37 Westmoreland Place

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  • Built in 1905 on Lot 37 of Clark & Bryan's Westmoreland Place Tract by real estate investor George P. Thresher and his wife, Florence Stone Thresher
  • The first sale of any lot in Westmoreland Place was of Lot 37 to the Threshers in mid 1904, though with the map of the subdivision not yet filed with the city the transaction was not recorded until January 13, 1905. Thresher proceeded to plan his own home on Lot 37 immediately; his total expenditure for the lot, house, and furnishings were later reported to be $55,000. George Thresher was vice-president of the Los Angeles Building Company, which bought a second parcel, one comprised of Lot 43 and the northerly 50 feet of Lot 45, in October 1904, a transaction also not recorded until January 1905. (Oliver C. Bryant, secretary of the Los Angeles Building Company, was credited in the press with building the large spec house on this parcel that was sold to miner and oil man Grant G. Gillette in February 1908 and then to retired Nebraska banker and cattleman Joseph H. Miles in 1911) 
  • The son of a Cambridge, Massachusetts, dentist and a shoe dealer, George P. Thresher somehow quickly got himself to the point of being referred as a capitalist, a badge of honor in the Gilded Age—perhaps Mrs. Thresher had come with a substantial dowry. The Threshers had begun spending time in California in the mid 1890s, basing themselves in Los Angeles, where they began to invest in real estate. They also took frequent excursions around the western states to photograph landscapes and Native Americans; Thresher's images are today in the collection of The Huntington Library. It seems that George Thresher was a litigious and prickly fellow, his legal actions including a $100,000 suit against the Southern Pacific in 1895 for "gross insults and outrages" after he and Mrs. Thresher were literally thrown off a train near Truckee after being accused of holding scalper tickets. (An incident back in Cambridge in 1885 involving his becoming unhinged after neighborhood children trespassed on his property—he was accused of beating a small girl who did—does not speak of a pleasant man.) While officially residents of Newton, outside of Boston, in 1900, the Threshers also maintained a residence on Bunker Hill in Los Angeles, deciding within a few years to settle permanently in Southern California. They tried on several Los Angeles neighborhoods before becoming the first purchaser of a lot in Westmoreland Place
  • The Threshers were still living at 1013 Westlake Avenue in March 1905, when, on the 28th of that month, porchclimbers made off with much of Florence's jewelry. They sold that house in early June, when 37 Westmoreland Place appears to have been ready for them
  • George and Florence Thresher entertained frequently at 37 Westmoreland Place. Their youngest of three daughters, Maria, had married Sidney Webb in 1906. In 1910, the Threshers were living in the house with Florence, their eldest, and with their middle child, Helen, who was married to fellow musician Axel Simonsen in 1915
  • Almost from the time the first houses were built in Westmoreland Place, there had been wrangling over the original deed restrictions place on its lots by Wesley Clark and Elden P. Bryan. When sales faltered as the affluent leapfrogged over the subdivision to build farther out, the developers tried to push apartment-house building; householders fought back. With both Clark and Bryan living in the tract, rancor among neighbors appears to have run high. There were various lawsuits over the first two decades of the Place, some lasting years. (Changes would come, but it would be Clark and Bryan who left the houses they built in 1905.) In apparent retaliation for his resistance to the alteration of deed restrictions, which stymied the developers, stuck with unsold lots, Clark and Bryan sued Thresher in 1918 for renting his garage as a polling place for elections, charging that he had violated tract covenants and demanding that he quiet title to #37, now valued at $50,000. A judge said no, ruling in Thresher's favor
  • Helen and Axel Simonsen were living with her parents at 37 in 1920 as was Florence Jr., who would marry Clarence Armstrong in the garden on June 20, 1921. George Thresher was living at 37 at the time of his death at 72 on February 8, 1927
  • The Threshers were among the surprising number of early Westmoreland Place householders who remained loyal to the tract despite its failure as a fully developed neighborhood and the wholesale departure of their socioeconomic cohort from downtown districts for newer westerly suburbs. At the time of the enumeration of the 1930 Federal census in April, the Johnsons, Threshers, Bryans, Mileses, Clarks, Carrs, Youngs, and Wellses were all still living in the Place, despite numerous years-long lawsuits over, and compromises regarding, the tract's original stricture limiting it to single-family houses. That barrier—as well as Westmoreland Place's literal barriers, its elaborate stone gates—came down beginning in late 1927; the subdivision's roadways lost their "Place" nomenclature, with the easterly drive becoming simply a stretch of Westmoreland Avenue and the westerly a segment of Menlo Avenue. The address of the Thresher house was altered from 37 Westmoreland Place to 1027 South Westmoreland Avenue. Florence Thresher remained at 1027 South Westmoreland Avenue after her husband's death, living there in 1930 with the Armstrongs and the Simonsens. All were still at 1027 when Florence died at the age of 79 on January 20, 1936 
  • By the fall of 1936, 1027 South Westmoreland Avenue was following a neighborhood trend whereby former residences were becoming sanitariums or being used for other social-service operations. While Helen and Axel Simonsen were still listed at 1027 in the 1938 city directory—the Armstrongs had moved to Pacific Palisades—the house had a new, if temporary, purpose by October 27, 1936, as indicated by an item appearing that day in the Los Angeles Times referring to 1027 as the Boys' Boarding Home. The Federation of Protestant Churches ran the facility
  • The Thresher family sold the property to developers in 1941; the house itself was bought by the Whiting-Mead Company, salvagers, which was issued a demolition permit for it on June 27, 1941
  • On March 4, 1941, the Department of Building and Safety had issued a permit to Whiting-Mead to demolish the house next door to the south of 1027, 1041 South Westmoreland Avenue, on which Elden P. Bryan began construction as 41 Westmoreland Place in the fall of 1904. The first building permits for the series of apartment buildings currently on Lots 37 and 41 were issued in March 1941


37 Westmoreland Place is glimpsed at right in a postcard view of E. P. Bryan's #41



Illustrations: LOC; UCSBL; Private Collection