Thursday, April 5, 2007

No. 11 - West Temple Apartments (The Rochester)


West Temple Apartments (The Rochester)
1887
Original location: 1012 West Temple Street
Declared: 1/4/63

The story of West Temple Apartments, AKA The Rochester, is a crazy one.

When he first had it built in the Second Empire style in 1887, Rufus Van Dorn named his house The Rochester for his New York hometown. A decade later, it was bought by the Van Nuys family who converted the structure into an apartment building at the end of World War I. Like a lot of Bunker Hill properties, it fell into disrepair following WWII.

Okay, now the crazy part.

In August 1967, the El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historical Monument Commission voted to move the Rochester from its West Temple home to Main and Republic Streets as part of the park being developed around the city’s Old Plaza (this Board – different than the Cultural Heritage Commission – had been overseeing the park project since 1965). The Commission also set up a solicitation fund for its relocation and restoration. Over the next few years, money was raised and a HUD grant of up to $100,000 was applied for and contracted. Then, in August of 1969, the Commission decided the Rochester wasn’t allowed in the park after all. Why? Well, the idea was always a matter of disagreement within the Board. Some of the Commission maintained the non-Spanish architecture of the Rochester would look out of place in Old Plaza. Also, they felt other things – like parking space – were more necessary.

In protest, a group made up of private contributors as well as three Board members (John Anson Ford, Dorothy A. Burnaby, and David A. Workman) sued the Commission, claiming the board had voted to move the Apartments, had raised public and private money, and had no right to renege. The plaintiffs won, and the Commission appealed the ruling. Jump to early fall, 1970, when, with verdict pending, the Rochester was moved temporarily to “railroad property just north of Union Station” (i.e. Alameda and Bruno Streets). In early 1971, California’s Court of Appeals upheld the original decision. Later that spring, following the State Supreme Court’s refusal to hear another appeal, the Commission unanimously consented to relocate and restore the Rochester.

The Rochester waiting to be restored (UCLA Library Digital Collections).

After all this, however, that temporary move turned out to be permanent. For whatever reason, the Rochester was allowed to languish further at the Alameda/Bruno site until it was ultimately demolished in 1979.

A picture of the Rochester being moved.
Another picture of the move.
A shot of the inside at its worst.

Sources:

Ray Hebert. “Battle to Keep House Out of Park Given Up” Los Angeles Times; April 15, 1971, p. B4.

McGrew, Patrick and Julian, Robert. Landmarks of Los Angeles. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1994.

Harbach v. El Pueblo de Los Angeles etc. Com. (1971) 14 CA3d 828

Photo: Los Angeles Department of City Planning


Up next: Hollyhock House

16 comments:

Gina said...

That is the saddest story I've read today. Poor Rochester...

Lauren McT said...

Great blog, I like the pictures and you did a good job of making LA look like a place I'd almost wanna visit! Too bad I live in Brooklyn, the coolest place ever. But seriously, really good photos, I like Chatsworth, it looks cute. Very New England (East Coast). Holler. I'll check back for more postings! Keep up the good work.

stevechasmar said...

I've been reading your blog all day, and was going to go to bed after reading about the Rochester House, but I won't be able to sleep after such a bummer of a story, and so will have to read a couple more posts...

stevechasmar said...

PS -- I'm in Bangkok. It's 1:30am here!

Laurie Avocado said...

I remember seeing Rochester House alongside the Harbor Freeway with a sign that said "Save me," with a phone number. Later I thought it had been saved, and then it was gone. It was a very poignant sight.

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Maybe "Save me" referred to the sign itself.

rob said...

Someone from this site or the offbunkerhill google group posted some photos of the Rochester's transformation over several decades. One of those photos was an album cover for a band whose name I cannot remember. The band was standing in a narrow alley leading to the home's front steps. Any help tracking this image down will be much appreciated.

Su_Tune said...

I have a picture of the album cover at my Victorian house website, on this page: http://home.pacifier.com/~jimsu/mysteryphotos2.html

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Holy cow, Su_Tune, that Crabby Appleton lp. What a great find. I love stuff like this. Thanks so much for the information.

Anonymous said...

Hi from Italy ! GUESS WHAT ???!!! I just discovered that this exact building was featured in Walt Disney's " RETURN TO WITCH MOUNTAIN " filmed in 1977 starring Bette Davis. It is used as the childrens hangout - haunted mansion. IMBD confirmed that it was one of the movie locations. Nice find ? Hope it is ! CHEERS

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Yep, awesome find, anonymous. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

This house has also been in the original Little Shop of Horrors as Seymore's Mom's apartment house, it is also the cover art for the children's mystery book "Go to the Room of the Eyes" by Betty K. Erwin, and it is in a great Victorian house book called "The Gingerbread Age" by John Mass.

Anonymous said...

By the way, thanks so much for this post. I have always wanted to know more about this house. I am saddened to hear of its demise.

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Thanks a lot for those tips, anonymous. I'll definitely track down the books and give a closer look to Little Shop.

AimlessInLA said...

Re what Steve Chasnar said: I've been interested in this subject since before 1980. Even since then, building after building in the El Pueblo State Historic Park, itself, has given way to parking lots, particularly the huge one west of the Plaza and North Main.

You need a thick skin to read and write about this stuff.

LTC Ted said...

I don't recall whether I've noted this before, but I was brought home to the apartment at lower left as a newborn about 29MAY45.