Palm Ave. craftsman homes get vetting

January 21, 2013

When Palm Avenue denizens Kate Eggert and Krisy Gosney caught wind of plans to demolish three craftsman homes on their storied street, they went into action to uncover whatever historical information they could in a bid to save – and possibly renovate – the doomed structures.

The three houses at issue, at 923, 927 and 931 Palm Ave. are old (one is of 1902 and another 1912 provenance), but not included as part of the Craftsman District the city set aside in 1993 (and updated ten years ago) to protect the historic examples from demolition.

The owner of this grocery, Thomas Quint, owned the land around the corner on which the three endangered craftsman homes now stand. Photo courtesy Arcadia Publishing Company's "Images of America: West Hollywood by WeHo News editor Ryan Gierach.

David Vayner, the landowner, wants to demolish what he calls the “ugly” houses and replace them with 24 “new, nice” apartment units on four stories.

Ms. Eggert disagrees with that vision, saying, "Looking at these houses, we get a glimpse into the world of what West Hollywood looked like at the turn of the century and the beginning of modern-day.

"There's no need to tear down these houses; they should be renovated and cared for like that one across the street,” she said pointing to one of the protected homes across the way.

So the budding historian and documentarian (see this link for a trailer to her latest project, a documentary on the Palms Bar’s illicit and ghostly history) embarked on the dusty, moldy journey all historians take, digging through 100-year old records to find out what the buildings’ origins were – and to see if there might be reason for the Historic Preservation Commission might wish to preserve them in their meeting next Monday (January 28).

Here is her account of what she found:

All three homes were built during the early development of old Sherman, and it is likely that 927 and 931 were built as “model homes” to help entice potential buyers to invest in the “new” Sherman subdivision.

Moses Sherman used this luxurious private rail car to tool around with civic leaders on his rail lines. Photo courtesy Arcadia Publishing Company's "Images of America: West Hollywood” by WeHo News editor Ryan Gierach.

Based on City Hall records, (permits, docs in Planning Division and Rent Stabilization) all three homes retain all of the exterior, visible materials that were used during the early development of the town of Sherman.

The plots were about a block from the edge of Sherman’s rail yard and a block from a prestigious corner that contained the only barbershop and drugstore, the post office, grocery and the town’s only restaurant.

According to histories written about the city, these homes were built for the rail yard’s white-collar rail workers, the engineers and foremen, and their families.

These three homes, with their unique and showy aesthetic and construction and short walks to amenities, are the direct descendants of modern-day living in West Hollywood.

The land at 923, 927 and 931 Palm Avenue was owned by Thomas Quint, farmer and merchant, and was sold to Pacific Electric motorman and Burbank theatre actor, Henry Earl Napier in 1898.

Shortly thereafter, in 1901, Moses H. Sherman arranged for four “big cars” on the Santa Monica electric rail line to tour the foothills of Sherman (West Hollywood) into Hollywood.

The people who lived in the Palm Avenue homes were management level employees, and as such were unlikely to ride this bonding car, used for bonding rails together. These men were immigrants from Mexico who most often slept on the railyard itself, having no homes to call their own. Photo courtesy Arcadia Publishing Company's "Images of America: West Hollywood” by WeHo News editor Ryan Gierach.

The tour was by invitation-only and the big cars were packed full of prominent real estate and business men.

As a result of that excursion and/or subsequent others, the land around the Sherman rail yard, especially Palm Avenue, (being close to the Old Santa Monica Foothill Road and on a hill) became highly desirable.

From the houses first construction to the mid-1930s, virtually every person who lived at 923, 927, or 931 Palm Avenue worked at the Los Angeles Railway and later Pacific Electric.

 923 Palm Ave

A unique feature for the time period in this specific location is that the gable dormer is fitted with an original, early 20th century, decorative, muntin pattern glass pane. The current structure was built in 1913 to replace a single-family home that was built on the same spot circa 1900-1910.

The current house at 923 Palm Avenue (and the house it replaced) was originally owned and inhabited by a Edward H. Blette and his family.

Mr. Blette was a telegraph operator for the Pacific Electric. He and his family lived in the house well into the 1930s.

 927 Palm Ave

The house’s original overhanging bay window is rare on a single-family structure like this. Bay windows were popular during the Victorian-era. They were meant to make the frontage of a house look larger and more sophisticated, so the property appeared more expensive.      

This home displays evidence of a special artisan’s labor and skill in workmanship – in its decorative sashes, window molding, continuous horizontal molding, decorative porch columns and stickwork to name a few.

The first owners connected to the house at 927 Palm Avenue were Loren Whitmore, rancher, and Thomas W. Price, farmer; both lived on Highland Avenue, around Sunset Boulevard.

Messrs. Whitmore and Price were likely speculators, investing in the new real estate deals that Moses Sherman offered. Whitmore and Price owned the house until 1924.

This structure, at 931 Palm Avenue, sits above the others. Photo by WeHo News.

The first residents on record to live at the address are James Lourden and his wife; they were renters. He was a switchman for the Pacific Electric.

Glen Brumagin, engineer for Pacific Electric, and his family later  rented the house, but In 1928, Mr. Brumagin bought the house from his landlords and lived in the house until 1957.

He was an engineer for the Pacific Electric for at least 30 years.

Adolph Zukor II (son of Adolph Zukor – founder of Famous Players Film Company and later Paramount Pictures) lived at 927 Palm Avenue in the 1980s (and possibly earlier) into 1990.

 931 Palm Avenue

For a one-story house, it appears to stands taller than the other two houses, quite literally, as it exposes more of the poured concrete foundation.

The steeper-hipped roof also adds to the illusion of height as well as the vertical wood siding on the lower half of the house, separated by a two continuous, horizontal decorative wood trim bands and horizontal wood siding.

The north and south walls each have double-hung window casings with upper sash decorative detailing, as well as the Victorian-era inspired long, narrow windows with wide wood surrounds and two wood sash one-over-one pane casement windows.

The first owner on record to own the house was the Bennis family in 1908, giving rise to informed speculation that this home was used after completion in 1902 to sell other homes in the neighborhood.

One of the first families on record to settle in at 931 Palm Avenue was in 1910 by William E. Nance and his wife; they were the second owners of the home.

He was an electrician for the Pacific Electric Railroad.