Tuesday, March 31, 2009

No. 227 - Janes House

Janes House

Janes House
1902 – Oliver Dennis and Lyman Farwell
6541 Hollywood Boulevard – map
Declared: 4/3/80

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.

Janes House

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).

Janes House, Original Location

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.

Janes House

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.

Janes House

The Janes House also served as a local meeting place. Legend has it the first gathering to establish the Hollywood Bowl was held here.

Janes House
Janes House

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.

Janes House

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.

Janes House
Janes House

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.

Janes House
Janes House

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.

Janes House
Janes House

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:

Original Site of the Janes House

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).

Janes House


“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


Plushlover said...

Oh my goodness! It's still there! Soon after I got my driver's license in 1971, I drove to Hollywood to get a NY Times at a street newsagent on Hollywood Bl., when across the street I saw this ancient rundown house surrounded by dense vegetation and a high fence. It looked abandoned, and I thought at the time it must be the oldest house still standing in Hollywood. I guess I was right! I really am amazed it's survived into the 21st century. Amazed, and delighted!

Glennis said...

Well, at least the new owners are saving it. Thank goodness! What's with the weird furniture in front of it in the photos?

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

g, the folks who are leasing the space were prepping it for a sneak preview of the new restaurant.

Anonymous said...

What on earth is a Vocabumat? I do love the palm and monkey wallpaper.

Thanks Floyde, another fine post

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Vocabumats were "plastic place mats with foreign words and their translations printed on them." Miller told the L.A. Times people could use them "to learn Greek, Italian, Swedish and other languages while they eat."

Anonymous said...

I think I may have purchased a vocabumat. Mine has the periodical table on it.

Jean Spitzer said...

I remember noticing this house when I was a child. Thanks for writing about its current life. I must have driven by it a couple of weeks ago without realizing it. You miss a lot when you drive.

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Jean, I think the Janes House is missed by nearly everyone who walks by it, too.

michigander said...

In 1974 I was living in LA and knew George "Bud" Gauger, who I thought was the creator of the Vocabumat. Could he and Guy Miller be one and the same?

Anonymous said...

I found some letters to Mabel Janes recently. Sent from Aurara Ill ...any idea what I should do with them?

Gloria Bulseco Littlewood said...

Miss Mabel, one of the Janes sisters, was my Sunday School teacher back in the '50s at what was then a Methodist church on Vine Street south of Hollywood Blvd. I still have a Christmas card and small New Testament that she gave me. It was so interesting to read about this landmark and about the Janes family.

Anonymous said...

I remember the Janes house before they moved it. The house (in it's 1970's broken down state) was featured as a massage parlor in Cheech and Chongs next movie. Check it out!

Douglas said...

I knew Guy Miller from when I met him in San Diego. This was 1967 when I was in the Navy. He was born about 1933 and was well known in NY, as he built a huge scale model of hundreds of buildings in Manhattan. LIFE magazine did a photo feature on him and his miniature Manhattan model in 1955. There are many photos of Guy and his model on the LIFE Google website. He used to sell his Vocabumats at a little store on Hollywood Blvd at the front of this house. Guy was a pleasure to know.

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Thanks a ton for the LIFE tip, Douglas.

Douglas said...

You're very welcome Floyd. Guy Miller was born Feb 12, 1932 and passed away Jan 25, 2010 in Ragland, AL. He's buried at the Athens Memorial Gardens. He started making his 'Vocabumats' when he worked at a print shop in Hollywood. He made models of several Los Angeles buildings such as the iconic City Hall. I stayed at his apt several times when I was in the Navy in the late 1960s. Also, thanks for the tip on the LA Times article about him. I bought a PDF copy of it. I'm sorry I lost track of Guy in the past years.

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

I'm sorry Miller's passed (and so recently). Thanks again for all the additional information.

Unknown said...

Remember seeing the sisters sitting on front porch watching everything going on on the Blvd back in 1971. had almost begun to believe I imagined it. Thought it had been torn down. Thanks for your article.

20thCenturyFox said...

I was one of the street vendors who rented a space in front of the Janes house around 1971. My business was a shoeshine stand and as a woman shining shoes it attracted a bit of attention. The house was quite run down. The only other vendor while i was there (for about six months) was an old guy who did a great business selling roses then spending his afternoons at the racetrack. It was quite an adventure for someone 22 and a great experience which I remember fondly. I'm so glad they saved the house and fixed it up but it's weird not to see it up close to Hollywood Blvd. the way it was then. If I ever get to L.A. again, I'll be sure to check it out.

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Thanks for the comment, 20thCenturyFox (and thanks, too, for W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings).

Randy Collier said...

My grandfathers brother was Ernest Collier. All of my grandparents lived in the Hollywood area and I have so many fun memories that my parents and grandparents have shared of their youth in the area. Ernie and Carrie were quite eccentric... They would wash the wood before they brought it into the house for the fireplace. They gave my mom and dad a mason jar filed with pine needles for their wedding gift... and asked for the jar to be returned.. haha. Lots of stories of the sisters unique lives. My wife and family traveled to Hollywood in January and showed our kids the house... at least from the outside (it was all closed up).

Thank you for the article. It is good to have for my posterity to enjoy.
Randy Collier

Christi Pattersn Schneider said...

My father and his 2 brothers attended the Janes school around 1918. My grandmother, Marion Patterson, attended an informal reception given by the Misses Janes one afternoon. The childrens' work was on display, and speakers from the Training Dept. at the State Normal gave an instructive talk on kindergarten in general and told of its great value. My grandmother, and some of the other attendees, were so impressed by what they heard that they formed a Mothers' Club that met 2 weeks later at my grandmothers tiny home at 1719 N. Gower St. The Club was composed of women whose children attended the school. The object was to study the needs of young children and learn the value of kindergarten to the child. Carrie Janes attended the meeting. Thereafter they met the 2nd Tues. of each month at various members' homes. I'm quoting this from several newspaper articles, cut from the paper without the date, found in Grandma's memorabilia. I remember my Dad talking about going to school there. I would love to know if the owners have opened a restaurant. I knew about Memphis but wasn't able to get there before they closed.