Friday, January 16, 2009

No. 206 - Libby House

Libby House

Libby House
724 East Edgeware Road – map
Declared: 1/3/79

The mansard tower is such a distinguishing feature of this 1887 Queen Anne home, the landmark is sometimes referred to as the “Tower House”. The moniker Libby House, though, namechecks its first owner, Caleb Libby.

Libby House

Libby moved from Scarborough, ME, to Brooklyn, IA, at the end of the Civil War. In Brooklyn he was the president of the local school board. (How large a school system could Brooklyn, IA, have had in the late 1860s?) By the mid-80s, Libby had relocated with his family to Los Angeles where he was doing just great in the grain business.

Nevada speculator Robert T. Briggs sold Libby three lots of Angeleno Heights land for $1,500. In 1887, Libby, by now dealing in real estate himself, built this three-story house (maybe from a plan book, maybe designed by architect Cecil Dover, or maybe in some third way). Libby also constructed a large carriage house.

Libby House

Caleb wound up selling 722-724 Edgeware to attorney J. Sayles Brown who, with his spinster sister, Betina, had lived down the street at 714 Edgeware. Caleb moved to Westlake Park. (This is according to Tom Morales’s history of the house. A 1902 L.A. Times article, however, reports sisters Mrs Sayles Brown and Mrs Bettie Brown each inherited $50,000 from a third sister who inherited her money when her millionaire husband was murdered. Now, this raises more questions than it answers, like did each of the sisters marry a Brown? And there’s no such thing as a married spinster, so maybe Betina/Bettie was an ex-spinster. Or maybe Betina Brown and Bettina were two separate people. But then why would – eh, who the hell cares?)

Libby House

By 1916 Betina had inherited the house and, as is so often the case with spinster sisters, began to take in boarders. One of these men, as is so often the case with boarders, became romantically involved with his landlady, and he eventually inherited the house.

Here, from the USC Digital Archive, is a pair of 1939 household census reports for 724, both for the house and what I’m assuming was the carriage house, converted for apartments. I don’t understand why the house is checked as a ‘single family detached’ yet is home to six ‘roomers’. And the ‘year built’ is off by more than a decade. More intrigue.

1939 Household Census, 724 E. Edgeware

You know who lived here from 1954 to 1958? Anna Louise Strong, that’s who. Strong was a journalist, scholar, activist, and avowed communist (I didn’t know who she was, either). I have no idea if this was her last U.S. residence before she expatriated to China. She died there in 1970. Yet more mystery.

Tom and Peggy Levine were the owners of the Libby House at the time of its HCM designation just more than thirty years ago. Thanks to the CA State Library, here’s a photo by William Reagh taken around 1982. Compare and contrast with the shot beneath it.

Libby House, c. 1982
Libby House

Much of the information I wrote here is from an article written by local historian Thomas Morales – who lives in the Phillips House across the street and wrote the history portion of 2004’s “Angelino Heights Preservation Plan” – in an article for the Parkside Journal. “Residents’ Commitments Today to Determine the Future” appeared on August 15, 1979.

Libby House


“Los Angeles Women Have Claim on Fortune.” The Los Angeles Times; Nov 12, 1902, p. 4

Up next: Fonnell House


Anonymous said...

I like the tongue in cheek flavor to this post. I'm really curious about Anna Louise Strong. The last two links are photos taken in La Canada (as in Flintridge?). The Libby house has come through some hard times since 82. Looks great.

Glennis said...

I was just in Echo Park last weekend and noticed this house. How great to learn more about it.

Anonymous said...

as always....such a great site! thanks!

Anonymous said...

Cecil Dover was not the architect. He is a designer who lived near the Levines. The rumor was that Benton may have been the architect because his daughter mentioned it one time while visiting the house.