Monday, November 10, 2008
Britt Mansion and Formal Gardens
1910 – A.F. Rosenheim
2141 West Adams Boulevard – map
Man, it’s encounters like the one in which I took part at Monument No. 197, the Britt Mansion, that force me to seriously consider taking up a less confrontational hobby, like roller derby or crocodile wrestling. I kid about the wrestling, but seriously, visiting the Britt Mansion has put me in a lousy mood.
Of course, coming up on my 200th monument, I’ve learned how taking pictures indoors at landmarks generally leads to famine and plague, so I was fully expecting to being stopped from taking any interior shots of the Britt Mansion, which I was. I balked when a guard stopped me from photographing the designation plaque on the outside of the building, but I was on their property, so whatever. But when a security guard came out to the curb and told me no photography of the landmark was allowed, even from the sidewalk – it’s okay from across the street, I learned – well, then I started to argue my rights. He goes insides, returns with another worker, and the two of them look so fretful, like I’m about to torch the place. So, you know what? I figured I got a couple of shots, so I split. Who wants to deal with that? Not me. But, again, it really demotivated your sensitive blogger.
But on to the landmark.
The Los Angeles Times announced at summer’s start in 1910 that A.F. Rosenheim was finishing plans for a fifteen-room residence at the corner of West Adams and Grammercy Place. The 55' x 75' structure would be brick, with a granite base and slate roof. Eugene W. Britt, one of the city’s more prominent lawyers, was doing the commissioning.
Britt was born on Christmas Day, 1855, in Harrisonville, Missouri. Admitted to the bar in 1878, Britt moved to California, up in Lake County, that same year. He formed a law firm with William J. Hunsaker in San Diego in 1887. (The Queen Anne home Britt built that year stands today as San Diego’s landmark Britt Scripps Inn.) The partnership lasted until 1892 when Hunsaker moved to Los Angeles. Britt served on the California Supreme Court Commission starting in 1895, but he resigned when, in 1900, he relocated to L.A. and rejoined Hunsaker. (Hunsaker & Britt eventually became Hunsaker, Britt & Cosgrove with the addition of Terence Cosgrove.)
Eugene Britt was also the president of the Los Angeles Bar Association in 1912 and served as delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1916.
At the end of the oughts, Britt hired Alfred F. Rosenheim to build for him a mansion out in what was known as Arlington Heights. The land had once been part of the Mexican land grant Rancho Las Cienegas. Awarded to Juanario Avila in 1823, the land was divided among thirteen claimants in 1866 by the L.A. District Court. The chunk which became Arlington Heights was first of the parcels of land to be subdivided. That was in 1887.
Construction of the Britt Mansion was begun in mid-October 1910. At this time it was estimated the Georgian home would run to $50,000. The little I saw of the Beaux Arts interior had me see why the Times called the mansion “one of the handsomest” on the “fashionable thorough-fare” of West Adams. Dark oak floors, lots of wood paneling, and heavy beamed ceilings were pretty much all I could get a look at. I sure didn’t see the alcove, originally Britt’s music room with a ten-inch platform for a performing stage (Britt had it removed after just two years), or the old dining room paneled in Tabasco mahogany.
At some point, the home was bought by Abram and his wife, whose name was something like De Etta. Their last name was maybe Detwiler, but it could’ve been Henderson for all I can read my damn pathetic handwriting. (The sale had happened long before Britt died as St Vincent’s Hospital in February 1935. Although he was living at the Chapman Park Hotel at the time of his death, he had been residing with his wife, the former Harriet Biggerstaff, at 532 South Arden Boulevard, when she passed away in January 1934. Hunsaker died in his home at 515 South Harvard Boulevard on January 1933.)
Oh, so get this. The home was designated an official city landmark in the summer of 1978, right? Well, two years later, the owner, Gladys Snyder, realizes that because of the landmark status she’s having trouble selling the home to developers who were champing at the bit to put up an apartment building on the site. Claiming the city designated the home without her knowledge, and that the home could be neither sold nor repaired, Gladys demanded the city undeclare the Britt Mansion, which it did in a 12-1 vote in September 1980, paving the way for the home’s demolition. Good news for Gladys, who accused the Cultural Heritage Board of “Gestapho [sic] like tactics”, and complained, “as long as the house is designated a historic cultural monument, I shall be a prisoner in a decaying, rotting, unsafe structure.”
Rather than face the wrecking ball, the Britt Mansion was purchased by First Interstate Bank in 1982 at the urging of Peter and Ginny Ueberroth who had recently begun privately supporting a giant collection of sports memorabilia started by Paul Helms back in 1936. The Britt Mansion became the collection’s fourth home, opening its doors as a museum in 1984 after a $2 million renovation. Ueberroth and First Interstate donated the Helms collection and property to the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles the following year. The organization, now with a research library, today is called the LA84 Foundation.
You know, I could not find whether or not there was ever any official re-designation of the Britt Mansion. Like I said, though, there is an HCM plaque placed on the landmark’s exterior. Which is off-limits for photographers, I repeat. Maybe the Foundation doesn’t want to risk photos being taken of the scientific testing on live, semi-conscious kittens and puppies taking place on the grounds (or so I’ve heard).
The Britt Mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
“Plans Colonial House.” The Los Angeles Times; Jun 26, 1910, p. VI6
“New Show Place for West Adams” The Los Angeles Times; Oct 30, 1910, p. VI1
“W.J. Hunsaker, Attorney, Dies” The Los Angeles Times; Jan 14, 1933, p. A1
“Lawyer’s Wife Dies of Illness” The Los Angeles Times; Jany 27, 1934, p. A6
“E.W. Britt Succumbs” The Los Angeles Times; Feb 16, 1935, p. A1
“Britt House Loses Its Status as Monument” The Los Angeles Times; Sep 14, 1980, p. J12
Hiserman, Mike “Museum Showcases 50,000 Items of Memorabilia” The Los Angeles Times; Jul 26, 1984, p. LB7
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