3917 West Adams Boulevard


  • Built in 1910 on a parcel comprised of Lots 1, 2, and 3 in Block 10 of the West Adams Terrace Tract by Maria G. Tomb, widow of cattleman Thomas B. Tomb. On October 31, 1909, the Los Angeles Herald had reported that Mr. Tomb had recently bought the three 73-foot-wide, 178-foot-deep lots, giving him 219 feet of West Adams Street frontage; the easterly Lot 3, on which Mrs. Tomb cultivated a formal garden, would later be sold off as a homesite. West Adams Terrace had only three days prior to the Herald report officially become part of the City of Los Angeles when it was annexed in the Colegrove addition. The house carried the address 3917 West Adams until it became 3925 as part of an expanded structure in 1941
  • Architect: Walker & Vawter (Albert R. Walker and John T. Vawter)
  • Before retiring to the West Coast in 1908, Pennsylvania native Thomas B. Tomb had spent his adult life in Kansas City, where he was, according to his eventual obituary, "president of the firm of Lake, Tomb & Co., extensive raisers of cattle in Texas, the Dakotas and Montana." Once in Los Angeles, Tomb bought a two-year-old house at 2258 West 24th Street, a rather modest residence for a man reportedly worth the equivalent of $55 million in today's dollars but an address that was only a temporary stop while he contemplated a much more elaborate place on Adams Street. On April 24, 1910, six months after purchasing his lots in West Adams Terrace, Tomb died at the 24th Street house of complications of diabetes. Plans for the new house appear to have been more or less set at the time of his death, with Maria going ahead with its construction despite her role as executrix of her husband's estate being challenged in court at the time. After Mrs. Tomb and her brothers Frank O'Farrell Harbeson and William G. Harbeson unsuccessfully challenged the administrator of a trust directed to be set up for one of Frank's sons, Thomas Tomb Harbeson, by the boy's namesake uncle just before he died, the administrator then accused Mrs. Tomb of mismanaging her husband's estate and sought to have her removed as executrix. (The Harbeson siblings seemed to have been greedy all around when it came to satisfaction as to the contents of a relative's will)
  • The Los Angeles Times of June 5, 1910, described the new house and its grounds: "One of the most notable of the recently projected mansions for the 'seaward' end of West Adams street is a beautiful residence of the English type, which has been planned by Architects Albert R. Walker and John T. Vawter for Mrs. Maria G. Tomb. The site is a high, level tract at the northeast corner of this "show" street and Tenth avenue...commanding a superb view of the mountains and the surrounding country. The house is to have a frontage of 85 feet and a depth of 65 feet, and will have a long wing at the rear, which will allow for a porte cochere and a cement pergola. The first story will be of blue brick; the second of redwood shakes, while the roof will be covered with red shingle tiles. The grounds will be laid off in formal gardens, with brick walks and ornamental shrubbery. A feature of the ground treatment will be a sunken garden, 50x70 feet in size, in the center of which will be placed a cement pool, surrounded by stone steps. The house will contain twelve rooms, exclusive of baths, sleeping porches and halls. The floors will be oak throughout. The lower floor will be finished in birch; the upper in white enamel. The principal rooms will have large fireplaces and beamed ceilings" 
  • After suffering a stroke, Maria Harbeson Tomb died on November 12, 1915. Her brothers and other family members then began fighting over her will as they had over her husband's, this time employing nine attorneys among them, with the fight lasting well into 1917. Curious non sequiturs came up in reportage of the various court proceedings, including questions over whether Frank Harbeson had been married three or four times, and a very interesting one germane to the house on Adams Street. On November 23, 1916, the Times reported that "Shortly after Mrs. Tomb came [to Los Angeles] she built a $15,000 home at No. 3917 West Adams street.... Unfortunately, subsequent development showed the foundations of the house were unstable and [that] the residence gave evidence of disappearing into a hole in the ground. This was because, as investigators found, the house was built over the detritus of a wash that dated back some centuries or more and the rains that fell had a tendency to seep down to their old channel. It cost Mrs. Tomb several thousands of dollars, it is said, to excavate under the house and put down foundations to solid footing. At one time the house was hoisted up on jacks and the excavated dirt lay level with the first-story windows"
  • Apparently staking his claim to the Tomb fortune early, Frank Harbeson and his wife Juliet—and Thomas Tomb Harbeson and the Harbesons' elder son Gartrell—moved into 3917 West Adams with his sister even before she died. The Harbesons came from 2258 West 24th Street in early 1915; they had moved there after Mrs. Tomb left it for the new house in 1910. The 24th Street residence was retained by the family and rented out; insurance man Charles Langmuir and his family occupied it from 1915 to 1921, after which William G. Harbeson moved in, the challenges of other family members to his and his brother's heirships having been settled. Frank and Juliet Harbeson were still at 3917 when she died on August 26, 1929; he would remain in the house until his death there on October 13, 1932. Four months to the day later, 3917 West Adams and its contents—as well as a 1927 Chrysler Imperial sedan—were auctioned off. In a strange postscript occurring 10 weeks after that, Thomas Tomb Harbeson, who had grown up to become a stockbroker, was burned beyond recognition in a 5 a.m. fire at the beach cottage at Topanga where he reportedly spent a large part of his time. According to the Times of April 28, 1933, Harbeson and his wife—their primary residence was in modern Beverly Hills, notably far from increasingly unfashionable West Adams—had been entertaining in the cottage at an all-night party that began on the evening of April 26 and at which "a few cocktails had been served." For some unspecified reason, Mrs. Harbeson left the party at midnight to spend the early morning of the 27th with evangelist Billy Sunday's namesake son and his wife at their house nearby; she told the police that her husband was given to falling asleep with a lit cigarette in his mouth. Mrs. Harbeson and a man named Paul Dato were reported to have been issued a marriage license in June 1933 but do not seem to have gone through with a ceremony

The family builds and 23 years later, departs: The architects' rendering of
Maria Tomb's new house appeared in the Los Angeles Times on June 5, 1910. Her
brother-in-law moved in five years later; by the time of his death, the neighborhood was
in serious decline, with suburbs along the expanding Wilshire Corridor having begun to usurp
the preeminence of West Adams even before World War I. The advertisement below appeared
in the Times on February 12, 1933. Greatly enlarged into apartments in 1941 and now
unrecognizable, the house still stands at Adams and Tenth. While Adams Street
had been redesignated as a boulevard by traffic planners in the 1920s,
"West Adams Street" was seen in print right up to World War II.

  • While the social fortunes of the older West Adams District to the east began to be threatened by the development of newer suburbs westward along Wilshire Boulevard—Windsor Square and Fremont Place opened the year after Maria Tomb built her house and Beverly Hills was poised to blossom—the "seaward" end of the Adams Street, beyond Western Avenue, retained its cachet until the Depression and Los Angeles's further expansion took its toll. Frank Harbeson seized on the diminishing opportunities for single-family development on West Adams Street when he sold off the formal garden that Maria Tomb had laid out on Lot 3 of the original parcel. Businessman Irwin Herron—a man ignoring or unaware of trends in real estate—built 3911 West Adams on the lot in 1924
  • It is unclear as to who, if anyone, may have had the winning bid for the property in the 1933 auction. There is some indication that it did not sell then and that Miriam Harbeson and her recently separated brother-in-law Gartrell Harbeson based themselves temporarily in the house until they made other domestic arrangements. By mid-1935, 3917 was owned by the California Trust Company. The bank refurbished the house that year. On November 28, 1937, the Times reported the sale of "3917 West Adams street" to John Dulaney Hall. The printing-company manager moved into the house with his wife and son; in late 1940 he implemented his plans to make the most of the property. On December 11 of that year Hall hired architect Louis Selden and was issued a permit by the Department of Building and Safety to add two large wings to the house, one measuring 35 by 143 feet, the other 35 by 85 feet, along with a large new garage. The result would be a sizable apartment house accommodating 20 families, now with multiple addresses. The Halls would still be in the original part of the house, which was now designated—and remains—3925 West Adams Boulevard

Maria Tomb's house was featured in the Seattle publication
Homes and Gardens of the Pacific Coast (Volume II, 1913); pictured
were the east-end living room, above, and exteriors, seen below and
at top, that hint at the south-sloping rise on which the house sat.

A recent view reveals the 1941 accretions to 3917 West Adams; in
it can be seen the shapes of the 1910 house as pictured one image above in
a circa-1913 view. A closer picture of the current front entrance of the building
reveals the residence's original front door with its particular arch that
characterized most of the ground-floor openings of the house.

Illustrations: Private Collection; LATHomes and Gardens of the Pacific Coast (Volume II, 1913)