68 Fremont Place

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By day, John Staley Shepherd was an independent insurance adjuster with downtown offices; he and his wife, Eline Ross Shepherd, who was secretary of the Musical Art Society and was called "one of our most gracious hostesses" by the Times not long after arriving in Los Angeles in 1914, were one of a number of affluent Midwestern-bred couples, middle-aged and unencumbered by children, who would come to live in Fremont Place. While they wouldn't be staying long, it is interesting to note that the Shepherds left the subdivision with one of its most important architectural legacies. By the early '20s, they appear to have developed a shared interest beyond musicales and ladies' luncheons and whatever could be compelling about the insurance business. After spending their first five or so years in the city on Hobart Boulevard, the Shepherds began to do a bit of property speculation, buying lots and building houses to live in until the mood to do it over again came over them, which it sometimes did quite quickly. From 314 South Hobart, they moved to a house they built in 1922 at 233 Lorraine Boulevard in New Windsor Square, a recent northward extension of the original Windsor Square. That attractive enough if vague Colonial design would have been a good foursquare house of simple lines for unseasoned builders such as the Shepherds to cut their teeth on. It was apparently one that would turn out to be well built, bought as it was before long by construction-company owner Frederick Wurster. Its success gave the Shepherds the confidence to redouble their efforts: On June 24, 1923, the Times reported that they had recently bought a 90-by-237-foot lot not far away in the considerably grander Fremont Place neighborhood; the Department of Buildings having already issued a permit on June 13, they immediately began building an 11-room house on the new property in a style more daring than their previous one, fashionably if prototypically 1920s Mediterranean—one which might be thought of as much more than prototypical given that a young Paul Revere Williams was the architect.


Paul Revere Williams was the original architect of 68 Fremont Place, as seen in its early years at top; he was also responsible for a 1957 modernization of what would have then seemed like a dark relic
of the '20s. The delicate portico with wrought-iron columns is a classic Williams touch,
versions seen in, among other buildings, his 1949 remake of a market for a new
Perino's restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard, which he described as "patterned
after historic New Orleans architecture with a California flair." Some
interior details also point to William's alter touch, such as the
staircase; most traces of 68 Fremont Place in its original
guise as the Shepherd house appear to be gone.


Considering the clear natural talent that would go on to reveal itself over many decades, the choice of Williams is no surprise; still, one would like to admire the Shepherds for having no issue in hiring the not-yet-celebrated African-American designer. While The Paul Revere Williams Project does not list 68 Fremont Place as one of Williams's residential efforts, the house was one of his early jobs after becoming a licensed architect in 1921. He designed a number of residences in a variety of designs for important clients in newly developing Flintridge in the first years of his practice, including Mediterraneans similar to #68. Adding interest to the connection of the architect to the house is that Williams would be responsible for a 1957 remodeling of the house for a subsequent owner, Ernest E. Duque. It is certainly not common for an architect to be called upon by later owners to update his own 30-year-old design; the fact that Williams did this in the case of #68 mitigates the obscuring of the stucco exterior charm—or dowdiness, depending on your taste—of the 1924 original with what was by the 1950s Williams's sleek signature style. Fifty years later, new owners removed much of the charm of the two Williams incarnations, at least on the exterior. Exactly how much of two distinct eras of Williams's career may remain in one house is an intriguing aspect of Fremont Place architectural history.

Just two years after building #68, the John and Eline Shepherd moved on to build again, this time in Pasadena. As it turns out, their new house at 111 Linda Vista Avenue is by none other than Paul R. Williams, the architect obviously having pleased his clients. It is interesting to note that in 1928, the Shepherds were acting as building contractors on a residential project that wasn't for themselves but near their new house. It was a Mediterranean designed for Dr. V. Mott Pierce by—once again—Paul R. Williams. It seems that the Shepherds had developed a reputation for doing houses properly and with some imagination. Additional testament to their insistence on quality might be seen in that the next owner of 68 Fremont Place was a man in the construction business—as had been the buyer of their first project in New Windsor Square—who would presumably have known a well-built house when he saw one. While Berne S. Barker was the secretary-treasurer of the major Southern California builder Pacific Ready-Cut Homes, it seems that for his own family he preferred something custom-built in a neighborhood that would likely not have welcomed one of his own prefabricated products.


The view above and the one at top were taken in 1926 at the time of the sale of 68 Fremont Place
by its original builders; 
apparently quite pleased with their young architect, the
John S. Shepherds 
were moving to Pasadena to another house
they had commissioned from Paul R. Williams.




Illustrations: USCDL; Private Collection