returned to the insurance business, publishing an industry journal on the side, by the summer of 1886 he was living in Los Angeles along with his entire extended family: His father-in-law was moving west to become vice-president, treasurer, business manager, and an owner of, with Harrison Gray Otis, the Times-Mirror Company, no doubt at the urging of his youngest son, Dan, who had come to Los Angeles several years before to set himself up, to great success, in the mortgage and real estate business. In his new hometown, Bonsall eschewed journalism to continue doing what he knew best. He opened an insurance brokerage in Los Angeles. With the city's Boom of the '80s peaking, Bonsall also teamed up with real estate developer Theodore Wiesendanger, with whom Dan had been a partner. Bonsall and Wiesendanger were promoting the Park Villa Tract, at the southwest corner of Figueroa and Washington streets, by August 1886; Bonsallo Avenue—the superfluous "o" unexplained—became one of the subdivision's primary streets. The McFarlands and Bonsalls quickly became pillars of the community in addition to major investors in it. During the 1890s, W. H. Bonsall served on the Los Angeles City Council, for a time as its president. In 1897, President McKinley appointed him as de facto manager of the Soldiers' Home at Sawtelle
  • On March 13, 1900, the Los Angeles Herald reported that Major Bonsall and his family—Ella, their four daughters and son—had just moved into 1315 West Adams from their home at 2622 South Grand Avenue. Among the household was daughter Jessie, who had had married Dr. Joseph W. Jauch in November 1895 in the South Grand Avenue house, divorced him four years to the month later in a closed-door trial on the grounds of "cruelty and desperation," soon became engaged to John Singleton of the famous Singleton Court, broke it off in November 1900, and then married businessman Thomas P. Newton, 25 years her senior, in the parlor of 1315 West Adams on June 11, 1902. (The Newtons immediately bought the William W. Cockins house still at 2653 South Hoover and then built 931 West Adams in 1908)
  • Major William H. Bonsall died at 1315 West Adams on July 20, 1905. His funeral four days later was held at the house; among the pallbearers was the ever-superior Harrison Gray Otis, the president of the Times-Mirror Company and a military fantasist who insisted on being called "General" after a non-combat tour of duty in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. He lived in what he called his "Bivouac" at 2401 Wilshire Boulevard
  • Taking charge of the family, Bonsall's son, Samuel, began advertising 1315 West Adams for sale within eight weeks of his father's death. The house sat on the market until the Herald of October 18, 1906, reported it recently sold to George H. Peck of San Pedro for $13,000. It seems likely that he was influenced to buy the house by Herman Kerckhoff, a fellow investor in San Pedro who lived next door at 1325 West Adams, which he had built at the same time that Bonsall had built 1315
  • George H. Peck owned much of the town of San Pedro and a sizable portion of today's Manhattan Beach. A banker and major developer, he had his sights set on the even bigger market of Los Angeles, which had not yet annexed his southerly holdings. He would delay his actual move to 1315 West Adams for seven years, even after he had succeeded in his push for annexation when San Pedro was connected to Los Angeles with the famous shoestring in 1909. Now a land baron, Peck had started his career decades before as a conductor—some sources say engineer—on the Southern Pacific between the two once-separate towns
  • In the interim, Peck leased 1315 West Adams first to John P. Story, who, it appears, was Major General John Patten Story, recently retired from the army. Story was listed in the city directory at 1315 in 1908 and 1909. Renting the house from 1910 to 1913 was Edward B. Tufts, an avid golfer and president of the Tufts-Lyon Arms Company, a retail sporting-goods concern
  • By June 1913, George H. Peck was reaping the benefits of the redevelopment of Los Angeles's harbor facilities at San Pedro; with his former residence there at Timm's Point being auctioned off and cleared away that month, Peck was making plans to relocate to the city, where he was preparing to open his Florence Avenue Tract on October 25. His office was now in downtown Los Angeles; he appears for the time being to have rented a house in the city while making alterations to 1315 after the Tufts vacated the premises. The Department of Buildings issued permits to Peck in September 1913 to build a new garage and to make minor alterations to the house. On October 29, a permit was issued to add a billiard room. By 1921, Peck would purchase the adjacent Lot 25, block 3, of the Urmston Tract, extending the property north to West 25th Street
  • Olive Peck, George's wife, died in Los Angeles on November 25, 1914, age 62. Peck and two of the couple's children, Alma and Leland, would remain at 1315 for the next 25 years. George never remarried and Alma and Leland never married at all. The Pecks' oldest child was William, Olive's son by a previous marriage—born William Betts—who was adopted by George and was in the real estate business with him; the Pecks' next oldest was Rena, who divorced her first husband, Herbert Culler—he had worked for her father—in October 1929, charging that he was overly familiar with other women and an abusive drunk. At first glance it appears that their decree came 15 weeks before their third child was born on the following February 2; however, given that the Cullers were reported in the press to have separated in 1927, the father appears to have been someone Rena was overly familiar with herself. Walter L. Anderson was listed in directories and newspaper advertisements variously as a "healer" and a "metaphysician," his name sometimes preceded by "Dr." He and Rena were enumerated in the Federal census in April 1930 as living in separate households, with no sign of the baby in either, although marriage and his adoption of the second Culler child appears to have come in due course, with the newborn becoming another Walter L. Anderson. Just as quickly—apparently by the end of 1932—Mr. Anderson departed the scene
  • George H. Peck died at 1315 West Adams on January 9, 1940. By the end of April, Alma and Leland had left the house for one at 2620 Alma Avenue in Manhattan Beach. The street had been named for her by her father years before when he developed the neighborhood; there remains in addition a Leland Street in San Pedro. George Peck's will was challenged by a friend from his days on the Southern Pacific; Edward G. Fitz-Gerald had been hired by Peck to read to him during the last eight years of his life after his eyesight had failed. Fitz-Gerald, who wanted the $250,000 of the $5,000,000 estate that he said Peck had promised him, was not mentioned in the will. (A settlement closer to $10,000 was eventually agreed upon.) In addition to his four children, U.S.C. was a legatee, as would be over time various Los Angeles charities; 1315 West Adams was directed to be sold with a portfolio of other city properties, with the proceeds going toward a maintenance fund for the 68 acres of recreation space in San Pedro that Peck had begun donating to the city in the 1920s, which came to include Peck, Alma, Leland, and Rena parks
  • After the city was given title by the Peck estate, the house went the semi-derelict way of much of postwar West Adams by being cut up into small units; its rooms were being advertised as for rent—for $4.00 a day—as early as July 1940, apparently by the City of Los Angeles. It is unclear as to why there was no sale of the property sooner, if it was to be for the benefit of San Pedro parks, but it appears that the city held on to 1315, doing as little maintenance as possible, for nearly the next 40 years, attempting once to auction it off, unsuccessfully, on September 22, 1966. No one wanted it until the city had it on the block again on January 3, 1980, when it was won by a man the Times described as "a 36-year-old commercial artist with a penchant for tangling with bureaucracy and a love for the weatherbeaten past." Since then, the Bonsall-Peck house has awaited its new day in somewhat-beyond-shabby non-gentility. Perhaps the new roof installed in 2011 is a promising sign of it being brought back at least part way to the neighborhood's heyday
  • A Bonsall postscript: After Ella Bonsall left 1315 West Adams Street in 1906, she returned to live with her parents in the house her father had built 18 years before on three lots at the southeast corner of what is now West Third Street and Lucas Avenue. A dwelling in an increasingly unfashionable neighborhood to which the family would nevertheless continue to return from newer neighborhoods, Albert and Eliza McFarland would die there exactly 11 years apart to the day, in 1911 and 1922, respectively. Three months after Eliza's death, her grandson Samuel N. Bonsall—Ella's son—converted what was at the time 1340 Crown Hill Avenue into a duplex. His mother would occupy one side and he and his wife, Mabel, and son, William Hartshorn Bonsall II, the other. Samuel Bonsall was making an unusual move for the times, eastward from Beverly Hills, where since his 1911 marriage he had lived with his in-laws at 523 North Cañon Drive, one of earliest houses in "Beverly," as the fledgling town was then often referred to. Ella Bonsall died at 1340 Crown Hill on December 6, 1924; her son and his family remained in the house—now with the address of 1340 West Third Street—into the 1940s. By mid-decade, Samuel and Mabel were spending periods of time at their house in Carmel, where they were on the evening of February 15, 1946. That night, after what appears to have been a gathering of friends for a party around a winter fire, their son would die in the driveway, naked, after being sadistically bludgeoned in a bloody running battle in the house. A six-foot-long lead pipe, a heavy brass desk calendar, a bone-handled carving knife, and possibly kitchen pots were suspected as murder weapons. It seems that the 33-year-old bachelor Bonsall, educated at Stanford and Harvard Law and with political aspirations, may have been in the habit of cruising Pershing Square when in need of companionship. A male friend staying with Bonsall at the time—newly arrived in Los Angeles and recommended as a suitable roommate by a Harvard professor—was one of several suspects. In an interview with historian Larry Harnisch 60 years later, LAPD detective Ed Jokisch would, in the parlance of the times, refer to the killing in an interview as a "fruit murder." Tiptoeing around the obvious and no doubt treading lightly in view of the social prominence of the family—if not its historical ties to the paper—the Times in the days after the murder dropped hints of the scenario: A richly-appointed house heavy on the Orientalia; a "slender" youth having been spotted fleeing the scene; underwear and other articles of clothing strewn around the living room and tossed on its fur rugs. The case was one of many postwar Los Angeles murders that have never been solved. Samuel and Mabel were still listed at 1340 West Third in the 1948 city directory—and, sadly, so was their son. The house had remained even as commercial structures were being added curbside on its original lot beginning with a filling station that opened in 1935; it is unclear as to why the Bonsalls would have wanted to stay among such unsalubrious development, or when they might have finally sold the property. In 1968, Mabel Bonsall left $3,500,000 to Stanford in her son's memory 

Illustration: Private Collection