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Celebrity Homes, Landmarks on Itinerary : Taking a Bus Tour Through L. A.'s Past

January 25, 1987|RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

Nobody knows exactly when Dorothy Maltz took the free bus ride and lunch for prospective buyers in a housing tract in what is now Westchester.

Before she died in 1984, she left what was called the "Travelogue of the H.V. Bagwell Co.," which gives some history about Los Angeles.

The bus driver's commentary was delivered as the bus made its way, more than three decades ago, to the new subdivision from Westlake Park (now MacArthur Park), which the itinerary says was "sometimes referred to as Charlie Chaplin's Bathtub, owing to the fact that many of Mr. Chaplin's early pictures were made there (around the park's lake)."

Strict Dress Code

Leaving the park, the bus passed the Elks' Lodge, built about 1925 (now the Park Plaza Hotel); the Bryson Apartments ("Jack Dempsey is part owner"), and Bullocks Wilshire ("All employees are required to wear costumes or uniforms"). Dress regulations for female personnel--hats, gloves and navy or black dresses with arms covered--were in force at the store from its beginning in 1929 until the late '40s or early '50s.

The bus went past the Talmadge Apartments at 3278 Wilshire Blvd., given--according to the itinerary--to actress Norma Talmadge as an anniversary present by her husband, producer Joseph Schenck. Nearby, at Wilshire Boulevard and Berendo Street, was Immanuel Presbyterian Church, which had a membership then of 1,000. Now it's about 800.

On the left was the Ambassador Hotel ("one of the most elaborate hotels on the Pacific Coast"--the hotel, which opened in 1921, is still standing on 23 acres). Across the street was the Brown Derby, which closed in 1980. Nearby were the former homes of actress Clara Kimball Young and auto racer Barney Oldfield.

A lot of homes are mentioned along Wilshire Boulevard, where nothing but commercial buildings stand today.

Directed Traffic

The homes were identified in the itinerary as former residences of producer/director Thomas Ince, actor Jackie Coogan, producer Mack Sennett, theater-magnate Alexander Pantages and actress Ruth Roland. Roland, who once owned considerable property just south of the La Brea Tar Pits, told the press--according to the itinerary--that she made more money from the sale of real estate in four years than she did from starring in the movies for 16.

Jackson Barnett, whom the itinerary calls "the richest Indian in America," lived on the northeast corner of Rossmore Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard, and at the time of Maltz's bus ride, could be seen from time to time at that intersection trying to direct traffic.

Next to his house were the homes, the itinerary said, of Hollywood's Gish sisters and up the street, on Rossmore, the former residences of producer Sam Warner and silent-screen star Harold Lloyd.

The El Royale Apartments, still standing just north of Beverly Boulevard on Rossmore, was noted at the time for the number of celebrities who lived there. Among them, the itinerary lists singer Al Jolson, who died in 1950.

Back on Wilshire, the bus passed an oil field that was then being removed for the construction of apartments.

Ralphs Market was still at the corner of Hauser and Wilshire boulevards, and next to Ralphs was a vacant property "shortly to be improved at a cost of approximately $40 million." Prudential Square was built in 1950 on the site, now known as Museum Square.

Moving west from the La Brea Tar Pits, the bus traveled past the southeast corner of La Cienega and Wilshire boulevards, purportedly owned at the time by actress Mary Pickford.

While crossing Robertson Boulevard, the bus driver remarked, "It has been said that there is a tree for every lot in Beverly Hills."

Rogers Race Track

Here, the bus driver called attention to the fact that Los Angeles is "a decentralized city, relative to business," and there was a "general plan to create shopping districts strategically located in various sections of the city."

Next on the itinerary: the Beverly Wilshire Hotel ("This hotel occupies ground that was formerly a part of the old Rogers Race Track, where many famous automobile races were conducted") and Beverly Hills High School ("erected at a cost of about $1 million").

Then, this:

"All properties lying west of the Los Angeles Country Club, including Westwood Village, were known as the Wolfskill Ranch, which belonged at one time to Arthur Letts (founder of the Broadway department store). Janss Bros. became the developers of this property, and most of the homes and improvements have gone in on this section in the past three years."

By 1929, the shopping community had been established, and more than 2,000 homes had been built in the Westwood area.

Turning north on Westwood Boulevard, the bus went past Bullock's, Desmonds, Ralphs and a number of banks before heading through the UCLA campus and briefly into Bel-Air and back.

Old Studio Set

Traveling south on Westwood, the bus driver mentioned the "vacant properties lying to the west that belong to the federal government" and "the Old Soldiers Home and Veterans Hospital."

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