Tuesday, March 31, 2009
1902 – Oliver Dennis and Lyman Farwell
6541 Hollywood Boulevard – map
Welcome to the oldest building in Hollywood, a Queen Anne/Dutch Colonial Revival single-family house designed by Oliver Dennis and Lyman Farwell for H.J. Whitley, the Father of Hollywood. While it was Whitley who built the home in 1902, it’s associated with the family who bought the house the following year, the Janes of Aurora, Illinois.
Herman Nelson and Mary Ruth Janes had been running a furniture business in Aurora when they purchased this home at what was then 241 West Prospect Avenue for $10,000. This was in June 1903. Here’s a Sanborn fire insurance map of the area from the company’s May 1907 volume. The Janes House is the second building from the left along the bottom (Rose is now Yucca; Chester Court is Hudson Ave).
Even though they bought it in 1903, it looks like the Janes – along with kids Mabel Howley, Carrie Belle, Mary Grace, and Robert Donald – didn’t move in until 1905. Six years later, mother Mary, Mabel, Carrie, and Grace opened the Misses Janes Kindergarten here with fifteen students each paying a tuition of five dollars a month. The ladies, who were also responsible for rounding up the children in the morning, usually via the Red Cars that ran up Hollywood Boulevard (Prospect’s name as of 1910), later expanded the school to include the primary grades. By the end of World War I, the Misses Janes private school featured courses were French and esthetic dancing.
It was a successful school, too, with more than 1,000 students attending here between 1911 and the time it closed in 1926. With Hollywood bigshot names of DeMille, Lasky, Ince, Beery, Chaplin, and Laemmle, the kids would attend classes outdoors, weather permitting (and in Los Angeles, it almost always permits). The Misses Janes School shut down after its final graduation exercises held at Hollywood High on June 19, 1926. An “at-home” for all former pupils of the school was held the following Saturday.
The Janes House also served as a local meeting place. Legend has it the first gathering to establish the Hollywood Bowl was held here.
After the school shut down, brother Donald set up a gas pump in the front yard and catered to motorists by opening Janes Auto Service. The gals continued to live in the home, though. Carrie Belle, in her forties, was the first (and only?) sister to get hitched, marrying Ernest Collier in the 1930s. After his death in 1964, she rented the space out front along the boulevard to street vendors.
Saying the home lacked architectural significance, the Cultural Heritage Board declined to designate the Janes House a monument in 1972. Eight years later, however, the group claimed the building had enough historical significance to warrant landmark status.
Now, from most accounts, it sounds like the living conditions at the Janes House in the 70s was a little grim. A man named Guy Miller, inventor of the Vocabumat, moved in as an ostensible caretaker around 1975, about two years after Grace died. After living a few months in a nursing home, Mabel passed away in 1978 right around the same time brother Donald died. After spending the last few years of her life in the kitchen sleeping on a window box converted to a bed, Carrie Belle was moved to a Studio City convalescent home in March 1982. She died the following January at the age of 94. That sure was a ton of change Carrie Belle witnessed outside her front door over the course of her sixty-seven year stint living on Hollywood Boulevard.
Even before Carrie Belle passed on, her court-appointed conservator was working on selling the home for development. Despite the efforts of Mr Miller and Hollywood Heritage, the house was put up for sale in January 1984 for $695,000. The city, citing the building’s landmark status, delayed a demo permit issued a few months later. In the summer of 1984, developers Sayam Bamshad and Parviz Ebrahimian outbid Hollywood Heritage and bought the Janes House for $600,000.
Rather than demolish the historic building, in September 1985 the new owners moved the home toward the back of the lot, building the Janes Square Landmark Shopping Center out by the boulevard. The shopping center features two rows of buildings mirroring the style of the landmark separated by a courtyard leading back to the Janes House. The Greater Los Angeles Visitors and Convention Bureau set up shop in the former schoolhouse in August 1986. Here’s a picture of the shopping center where the Janes House originally stood:
In 2006, the Jane House was converted into the southern food restaurant called Memphis. It failed quickly, but that isn’t stopping Kimoon Kim and Katie Matthews taking a crack at opening a new restaurant here, appropriately named Janes House. The place opens in a few weeks (these interior shots here were snapped as the owners prepped the place for a test run).
“Southern California’s Institutions of Learning Stand Unequaled in America Today.” The Los Angeles Times; Aug 17, 1919, p. III17
“Hollywood High School to Graduate Its Largest Class Next Week.” The Los Angeles Times; Jun 19, 1926, p. 8
Smith, Jack “Janes Sister Carries On” The Los Angeles Times; Jun 2, 1980, p. G1
Morain, Dan “Pioneer’s Home” The Los Angeles Times; Oct 3, 1982, p. WS1
Morain, Dan “Owener Dies; Home’s Future Uncertain” The Los Angeles Times; Jan 20, 1983, p. WS1
“Supervisors Agree to Save Old House” The Los Angeles Times; Sep 1, 1983, p. WS7
Curtius, Mary “Sale of Victorian House Collapses” The Los Angeles Times; Jan 19, 1984, p. WS1
Braun, Stephen “$540,000 Cash Offered for Victorian House” The Los Angeles Times; Aug 12, 1984, p. WS1
Braun, Stephen “Develop Buys Victorian for $600,000” The Los Angeles Times; Aug 16, 1984, p. WS_A8
Stambler, Lyndon “Hollywood Blvd. House Moves Aside – a Bit – for Progress” The Los Angeles Times, Sep 15, 1985, p. WS1
Fanucchi, Kenneth J. “Hollywood Visitors Bureau finds New Home in Historic Janes House” The Los Angeles Times; Aug 28, 1986. P. WS_A3
Up next: Laurelwood Apartments