WEHOville

North Kings Road, Part II: The Wild, Wild West

Mon, Aug 17, 2015   By Bob Bishop    3 Comments
Schindler-Chace House, 835 N. Kings Rd., 1922. Rudolph Schindler, architect. (Photo courtesy UC Santa Barbara Art Museum, Architecture and Design Collections, Schindler Collection.)

Schindler-Chace House, 835 N. Kings Rd., 1922. Rudolph Schindler, architect. (Photo courtesy UC Santa Barbara Art Museum, Architecture and Design Collections, Schindler Collection.)

Class is in session for part two of this “refresher course” on the history of North Kings Road. Some events may seem less important than others, but knowing what came before takes on added significance as over-development and density debates rage through the neighborhood and City Hall. The first article on the history of North Kings Road was published on WEHOville last Monday.

Tiburcio Vasquez

Tiburcio Vasquez

Who Says Crime Doesn’t Play?
First question: How did Kings Road help determine who would become Los Angeles’ first chief of police? The Los Angeles Times provides the answer with this account: “In 1874, the colorful robber and horse thief Tiburcio Vasquez was wounded and captured by Polish Jewish immigrant Deputy Emil Harris near what is now Santa Monica Boulevard and Kings Road. The Yiddish-speaking Harris would be rewarded for his role and became Los Angeles’ first chief of police . Vasquez also was rewarded after a fashion: While he was awaiting execution, a play based on his life opened in Los Angeles.”

The play, appropriately, was named “Bandidol,” and it debuted at the Mark Taper Forum. The Vasquez Rocks, near Newhall 40 miles north of L.A., were one of his many hideouts and are named after him.

At Least They Didn’t Call It “Green Acres”
Kings Road developed as a distinctive creative community early on, providing a unique atmosphere. A document on the City of West Hollywood’s website states that such an ambience was fostered by unusually large parcels that provided a broad, flat area for building within conventional street grids. The result was “a green and gracious expanse surrounded by an increasingly developed neighborhood.”

With that pleasant, pastoral image in mind, can you guess the name of the large real estate tract from which North Kings Road was carved? The answer: Hollywood Acres. Next question: What marketing slogan did developers use to hype Kings Road specifically? The answer: “The Newest of the High-Class Foothill Subdivisions.”

Marketing would become a more sophisticated tool in the coming decades, obviously. By 1916, two houses had been built on North Kings Road and much of the area wasn’t much more than barley fields. Those first two houses set a standard for others that would be distinguished at the least and in some cases would become architectural masterpieces. The third residence would be designed and built by Austrian-born Rudolph Schindler.

Fair Housing – Why Bother?
Consider yourself well-informed if you’re up-to-speed on the next two events. Together they show (1) how close Rudolph Schindler came to not building his studio-residence – at least not on North Kings Road, and (2) why fair housing laws and extensive real estate regulations exist today.

Here’s the backstory from Susan Morgan’s “A Short History of the Schindler House”: A pair of businessmen (developers) owned all property along the street in the early 1920s – Walter Luther Dodge and Raymond Wicks Stephens. Dodge, scion of the famous automobile brand, also was an inventor. He held a patent for Tiz, a medicine for tired feet. He built the first residence on North Kings Road at 950, aka the famous Dodge House.

First event: Dodge hand picked the fortunate few who would be allowed to purchase parcels and become his neighbors . Fair housing laws were still a thing of the future.

Irving Gill

Irving Gill

Second event: Schindler’s arrival in Los Angeles in 1920. Frank Lloyd Wright dispatched him to supervise Wright’s largest U.S. commission at the time – the Hollyhock House for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall. A year later, Schindler was looking to set up his own practice when he and investor / engineer Clyde Chace spotted the Kings Road property where the “Schindler-Chace house” eventually was built.

For Schindler, the site offered the professional advantages of living and working in an accessible “middle-class” section of a city. The area, called Sherman, was ideally located and a booming garden spot well served by the inter-urban railway system, electric utilities and the West Los Angeles Water Company. Located eight miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, the town would be renamed West Hollywood in 1925 to emphasize its ties to its glamorous neighbor to the east.

Schindler and Chace seemingly lacked the connections to win Dodge’s blessing. So how did they eventually purchase nearly a half acre of land on Kings Road in December 1921? Researchers believe that it was a combination of Wright and the architect of the Dodge House, Irving Gill.

Most likely, Gill vouched for Schindler based on this scenario: Schindler probably viewed the Dodge House while it was being built during a West Coast trip he made in 1915. He learned of Gill’s work through his introductory visit with Wright in late 1914. Wright had lived in a Gill-designed cottage in San Diego during 1912 and 1913.

Pauline Schindler (Photo courtesy of Courtesy UC Santa Barbara Art Museum, Architecture and Design Collections, Schindler Collection.)

Pauline Schindler (Photo courtesy of Courtesy UC Santa Barbara Art Museum, Architecture and Design Collections, Schindler Collection.)

The Perils of Pauline
One of the biggest events in Kings Road’s history would have to be the decision in 1964 by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to rezone the street to R-4, allowing as many as 200 housing units per piece of property – from a maximum of eight previously. Within the next nine years, eight multi-story buildings with some 400 units were constructed along the street. Classic homes on the street were demolished along the way.

How was the Schindler House able to withstand the developers’ onslaught? Architectural historians credit Rudolph Schindler’s former wife, Pauline. Even though their marriage broke up in 1927, Pauline returned to the Kings Road house often. She remained solidly committed to the brand of modernist architecture in which Rudolph excelled.

“After Schindler’s death (in 1953), Pauline continued to live in the house, staving off real estate developers, withstanding the grim consequences of the area’s re-zoning and the despoliation of Kings Road,” is how author and architectural historian Esther McCoy described those circumstances.

McCoy was instrumental in bringing the modern architecture of Southern California to the attention of the world. The Schindler House was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. When Pauline Schindler died in 1977. It was purchased by Friends of the Schindler House in 1980.

Adlai Stevenon II

Adlai Stevenon II

Wonk This
Adlai Stevenson’s campaign stop on Kings Road is a well-known event in his bid for the White House as the Democratic nominee in 1952. Born in Los Angeles, Stevenson gave a major address at 850 N. Kings Rd. on Sept. 11 of that year. How many are familiar with the remarks he delivered? You don’t have to be a policy wonk to appreciate what he said that day:

“In the tragic days of Mussolini, the trains ran on time as never before, and I am told in their way, in their own horrible way, the Nazi concentration camp system in Germany was a model of horrible efficiency. The really basic thing in government is policy. Bad administration, to be sure, can destroy good policy, but good administration can never save bad policy.”

Also:

“Public confidence in the integrity of the government is indispensable to faith in democracy; and when we lose faith in the system, we have lost faith in everything we fight and spend for.”

Bob Bishop is a recently retired public relations manager in the aerospace industry who has lived on North Kings Road for more than 20 years. Previously, he was public information officer for the California Manufacturing Technology Consortium, a public-private partnership to improve the quality and productivity of the state’s small manufacturers. A former professional journalist, Bishop was Los Angeles bureau chief for the former Electronic News, a national trade paper for the semiconductor and computer industries. Prior to that, he was a daily newspaper reporter for the Sun-Herald in Gulfport-Biloxi, Miss.

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Bob Bishop

About Bob Bishop

Bob Bishop, a retired public relations manager and journalist, has been a very popular writer about local history for WEHOville. Bishop is returning to his home state of Mississippi early next month. You can contact him at bishopbob6@gmail.com

View all posts by Bob Bishop →

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3 Comments

  1. ChristopherTue, Aug 18, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Fascinating article, but I’m a little confused. Bishop states that while Tiburcio Vasquez awaited execution in 1874, the play based on his life premiered at The Mark Taper Forum. Either the theatre is much older than I thought, or it took forever to get the play up and running.

  2. cathyTue, Aug 18, 2015 at 7:41 am

    Bob, thank you for these wonderful articles…your research is most impressive and quite interesting and I look forward to the next chapter. Perhaps you will feel inspired to write about other neighborhoods? I know I would enjoy the read. Thank you

  3. Jonathan SimmonsMon, Aug 17, 2015 at 8:43 am

    The world changes. SOUTH BEACH, Miami was built for the working class to go on vacation. All the Preserved Art Deco was “saved” as the working class became the new “work full time and can’t pay my bills … let alone a modest priced small hotel room in Florida for a Vay-Kay”

    There was no ACT OF PRESERVATION … The Cuban Boat Lift brought so many poor, in need of housing, they moved in to the then empty (one riveria for the working class joe and his family) and The Immigrants “preservation” was simply .. they had no money, the rent was cheap, and NOBODY could afford to even think about building NEW modern buildings on the aging art deco.

    Likewise – though I do not keep up on much. BUT NYC – The Upper East SIde has been known as the most absurdly OVERPRICED per square foot of residential space (and that’s by NY already crazy housing prices). NOW – on a new reality show about 20 something realtors finding apartments for graduating college students wanting to in in NYC, (all of course had rich parents funding their apartments .. of course).

    But after the HORROR of 900 sq feet IN THE LOWER EAST SIDE, AND EAST VILLAGE (for a 2 bedroom – which anyone from LA could not understand the dumps and how small they were for 4-5 thousand a month (basement units to-boot).

    POINT – The realtors kept saying … the only PLACE you can get any more bang for you rental buck IS THE UPPER EAST SIDE (where you can get a few more sq feet). The poor youth are now being forced to the Upper East because it is cheaper than the Lower East Side (my mother grew up there – they were call Tenements back then – not chic lofts in the hottest up and coming neighborhood in NY.

    Who’d a thunk? Who today even cares what was. Thinks change.

    Kings Road is and has been RUINED for decades with the almost unbroken wall of big ugly cheap apartment buildings.

    Personally – the loss in my heart and will take to my grave, is growing up in LA and having Kiddy Land and the Pony Rides so close and the center of all the kids birthdays (I still have a picture sitting an an almost dead and worn out horse, tied to a circle thing, giving me a ride on a horse.

    A TREASURE AND HISTORIC EXPERIENCE THAT WAS FOR ME ANY MANY SUCH A MEANINGFUL PART OF OUR ENTIRE CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT.

    GONE! NO MORE! Why? Why? Did anyone really have to take that flat lot and destroy it forever just to build the BEVERLY CENTER??

    I think mu point, the old history you are educating us about is just that. Old history .. and who these days want’s to talk about what happened last week, let alone a hundred plus years ago.

    ANECDOTE Personally, Kings Road was where my Uncle Lived. He was gay back when it was actually illegal and murdered in 1972.

    Anyway, He lived on Kings road, BUT AT THE VERY VERY VERY TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN where Kings road ends.

    He HAD and it is still there … an architectural masterpiece. there were virtually no other homes built yet, and he had a 50’s MODERN MASTERPIECE … and Giant Square Box, with an Enormous arch suspending it on the nearly vertical hillside lot. It had the entire south wall as a one giant 2 story glass wall.

    He then built a swimming pool under this suspended BOX int the Sky, and even PUt 2 port holes in the end of the swimming pool below the house and sticking out over nothing.

    It was a landmark of Modernness ….. Well …. It is actually still there. You just can’t tell because like lower kings road, it is nearly a solid wall of 2-3 story cantilevered homes making that one gem, lost in the same kind of Situation of the Current Lower Flat Kings road, the the Mountain Top Kings road.

    I am just glad there was such an amazing restoration and preservation of a Frank Lloyd Wright Home down below. It remains a private home, but is really one of his very best of his best and it is being lived in and treated like the precious jewel that it requires.

    If you have never seen it, it is on Hollywood Blvd … JUST WEST of Laurel Canyon. At the light you can drive up into the hills, and within the first block you can see ONE PRESERVED ARCHITECTURAL MASTERPIECE still left in the area.

    (as for the history part … When Beverly Hills was conceived and built, it was (at the time) so REMOTE and FAR OUT from any part of the ‘city’ it was almost a crazy idea “who would want to live in mansions out in the middle of no where. It was kind of the CALABASAS of the turn of the last century. BIG EXPENSIVE HOMES …. but so far form anything .. rich or not … who would buy out there. TABLES HAVE TURNED on both coasts – and it will never end as the urban sprawl has just about taken all the every was of land.

    I don’t see any need these days to “cry for Argentina” or “For Kings Road” … But I will always CRY FOR THE LOSS OF KIDDY LAND AND THE PONY RIDES. 🙂

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