Monday, September 29, 2008
(Site of) President’s House
1912 – Octavius Morgan
7851 Budlong Avenue – map
What’s the deal? This is the third Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in a row about which I can only speak in the past tense. Not only that, pictures of it are few and far between.
When Patricia Connolly died in 1887, the 160 Southern California acres she had called home since 1868 went to her son (or possibly her brother, depending on which source you cater to), Joseph Patrick Connolly. It was he who, in 1912, hired the founding president of the Southern California chapter of the American Institute of Architects, Octavius Morgan, to build this eighteen-room, 14,850-square-foot, Mission Revival mansion for a cost of $75,000 (we’ll see lots more of the architect’s works throughout the list of HCMs as part of Morgan, Walls, and Clements). There were tennis courts outside, a bowling alley in the basement, and billiard and snooker tables upstairs. The home was noted for its rich mahogany paneling, gorgeous tile work, crystal chandeliers, grand fireplaces, and stained-glass windows. Connolly also kept a lake at what is now Normandie between 78th and 83rd Streets stocked with ducks and fish. Joseph P. Connolly died in 1929, leaving the estate to his son and daughter, who began selling off chunks here and there.
By 1937, the estate had been whittled down to just thirty-five acres. This is when George Pepperdine, having made his money as the founder of the Western Auto Supply Company back in the oughts, bought the property for $150,000 to begin the Christian college that would become Pepperdine University.
Undergoing only relatively minor changes (i.e. one bedroom and French doors in the breakfast room), the former Connolly home was used as the university’s administration building, then for holding classes, community and social events, and housing for both chancellors and students.
Pepperdine University broke ground on its Malibu campus in 1971, and by the end of the 1976 school year, most regular classes and departments had been moved to the new location. After some interest to turn the property into low- and mid-income housing didn’t materialize, the Crenshaw Christian Center, run by the Rev. Frederick K.C. Price, bought the old campus, now thirty-two acres, in 1981 for a cool $14 million. By this time, Pepperdine had been using the Vermont Knolls campus as the administrative headquarters of the schools of education and business management. Having failed to buy a 23-acre plot from the Inglewood Unified School District the year before, the church immediately announced plans to build on its new property a 10,000-seat sanctuary to house its extremely large congregation. The problem was, the President’s House – the old Connolly residence – was in the way.
The church applied for a permit to raze the seventy-year-old mansion in the summer of 1982. Now, in any other circumstance, the Center would’ve gone ahead and torn down the building, but the city had declared the mansion, its carriage barn, and formal gardens an L.A. landmark in 1978.
To its credit, the church offered the building – for free – to anyone who would come and take it. For a bit, it looked as though a podiatrist was going to move the monument to an eight-acre plot in Northridge for use as his home. That never happened, obviously. Too bad that while there were ultimately about 400 potential takers, the $600,000 cost, including the price of a new site, proved too prohibitive. A demo permit was issued in July 1986, and the razing began.
I had considered driving down to the old campus, if only to get a picture of the 10,146-seat FaithDome, the ginormous geodesic dome occupying the site of the landmarked President’s House since 1989. In the end, though, I didn’t feel like it. I remember first seeing the dome from twentyish miles away on my regular weekend hikes to the Hollywood Sign when I first moved to L.A. (I also recall asking a friend what sports team played there). I’m not convinced I need to see it up close.
Clearly, I couldn’t dig up a whole lot of pictures of the Pepperdine President’s House (the one at the post’s beginning is, as is often the case, from the L.A. Department of City Planning website). If anyone out there has any old photos of the landmark – inside or out – I sure would like to see them.
Roderick, Kevin “Pepperdine Sells Original Campus for $14 Million” The Los Angeles Times; Jun 27 1981, p. A1
Ryon, Ruth “Pepperdine House To Be Given Away” The Los Angeles Times; Aug 15 1982, p. G2
“Women Builders Win Contract for Mansion” The Los Angeles Times; Dec 12 1982, p. J9
Chazanov, Mathis “Church’s Prayers May Be Answered soon with Permit To Build Sanctuary” The Los Angeles Times; May 5 1986, p. Metro 1
Up next: Morgan House (Harbor Area Y.W.C.A.)