3320 West Adams Boulevard

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Kansas City real estate developer George Francis Winter and his family began spending time in Southern California before the turn of the 20th century, frequenting Catalina and renting houses on the mainland, first in Pasadena and then in Los Angeles's fashionable West Adams district. Canadian-born Winter had been in Kansas City since 1879; in January 1904, once he retired from his firm, G. F. & R. L. Winter, the partnership he'd formed in 1884 with his brother, Robert, and as their son, Frank, was finishing his studies at Stanford and U.S.C., George and Eliza Winter began planning a permanent move to California. Frank would be the youthful energy behind a new family real estate partnership, this one of father and son and on the west coast, when he joined George in the Winter Investment Company. During the aughts, George and Eliza would occupy 401 West 23rd Street as well as 636 and 1587 West Adams Street, the latter while awaiting the completion of a permanent residence in the estate section of West Adams , the largest houses of which were on the south side of today's boulevard, west of Arlington Avenue. Here the south-sloping building parcels to 7th Avenue varied in width from 120 to 240 feet, most 500 feet in depth but a few nearly 600 feet, the houses built on them having sweeping views to the Pacific. On June 19, 1906, the Los Angeles Herald reported that George Winter had purchased a 200-by-500-foot lot at what would initially be addressed as 2550 West Adams Street. (The width of the lot as finally agreed upon would actually be 175 feet, with the easterly 25-foot strip becoming part of Granville Hayes's property at 2500/3300.)


Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey's design was seen in the Los Angeles Times on July 12, 1908


On July 12, 1908, under the four-column headline SPANISH RENAISSANCE IS STYLE OF WEST ADAMS HOME, the Los Angeles Times featured Winter's house with a full description:

Set on a huge lot, 200x450 [sic] in size, on the rising ground just west of the end of the West Adams car line, the home of George F. Winter is one of the handsomest of the artistic dwellings in the western part of the city. It is another design from the offices of Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey, and like all this firm's jobs, is a harmonious adaptation of extraneous forms of architecture to local conditions. The general feeling of the architecture is Spanish renaissance, as the drawing [above] shows. A fountain in the foreground lends an artistic touch to the entire building.
The exterior finish is of waterproof cement plaster over wire lath, the house being of heavy frame construction. It is two stories high, and is roofed with real red tile. 
The interior contains twelve rooms of large size, and five baths. Commodious living rooms, a small reception hall, dining-room, and den are features of the lower floor. The entrance is from the reception hall directly into the large living-room. This has a large sun room opening onto the south and east, and with an "L" shaped court also on this side. The principal [sic] porches look upon this court from the first and second floors, affording a pleasant place for spending the hot noonday hours, fanned by the western sea breeze. There are six bedrooms on the second floor, and several sleeping balconies. 
The interior finish consists of rich old mahogany, with tastefully decorated walls and hardwood floors. Special electric fixtures are features of the interior finish also. 
A large garage, one-story high, conforming in style of architecture with the house, is on the rear of the lot. The grounds slope gently toward the south, and will be beautiful with shrubbery and trees.


In a quiet ceremony at her parents' home at 1141 West Adams Street on June 18, 1908, Frank Cook Winter married doctor's daughter Florence E. Miller; George and Eliza Winter's daughter, Mabelle, was also married quietly, in her parents' new home, in a "charmingly simple wedding" (per the Los Angeles Herald) on June 8, 1909. Her groom was Dr. Harold Heber Smith of Boston. Despite the size and design of their new house, the senior Winters continued to keep a low social profile, even more so after January 4, 1910, when the Los Angeles County coroner recommended that their Clyde Griffiths of a nephew on her side, George A. Stone, and his wife Clara be bound over for trial for the murder two days earlier of a friend and boarder at their house in suburban San Gabriel. Pacific Electric conductor Morgan Shively was found naked, slashed to death, a quarter of mile away. Circumstantial evidence rather clearly pointed to some sort of love triangle: As the Los Angeles Times reported on April 21, "Stone and Shively were intimate friends.... [Stone] says that they both occupied the same bed with Mrs. Stone on many occasions and thought nothing of it...." The Stones' explanations of the blood in the house was contradictory and unconvincing—Shively was a sleepwalker and had cut himself crashing through a window; in another of their stories, a band of disgruntled Mexican passengers on one of his streetcar runs had done him in while they slept upstairs. Uncle George Winter and cousin Frank supplied the combined $20,000 bail; by December 12, the case had been dropped by prosecutors, if not because of influential relatives, then because, in the end, spouses cannot be compelled to testify against each other. Off scot-free, the Stones moved to San Diego. The mortified Winters retreated into West Adams gentility. No justice for Morgan Shively, who joined Roberta Alden at the bottom of the lake.


A southwesterly three-quarter view of 3320 from Adams Boulevard—as Adams Street was officially
renamed 
in the 1920s—was taken by Beverly Hills photographer Lucien J. Rode circa 1930.


As had his parents, Frank and Florence Winter had also chosen to live during the 1910s in the developing western parts of the West Adams district. They would occupy at least two houses on Third Avenue—both now under the 10 freeway—just north of his parents at 3320 West Adams (the latter renumbered from 2550 in citywide annexation-related address and street-name changes circa 1912). As the population of Los Angeles began to explode after the Armistice, canny real estate speculators such as Frank Winter understood before most people that West Adams's days of fashion were bound to come to a close and that the domestic future of affluent Angelenos lay to the north and west, in Beverly Hills, Windsor Square, Fremont Place, Hancock Park, and in even newer western Los Angeles suburbs such as Bel-Air and Brentwood, all of which were now open by 1922. Even the West Adams estate section in which his father had built was fast losing favor among the rich. Ready to build his own statement house after years in the property business, Winter commissioned one of the favored Los Angeles architects of the era practiced in the Mediterranean vernacular, Raymond J. Kieffer, to build a restrained four-bedroom, four-bath house in the style on Rexford Drive. His choice of Beverly Hills over the more restrictive new developments along Wilshire Boulevard was no doubt calculated in terms of property value, as was his buying a lot there, doubly safe in terms of fashion, north of Sunset. (The remarkable story of their fly-in-amber house at 904 North Rexford Drive is here.)

The George Winters made few appearances in the press during the 1910s, Eliza only on occasion as she went about her participation in the genteel Ebell Club. A social item in the Herald on July 12, 1915, reported that the Robert L. Winters were guests of their brother and sister—Robert was married to Eliza's sister Mary—at 3320 after an adventurous 11-day automobile trip from Kansas City. Another curious social item in the Herald appeared on on December 21, 1918, and began with this paragraph: "West Adams street is rejoicing after a tedious period of semi-invalidism, and the lovely homes overlooking the valley, that make up West Adams Heights, are once more coming into their own again." Included among the list of the ailing was 74-year-old George Winter, who had undergone a "serious" but unspecified operation the day before. It was Eliza, however, who would die first. Her death at 3320 West Adams came on June 30, 1920. George remained in the house until his own demise in Los Angeles on May 1, 1927. His funeral was held at 3320 a few days later; the house was placed on the market by the end of the year by the Winter Investment Company, with classified advertising appearing throughout 1928.




Western Auto's south-facing sign atop the ten-story Los Angeles Railway Building
at Broadway and West 11th Street, seen circa 1925, advertised its similarly equipped
new headquarters building three blocks west. The lettering was moved to the north-facing
side of the framework in 1927. Both rooftop signs featured "Saving Sam," Western Auto's mascot;
many assumed the image to be a likeness of the chain's founder, George Pepperdine, but it was merely
a friendly face created by an artist.  In 1922, Pepperdine was quoted in Forbes as saying, "Money
couldn't buy it. I'll venture to say that Saving Sam is the most widely known character in the
Western States. And, in my opinion, he is the world's greatest salesman." The headquarters
building, also a store, was for many years home of a U.C.L.A. extension school. It still
stands today, with an 
additional three stories, as a loft apartment building.



Enter new if saintly money, and a now-famous name. The rags-to-riches-to-not-quite-rags story of George Pepperdine began in Kansas City, where in 1909 he founded—with his first wife Lena at their kitchen table—the vast Western Auto chain of car-parts and hardware stores, just as Ford's Model T was being introduced. Surprisingly, Pepperdine, whose fortune endowed Malibu's eponymous university and all of its piety and fame derived via Jeff Aquilon's pulchritude, would go on to lose his fortune to mismanagement of the investments of the foundation that had endowed the school. Pepperdine's decision to acquire 3320 West Adams Boulevard, with the district having already begun its decline and just before the Crash of '29, might have indicated his dubious investing instincts in realms other than in chain stores selling tires, auto accessories, bicycles, barbecue pits, tools, and appliances. 

George and Lena had arrived in Los Angeles in 1916, renting successive Hollywood bungalows before building the relatively palatial 157 North Catalina Street in 1924, just as George was also buiding a big new store downtown. While at the same time actively serving Western Auto as vice president, Lena appears to have had social ambitions as well, making sure that the Pepperdines, including their daughters Florence and Esther, appeared in social columns with greater frequency than the longer-established Winters ever did. Outside of work and home, Lena devoted time to the Women's Aeronautic Association of California. George, who in 1925 made the pronouncement, reported in the Times on March 15, 1925, that "National prohibition is, in my estimation, one of the greatest advances in modern civilization...." appears to have had countervailing ideas about the Pepperdine profile and, perhaps, the proper place of women. A Times news item on January 3, 1929, reported that George had filed for divorce the day before, charging Lena with desertion, and included the detail that the couple had separated all the way back on June 6, 1926. George was granted a decree on the grounds of abandonment when Lena failed to appear in court. Lena may very well have been bored by the sanctimony of her ultraconservative husband; she traveled on her own often, even as George took his mother on a round-the-world trip in 1928. Lena returned from a one overseas excursion with a pair of lovebirds acquired in Buenos Aires. It appears to be from these creatures that she contracted psittacosis—parrot fever—resulting in her death at the age of 41 on January 18, 1930, soon after arriving ill in Honolulu on a trip with Esther to visit Florence and her husband Randolph Crossley. Her will was filed for probate in Los Angeles two days later; the Times's report on the matter the next day included the information that Lena was worth on her own between $1,000,000 and $1,500,000 (the upper figure today the equivalent of nearly $22,000,000) and that George was a legatee. Also reported was that "Friends of the family stated that despite the divorce decree, which [contrary to reports of decrees and property settlements] had not been made final, the Pepperdines were friendly and a reconciliation was expected when Mrs. Pepperdine should have returned from Honolulu." A final accounting in a Times story on the following February 7 stated that Lena had been worth the equivalent of $18,000,000, and referred to George as her divorced husband and her executor, as well as being an heir.




The living room at the northeast corner of 3320 West Adams Boulevard and
the southeasterly sun room were captured circa 1930 by Beverly Hills photographer
Lucien J. Rode, among whose specialties was architecture. The exterior of the sun room is
seen farther above in Rode's view of the north façade. The birdcage is a sad reminder
of the unusual 
death of the first (and ex-) Mrs. Pepperdine on January 18, 1930.



Could talk of reconciliation have been accurate? Perhaps Lena's attention had been drawn back home by George's acquisition of the grand 3320 West Adams, though there was at least one news item indicating that the purchase had been made for George's widowed mother. (Both the senior Mrs. Pepperdine and George, curiously, are noted as "widowed" at 3320 on the 1930 federal census enumerated on April 3, 1930.) Mary Pepperdine died at 3320, age 75, on July 3, 1932. Whatever his level of grief by this time, George would rally when he met 29-year-old spinster Helen Louise Davis at a church function in 1932; the two were married on June 17, 1934, three days shy of his 48th birthday. With its inexpensive parts keeping many a jalopy going beyond its normal life expectancy, Western Auto weathered the Depression, well enough, it seems, to have allowed Pepperdine to before long, with the encouragement of Helen, to found the eponymous university. Originally known as George Pepperdine College and every bit as Christian-minded as its namesake, it was dedicated at its first campus at Vermont Avenue at 79th Street, a complex of Streamline Moderne buildings, on September 21, 1937. An incident two months later may have somewhat marred George and Helen's triumph; Carl and Augusta Moline, household employees living at 3320, were killed by a vehicle after stepping off the curb in front of the house on November 23, as reported by the Times the next day.


Still smiling, Helen and George Pepperdine relax in the rear garden of 3320 West Adams in 1947


In 1939, with stock in Western Auto well-recovered from Depression lows, and with his college well-launched, George Pepperdine accepted the offer of a Minneapolis parts company to acquire his controlling interest in the chain's operations in 11 western states. By this time, new family responsibilities had arisen: George and Helen now had two children of their own, Marilyn and George Jr.; he could now also devote more time to the George Pepperdine Foundation, which had been founded in 1931.

The 1940s would be a slow march for George Pepperdine toward his economic Waterloo. His foundation's investments in Los Angeles real estate—including the purchase of famous Ravenswood apartments on Rossmore Avenue—and in chemicals and oil, in particular, might not have led to disaster had World War II not come. The effects of the war on pricing, salaries, and material costs did, however, drastically alter investment returns, if not immediately. Apparently the financial picture on the home front looked rosy for the first half of the decade, marked by the arrival in 1941 of a second son, Wendell. Even after V-J Day, George felt financially secure enough to hire architect Lester H. Hibbard to add a first-floor rear bedroom and bath to 3320; he was issued a building permit for the work on October 31, 1945. It was after the war that, as related in the biography Faith is My Fortune, "...George was to see the funds of his Foundation, and his own personal fortune as well, disappear in a vortex of financial disaster. Only the College remained free and clear, [with] creditors of the Foundation [attempting], unsuccessfully, to attach the college assets." By 1950, George, doughty through trials in and out of court, had lost whatever money he had left after endowing the school; the Foundation was dissolved in 1951. Creditors also sought redress, less successfully, by going after Helen's personal funds consisting of Western Auto stock given to her by George after their marriage. There were lawsuits and charges of fraud regarding a promissory note that had been issued by George. On February 14, 1951, he testified in court as to his personal insolvency, claiming that he now relied on the kindness of Helen, who had steadfastly held on to enough of her own funds to keep she and her husband in considerable comfort relative to poverty, apparently for the rest of their lives. Litigation lasted into 1952. George and Helen left 3320 West Adams by early 1951; by mid-decade, they had moved into commodious 1614 Wellington Road, a 12-room house built in 1922 in distinctly upper-middle-class Lafayette Square, a would-be Hancock Park at the far western reaches of the West Adams district. In 2005, the daughter of a Pepperdine faculty member reminisced about the time leading up to George Pepperdine's death there on July 31, 1962: "... it was a gracious, old fashioned house. It reminded me of a home from another era, one that would have been approved by Emily Post. I can still see the upstairs hallway, the kitchen where Mrs. Pepperdine did so much baking, and the side room off the living room where Mr. Pepperdine’s hospital bed was when he was dying. We went to visit at least once when he was in that bed. There was a bluish light coming through a half-round window in that room, and he was so frail and weak." It appears that Helen remained at 1614 Wellington Road for the rest of her life; she died in Los  Angeles on October 5, 1990.

Adams Boulevard, including its estate section, had long given up any hold on the Los Angeles's social Old Guard, whose exodus had begun even before World War I. Its residential character began fraying in earnest with the onset of the Depression. George Pepperdine had been a holdout, if not of the Old Guard, then as a sober burgher bucking the tide of commercial and institutional intrusion. On April 21, 1951, the Los Angeles Times reported that 3320 West Adams Boulevard had found an even holier use than as the home of George Pepperdine. The day before, the pastor of the Holman Methodist Church announced that, after a long search for a new venue to house an expanding congregation, 3320 West Adams had been acquired for $70,000. The original plan was for the house to be converted into a church school, with a new sanctuary to be built alongside, one designed by no less than Paul Revere Williams. As plans evolved, a building permit was issued to the church to instead have Williams convert the house to serve as the sanctuary itself for the time being. With a change of architects from Williams to Kenneth Lind, the end for the house at 3320 came in 1957, when it was bulldozed to make way for Lind's Modernist church that opened the next year and remains on the property today after more than 60 years.


After six years of holding services in the former Winter/Pepperdine house, a new sanctuary for the
Holman Methodist Church, a landmark design by Kenneth Lind, replaced the house in 1957.



Illustrations: Private Collection; LAT; LAPLUSCDLPepperdine Digital Library