Introduction and Index
PLEASE SEE OUR COMPANION HISTORIES
HANCOCK PARK: An Architectural Inventory is under construction; a preliminary introduction appears below. Individual houses will be added randomly to the index below, organized by streets. Addresses below thumbnail images will become RED LINKS when that house history becomes available.
NEW HAMPSHIRE–BORN HENRY HANCOCK was a land surveyor and lawyer who arrived in Los Angeles in 1852 in the first days of California statehood and the attendant national euphoria over new opportunities for reinvention and for the acquisition of that great western currency, land. As a Deputy United States Surveyor, he was called on to delineate the official boundaries of the city, giving him a possible advantage in terms of personal gain of valuable territory; his legal training would have provided the inside information to make any acquisitions easy and ironclad...or so it might seem to the cynical. The Rancho La Brea had been acquired by native Portuguese Antonio José Rocha and a partner in 1828. When American authorities demanded that rancheros prove their claims, unverified boundaries presented a problem, which is where the skills of Henry Hancock came into play. Hired by the Rocha family to confirm its title, Hancock's fees mounted. Payment was made if not extracted in the form of rancho acreage; by late 1860, Henry Hancock and his brother John had acquired the balance of the Rocha spread, Don Antonio José Rocha's son turning the deed over on November 16. Yet legal wrangling over who owned exactly how much continued all the way until 1877 when the Supreme Court made the final decision. John Hancock wound up with 1,200 acres; Henry's 2,400 acres included the La Brea Tar Pits in the future Hancock Park—the county greensward toward Fairfax Avenue that includes the pits and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art—and the site of a second Hancock Park, the prime multi-tract subdivision that would be perfectly timed to appeal to Old Guard residents of the fading West Adams district in search of fresh fields, as well as to the new money that would be pouring into Los Angeles as the city began to more than double in population during the 1920s.
|After decades in her modest Rancho La Brea house next to scientifically and financially lucrative but|
odoriferous tar pits, seen here looking toward the Hollywood Hills as oil gushed, Ida Hancock
yearned, like Veda Pierce, to get away from "everything that smells of grease." (She'd
eventually live in a palace at 3189 Wilshire Boulevard.) Ida's son Allan Hancock
later donated 23 acres of the site to the county for use as a park, also
creating—sometimes confusingly—a second Hancock Park to
its east for suburban residential development.
After Henry Hancock died in 1883, his widow, née Ida Helena Haraszthy, kept her rancho lands together, living in a very modest frame house the couple had built near the now-famous tar pits at the center of the spread. By the time of his death, Hancock had begun to do some subdividing of his vast property as well to commercialize the asphalt beds. Despite growing up breathing tar fumes, the Hancock's surviving son, born in San Francisco on July 26, 1875, and christened Allan Richard George—his twin Harry died in infancy—only became more interested in petroleum exploration after some of the men who would be founders of Union Oil had attempted unsuccessfully to find black gold on part of the rancho under lease from his mother. According to John R. Kielbasa in his Historic Adobes of Los Angeles County,
"By the turn of the century, oil development on the subdivided portions of the rancho increased. Twenty-five year old George Allan Hancock, the son of Major Henry Hancock, took an interest in oil production and went to work for the Salt Lake Oil Company. While so employed, he learned more about the industry and oil exploration. In 1902...Ida Hancock leased a part of her interest in Rancho La Brea to the Salt Lake Company. Soon they struck "black gold" and the Salt Lake Field was born.... In 1906, George Allan Hancock wanted to apply his newly acquired oil expertise and decided to make his own go at it. He borrowed $10,000 from his mother to finance the business, known as the La Brea Oil Company, and soon started drilling. His venture paid off, and by February 1907, he had over seventy wells, which produced close to 300 barrels a day. This made the Hancocks one of the wealthiest families in California."
Illinois-born Ida Helena Haraszthy Hancock was a girl of the prairie rather than of a palace in Pest. Her father, Agoston Haraszthy, was no less than the "Father of Modern Viticulture" in California and founder of the Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma in 1857. A man of outsized ambition, boom and bust (he died bankrupt in Nicaragua), considerable talent, and little aversion to risk, Haraszthy did nothing to discourage use of the title of "Count" bestowed on him in Wisconsin on his trajectory toward California by German immigrants impressed with his confidence; the Haraszthys were of the Hungarian upper classes but untitled and less than rich, accounting as such conditions often did for emigration. Movers and shakers of the 19th century with big personalities—men, at least—were often accorded honorifics derived from mythology ("Count" Agoston Haraszthy), war service ("Major" Henry Hancock and "General" Harrison Gray Otis), or, say, an interest in the sea ("Captain" G. Allan Hancock).
Once Ida Hancock came around to her son's modern Gilded Age ideas about wealth, the comforts and pleasures it could bring as well as its possibilities in terms of philanthropy, she decided that it was time to live large. While she hadn't been dressing in calico and muddy boots for some time, by now entertaining friends as a fixture of nascent Los Angeles society closer to the center of town at 683 South Carondelet Street in Gaylord Wilshire's original subdivision, her own holdings were then still too distant and her standard of living now too elevated to consider permanent residence on her own rustic and industrialized Rancho La Brea. While anyone could see that the future of Los Angeles lay to the west, even the most astute, such Ida Hancock and Allan—he had become the true manager of family arrangements—couldn't foresee the rapid pace of civic development. If they had, the Hancocks, mother accustomed to living with her son and his family, might not have bothered to buy three-quarters of an acre at the northeast corner of Wilshire and Vermont from Clara Shatto in January 1908 as the site for a new house. By the time of the completion of what Ida grandly named the Villa Madama at 3189 Wilshire Boulevard, precincts closer to her rancho lands were being developed with high-end housing. Windsor Square and Fremont Place opened in 1911; before long, abutting to the west the rear lot lines of Windsor Square's Arden Boulevard, would come the Hancock Park subdivision, still intact, with most of its original residences, at the southeast corner of the old Rancho La Brea.
|Although she lived at 3189 Wilshire Boulevard for just a few years, the house's lengthy gestation|
made Ida Helena Haraszthy Hancock Ross synonymous with it by the time of her death, as
seen in an illustration accompanying her large obituary in the Los Angeles Times of
March 16, 1913. She is flanked by her husband and son, who preceded and
succeeded her in colorful contributions to Southern California history.
One wonders what Ida thought she'd do all alone, except when entertaining, at her new house at 3189 Wilshire Boulevard, all that echoing marble calling for companionship; Allan and his family would be remaining on Carondelet Street. But having waited a quarter of a century to find a man who might rival the romantic stature of Henry Hancock, Ida took a second husband in the form of onetime California Supreme Court judge and now U.S. Circuit Court Judge Erskine Mayo Ross—he was also a developer of Glendale—on June 2, 1909, in the priest's house at St. Vibiana's. According to newspaper coverage of the marriage, Ida, having moved from Count to Major to Judge, would be occupying her extravagant house by the fall of 1909. Once ensconced in their new digs, there would be, sadly, just a few short years for the builder of the Villa Madama to enjoy its gilded grandeur. Several years of only mildly debilitating stomach trouble turned serious in late 1912. Ida Hancock Ross died at home on the morning of March 15, 1913. The Judge returned to live at the California Club; Allan, who was now 37, his wife Genevieve—née Mullen, she was vice-president of her family's well-known Mullen & Bluett Clothing Company—and their two children, Bertram and Rosemary, moved into the Villa Madama soon after.
Described exhaustively as everything from farmer to oil and gas prospector to banker, land developer, railroader, aviator, sea captain, scientist, explorer, musician, and philanthropist, it's a wonder that Allan Hancock ever sat still long enough in the white-and-gold Music Salon of the Villa Madama to draw a bow across his cello even once. In addition to his association with the Los Angeles Symphony—he was the prime mover in its organization—he later founded the esteemed Hancock Ensemble and was a co-founder of the Automobile Club of Southern California. The discovery of prehistoric bones in the tar pits had peaked his interest in science early on. His numbered series of boats, all named Valero, were largely given over to scientific excursions of the Allan Hancock Foundation for Scientific Research at U.S.C., later renamed the Hancock Institute for Marine Studies, which he founded with a $7,000,000 endowment in 1938. While Hancock remained attached to Los Angeles institutions throughout his life, he began to look up the coast toward northern Santa Barbara County in the mid '20s. As traffic on Wilshire Boulevard and Vermont Avenue increased to a volume hailed by city boosters but unanticipated by the Hancocks and other residents, with streetcars plying Vermont under massive power lines and a large commercial structure going up across the street on the Busch property by 1923, Allan would begin to feel hemmed in by the city he'd helped motorize and dramatically expand with oil and asphalt mined from the Rancho La Brea. One source contends that Hancock built his own house in Hancock Park at 526 South Hudson Avenue in 1924, but building permits indicate that that house was built by Margaret Proctor, recently divorced from Vermont politician Mortimer R. Proctor. The Hancocks remained at 3189 Wilshire until moving to 10520 Garwood Place in Westwood, a house they bought from the nephew of Genevieve's nephew Andrew Mullen, who had built it in 1928, the year before he died. The family retained the Villa Madama, renting it as a meeting venue and for music events. Such was the degradation of residential Wilshire Boulevard by a swift commercial tide that Hancock permitted the erection of a streetside florist shop out front of the Villa Madama before donating the house to U.S.C. before its demolition in 1938. (Intact rooms can be seen today at the Hancock Memorial Museum at U.S.C.)
By early 1925, Allan Hancock and his son Bertram had begun to get serious about starting a cattle operation near Santa Maria. Having met in Santa Barbara while on their way north from Los Angeles in late June of that year, fate intervened, at least as far as Bertram's participation in any livestock venture: He was killed in his room in the tower of Santa Barbara's Arlington Hotel when it collapsed in the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that struck early on the morning of June 29. Allan, sleeping in another part of the building, was injured, but survived. (An excellent recounting of Bertram's final hours is told here.) By this time, Hancock's oil drilling results on his Rancho land had declined and he was deaccessioning. Part of the outcome was the new Hancock Park neighborhood, launched in 1919 and soon a great success and, in 1923, the acceptance by Los Angeles County of Allan Hancock's gift of 23 acres to form Hancock Park—the greensward incorporating the famous Tar Pits.
The Marlborough School for Girls had been housed in the old Marlborough Hotel—from which it derived its name—at 865 West 23rd Street in West Adams since 1889, and would remain on the southeast corner of 23rd and Scarff until 1916, when it moved to the barren future Hancock Park residential tract. On Third Street adjacent to five-year-old Windsor Square (where it remains today, much expanded to straddle the official line between the two subdivisions), Marlborough became the earliest catalyst for Allan Hancock's development. So did the relocation of Los Angeles High School from Fort Moore Hill downtown to Tenth Street (10 years later renamed Olympic Boulevard) in 1917. The chief catalyst for Hancock Park, however, would be the golfers who persuaded Hancock to lease them 105 acres to form the Wilshire Country Club in early 1919, which spurred him to develop residential lots surrounding the club's vast golf course, a central park, a central lung, so to speak, but private. (The club and its course would have its opening reception on December 11, 1920.) First offered for sale, in September 1919, were lots in the seed tract of Hancock Park—officially known as Tract 3446—comprised of 42 building sites flanking Rossmore Avenue between Wilshire Boulevard and Third Street. Twelve more tracts would go on sale after the city approved Hancock's full subdivison plan, which ran from Wilshire Boulevard to Melrose Avenue and from Highland Avenue to the rear of the building lots on the east side of Rossmore Avenue. In addition to the 42 lots of Tract 3446, placed on sale, and available for inspection with agents stationed in offices at Wilshire and Muirfield and at Rosewood and Rossmore, among others, there would be placed on sale Tract 3819 (44 lots straddling Muirfield between Wilshire and Third); Tract 3668 (53 lots on the east side of the country club between Third and Temple Street (now Beverly Boulevard); Tract 4179 (8 lots on the east side of Rossmore just north of Marlborough); Tract 5640 (48 lots straddling Rimpau between Wilshire and Third); Tract 6388 (212 lots including Hudson, June, Las Palmas, McCadden and the east side of Highland between Wilshire and Third); Tract 6849 (160 lots between Rosewood and Melrose on the west side of the country club); Tract 4247 (46 lots between Rosewood and Clinton on the east side of the country club); Tract 3445, originally comprised of 149 lots, which became 101 after Tract 4058 was created from 48 of its lots plus five additional sites. Allan Hancock retained 3.41 acres at the northeast corner of Rossmore and Temple/Beverly, which would become Hancock Park's apartment district. Other development would occur later on property sold by the Los Angeles Tennis Club and on the west side of the country club between Temple/Beverly and Rosewood. The large single lot of Tract 215 at the southeast corner of Sixth and McCadden became the site of John Burroughs Junior High School.
The formation of the Los Angeles Tennis Club in November 1920 added to the leisure atmosphere of developing Hancock Park. The clubs, like Marlborough School, also drew buyers to three new tracts of Windsor Square north of Third Street, which were being promoted as Wilshire Heights, Windsor Heights, and New Windsor Square. Other educational facilities followed Marlborough: The Urban Military Academy opened on Wilcox Avenue on September 20, 1922 (Urban evolved into the Black-Foxe Military Institute, which opened on September 17, 1929); the Cumnock Academy and School of Expression, having moved from Vermont Avenue and Second Street, opened on October 1, 1923, at 5353 West Third; John Burroughs Junior High opened in February 1924 with students who beforehand had been educated at Los Angeles High School on Tenth Street (now Olympic Boulevard).
The name "Hancock Park" as residential gold caused real estate promoters to expand its use to surrounding developments, including distinct, rectilinear Windsor Square to the east (though that neighborhood has managed to reclaim its identity) and districts to the north and as far west as La Brea Avenue. On January 4, 1925, a bit of puffery in the Los Angeles Times described Hancock Park as "one of the most successful community projects in the West and one of the finest in the country"—and as being bounded by "Wilshire Boulevard, Rossmore avenue, Santa Monica Boulevard and Fairfax avenue." In a bit of false modesty, as if he didn't fully understand the value of his surname, Hancock would not allow his full name to be used in tract promotion. He was specific in his physical requirements for the subdivison. Following the lead of Windsor Square, he specified that utilities be placed at the rear of lots and ordered thick concrete street paving, though unlike the Square the Park included more-suburban curving streets. Park residences were required to be of two stories set 50 feet back from the curb with side driveways leading to rear garages. Houses were to be designed by certified architects; streets were to be lined with mature elms and sycamores. Despite Los Angeles by now being thoroughly motorized—certainly any prospective Hancock Park purchasers had their own automobiles, and probably conveyances more luxurious than Model Ts—Hancock loaned the Los Angeles Railway $100,000 to extend its Yellow Car tracks on Third Street west from Larchmont Boulevard to La Brea Avenue. While some Babbitts would ride to their downtown offices by streetcar, it was no doubt more the transportation requirements of the servants needed to run big houses that Hancock and the Railway had in mind.
Hancock Park became more than a district of single-family residences; its well-known apartment-house strip along Rossmore Avenue north of Beverly Boulevard includes the El Royale, the Ravenswood, the Chateau Rossmore, the Hermoyne, the Beverly-Rossmore, and the spectacular if more diminutive Streamline Moderne Mauretania. These buildings created a high-rise, less suburban aspect to the subdivision that became attractive to East Coast actors working in nearby studios as well as to older people opting out of large single-family residences, whether further downtown in the Westlake and Adams districts or nearer.
George Allan Hancock died in his 90th year on May 31, 1965. By the 1960s, his namesake subdivision had weathered the Depression, civil unrest and white flight, rezonings, threats of east-west freeways being routed through it and other modernizations of the streetscape such as mercury-vapor lighting. It appeared at times as though the neighborhood would go the way of the Adams District, its big houses having become architectural white elephants offering only maintenance headaches, too expensive to run without staff. Newer neighborhoods on the safer Westside and in the San Fernanado Valley were drawing heirs of Hancock Park away, as Hancock Park (and Windsor Square and Fremont Place) had siphoned off the life of West Adams 40 years before. The Park was and still is defended and promoted by real estate interests snobbishly as a redoubt of old money when the truth seems to be that much of the old guard has long since been able to afford to keep their aging and unmodern piles. Eventually new buyers came in who were willing to trade much in terms of security for Park houses with charm and good bones but clanking plumbing and bargain prices, cloaking their choice of dowdy Hancock Park and their slimmer wallets in the long-established way of the ambitious upper middle class as emblematic of their superior taste. The intense housing pressures of modern Los Angeles, which has promoted the rediscovery of the rich architecture of West Adams and other long-ignored precincts, have even the run-of-the-mill rich needing more places to live than just the Westside. With average house prices nearing $4,000,000 in 2021—sometimes over $10,000,000 for what are 100-year-old suburban houses—Hancock Park (and its companions Windsor Square and Fremont Place) fulfill this need for the affluent middle class, who deserve credit for the impeccable maintainence of a significant contributor to the domestic architectural history of Los Angeles. ●
NOTE: For more on Hancock Park, we recommend Inside Hancock Park by Jane Gilman
INDEX OF STREETS
HOUSES ARRANGED FROM SOUTH TO NORTH OR EAST TO WEST
600 South Rossmore Avenue
611 Muirfield Road
511 Muirfield Road
465 Muirfield Road
400 Muirfield Road
211 Muirfield Road
555 Rimpau Boulevard
637 South Hudson Avenue
636 South Hudson Avenue
626 South Hudson Avenue
526 South Hudson Avenue
401 South Hudson Avenue
365 South Hudson Avenue
336 South Hudson Avenue
238 South Hudson Avenue
207 South Hudson Avenue
101 North Hudson Avenue
619 South June Street
440 South June Street
366 South June Street
170 South June Street
160 South June Street
351 North June Street
Las Palmas Avenue
172 South McCadden Place
112 South Highland Avenue