66 Fremont Place


The house at 66 Fremont Place is distinctive less for its style—Mediterranean designs would soon to reach their peak of popularity in the mid 1920s—than for its having been built by an architect as his own home and lived in by his family for over 40 years. Even at the time he built #66 in 1923, Samuel Tilden Norton's family could be counted among pioneer Angelenos, some of its members having arrived not long after California entered the Union and many others following them west and on to considerable achievement. S. T. Norton's father, Isaac, was one of four children of Polish-born Moses Nathan, whose eldest son Moses anglicized their surname; the younger Moses had arrived early enough in California to be naturalized in San Francisco in 1853, when that small and bumptious city made dusty Los Angeles appear barely inhabited even though a much older settlement. Where there was dust, however, there was less competition and room to bloom. By 1860, Moses and his wife and children were living under the same roof in L.A. as Ephraim Greenbaum, whose daughter Bertha has been noted as the first Jewish child born in the city. Moses and Ephraim were then both in the dry-goods trade; once Isaac Norton arrived in town from New York nine years later he become a merchant himself, then a prospector. In 1875, he married his sister-n-law's niece, Bertha Greenbaum. During the local boom brought on by improved the transcontinental rail connections, Isaac Norton came to understand the region's potential not in terms of supplies or risky mining ventures but rather in terms of seemingly endless surrounding real estate. His partnership in the Metropolitan Building and Loan Association, founded in 1886, began the family's real estate development interests, Norton Avenue just east of Fremont Place the most visible reminder of its city-building. Isaac and Bertha Norton had a daughter and three sons; Albert became a prominent Los Angeles attorney while S.T.—sometimes referred to as S. Tilden Norton—followed his father into development as an architect.

Samuel Tilden Norton, circa 1920

S. T. Norton, born on January 12, 1877, was graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1895. His next training did not involve college but rather apprenticeships with local architect Edward Neisser (widely misprinted as "Neissen") and, for a time, with a firm in New York. Back home by 1901, Norton was confident enough to open his own firm and begin work on various projects, including office and apartment-house projects and work for the family real estate interests. In addition to his own house on Grand View Street that he would live in until his move to Fremont Place, there was his design of a charming American Colonial for his cousin Isaiah Friedman Norton at 111 South Norton Avenue. Once S.T. entered his partnership with Frederick H. Wallis, an alumnus of the office of esteemed local architect John C. Austin, in 1923, his practice received larger commissions such as that in 1924 of the Temple Sinai East at Fourth and New Hampshire, now the Korean Philadelphia Presbyterian Church. One of the first instances of their names appearing together as architects on an official document was on the permit issued by the Department of Buildings on January 23, 1923, for Norton's new eight-room residence to be built at 66 Fremont Place. A permit for a garage was issued the same day. As was a custom of the time, the new house was was put in the name of Norton's wife; he'd married Baltimorean Esther Groedel in New York on October 17, 1904. The Norton's only child, Elizabeth, had been born in 1908.

Having established himself as a Los Angeles architect,
27-year-old S.T. Norton decided to settle down with
27-year-old Esther Groedel in 1904. The couple
appears to have met a few years before while
S.T. was apprenticing at a New York firm. As
seen in the Herald, September 26, 1904.

Having moved from a denser, declining Los Angeles neighborhood to a West End suburb that was one of the last stops of the city's Old Guard, Esther Norton continued her club and charitable activities once she moved into Fremont Place; her participation in the Council of Jewish Women no doubt influenced her husband's choice as architect of the group's Loma Drive headquarters, opened in 1926. Bertha Norton moved in with her son and daughter-in-law before taking her own apartment at The Gaylord; Elizabeth entered U.C.L.A. at its original Vermont Avenue campus in 1926 and in her senior year became engaged to Jack L. Rude, then a building and loan appraiser. Meanwhile, S.T. continued to build. Clothier Alexander E. Newman commissioned him to build a house just down the street at 86 Fremont Place in 1924. (As for other houses in the Place, one might wonder why Mamie Norton Klein, a daughter of Simon Friedman Norton, chose an architect other than her cousin to design #125.) Toward the end of the decade, Norton & Wallis would be chosen to design the new Greek Theatre in Griffith Park; owing to his lifelong friendship with Rabbi Edgar Magnin and his presidency of the Board of Trustees of Congregation B'nai B'rith, Norton became a collaborating architect with David Allison and Abram Edelman—designer of 31 Fremont Place—of the congregation's new Wilshire Boulevard Temple at Wilshire and Hobart, dedicated in 1929. He would later serve as its president. Among many other projects, Norton participated in the design of another sort of temple, the 1931 Los Angeles Theatre on Broadway, with S. Charles Lee. S.T. was a busy man, and not just as a builder. He served as a president of the Jewish Men's Professional Club and the Southern California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects as well as a director of the Prudential Building and Loan Association and several charitable organizations. Not yet exhausted and ready for play, he was a founding member of the Hillcrest Country Club. S.T. Norton was without question one of a special ecumenical breed of energetic men who built Los Angeles.

S.T. Norton remained busy and at 66 Fremont Place with Esther until the end of his life. Long about 1956 the couple's genteel life received its only unflattering press when Elizabeth filed for divorce from her husband. In her suit, she accused Jack Rude of blackmail in the form of threats to make public unspecified scandalous charges against her if she didn't sign a property settlement forfeiting half of their $3,000,000 investment in the extensive cattle operations he now managed. It seems that on a tour of Europe with their three children, they had a huge fight and separated. Perhaps Elizabeth flirted with a matador; whatever happened, Jack was exercised enough to stay in Switzerland and refuse to return the couple's two sons to their mother despite a California court order that also sentenced Rude to a term in County Jail. On May 23, 1958, the Times reported that "after more than two years of divorce and custody litigation," Elizabeth and Jack had reached a settlement the day before. She got her $1,500,000 but not the boys, at least not together, permanently. In a rather idiotic-sounding custody settlement that cannot have made for happy children, the boys were separated, the elder remaining with Jack and the younger staying with the mother for only two years before being returned to his father. (In an age when mothers always won, Elizabeth may have done more than flirt.) As hard as all the commotion and lurid headlines might have been on John and Daniel Rude and their grown sister Judith, it was perhaps even less easy on the Nortons. S.T. entered a long illness, expiring at Cedars of Lebanon on February 16, 1959. Not of course responsible for his grown child's antics, he was well-eulogized by Rabbi Magnin at his funeral two days later in East Los Angeles at the Home of Peace Mausoleum, final home of many a California Norton.

Appearing to have gotten used to living a more glamorous life than her
sedate parents, Elizabeth Norton Rude was prepared to fight for her
property rights when her marriage fell apart after 26 years. While
there was considerable international wrangling for the custody
of two of their three children, things seem to have ended
with smiles in a Los Angeles courtroom in May 1958.

Esther Norton remained at 66 Fremont Place until the listing for "S.T. Norton" disappeared from city directories after 1965; not long after, Charles D. Beshears moved in for a few years' stay. Mrs. Norton died in Los Angeles on October 19, 1969.

Illustrations: Private Collections; LAT