127 Fremont Place

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Surburbanites everywhere today love their columns. Even the owner of a modest tract house might somehow see the need for columns to mark his driveway, perhaps with gargantuan ornate lighting fixtures; new McMansions often incorporate soaring Classical two-story columns of aluminum or plastic to mark seldom-used front doors topped by ill-proportioned thermal Palladian windows. The façades of a few original Fremont Place residences have been altered beyond recognition with these same obviously tacked-on symbols of striving—and more power to the owners even if the results could be seen as disrespectful of the historical streetscape and, even more so, of the original architects. As seen from the street, lamentably devoid of any of its original charm, the enormous 101 Fremont Place is a case in point; #127 is another, a house built in 1923 by Ray J. Kieffer, the respected architect of a number of attractive and timeless houses in the neighborhoods straddling mid Wilshire Boulevard. While of course the columns applied to #127 in 2001—seen above through a southbound windshield—might please some, it is doubly sad that thus far no images of Kieffer's design commissioned by Mrs. Vincent R. Lamia have been found for posterity.

At the time of his family's move to Fremont Place, Louisiana-born Vincent R. Lamia was the California representative of Sam the Banana Man Zemurray's New Orleans–based Cuyamel Fruit Company—bought by United Fruit in 1929 and now part of Chiquita. Soon after the First world War, Lamia had come to California after many years as a fruit broker in New York to live way up in Healdsburg. With him came his wife and five children. Once the move to Los Angeles was decided upon after several years in Sonoma County, Mrs. Lamia appears to have taken domestic matters into her own hands, though not, it seems, to settle her family for good. Vincent appears to have developed a sideline in real estate once the family was in Los Angeles; while it was not uncommon at the time for a husband to finance a house but put it in his wife's name for tax purposes or to offer security, Lena Lamia—one of the prosperous brewing Fabachers of New Orleans, her brother Lawrence owning Jax Beer—might have decided to put separate funds into building on spec, booming Southern California's second 1920s bonanza after oil investing. It was in her name that on March 10, 1923, the Department of Buildings issued a permit for a $17,500 house and a garage to be built on a northerly portion of Fremont Place's Lot 125. While the house might seem to have been a proper size for a family of seven, it does not appear that the Lamias stayed very long at #127. Listed there in the 1924 city directory, by the next year's edition they were listed a block south of Fremont Place in a very modest stucco bungalow that still stands at 4560 Edgewood Place, while, it seems, Lena began her next residential project for the family nearby at 812 Muirfield Road, a house that still backs up to the rear of 101 Fremont Place. The Lamias apparently saw no need to be within the gates.

Number 127 appears to have been rented by the Lamias for a few years before it was sold. Their tenant was a curious one. It seems that the very young bond-dealer son—he was barely out of college—of dentist William S. T. Smith of 98 Fremont Place was in residence during 1924 and '25, which may have had something to do with his parents' move during this period to a new house they were having built in Bel-Air. Destined to be one of those Fremont Place houses that would have a hard time finding a long-term tenant, #127 had a new owner by 1926. Real estate investor Charles S. Forve and his wife and three young children moved in for the next eight years. Succeeding Forve was Karl A. Weber, whose Weber Showcase & Fixture Company thrives today as Weber Logistics. Karl's uncle, Albert C. Boesmiller, a founder and still a vice-president of the family firm who had lived with the Webers for many years, died at #127 on September 10, 1937. The only even vague descriptor of the house's style of architecture is found in classified advertisements for its sale that appeared in the Times in the summer of 1941: "Large 2-story Colonial home for sale: owner going east." It is unclear as to where Weber might have been going or exactly when he might have left, but the house lingered on the market for quite a while. There followed two short-term tenants, Donald G. Colquhoun and John T. McTernan, before McDowell V. Eastman moved in by 1948 for a stay of about seven years.

As Fremont Place languished in the shadow of the increasing popularity and perceived safety of the more modern Westside during the '60s, especially after the Watts riots in August 1965 and the Tate-LaBianca murders four years later, the very fate of all 72 of the aging houses of the neighborhood actually came into question. In August 1970, Honolulu developers offered the homeowners of the Place a package of $20 million to call Bekins and leave, the development firm's proposal being wholesale demolition and replacement with hotels, office buildings, and apartment complexes. After such radical plans were mercifully rejected, Fremont Place entered a period of uncertainty until a wave of new money arrived beginning in the 1980s. The Old Guard continued to move west or at least across Wilshire Boulevard to more stable Hancock Park and Windsor Square while the charm of the old houses of Place was rediscovered by newcomers. All in all, there was remarkable preservation for the next 20 years, at least until a still newer wave of cash arrived with radically different tastes in architecture. While there was surprisingly little demolition, questionable remodelings began around the turn of the century. The family that is currently in the process of transforming the 1939 Westover house at #50 into something of a modern multistory cruise ship out of all proportion to its lot got its start by transforming #127. The original house was lost to its current carbuncular columnar additions in 2001. Ray J. Kieffer, who suffered professional and financial reverses during the Depression, has at least been spared seeing the alteration of one his designs, set respectfully as they all were among other comfortable Los Angeles houses of similar scale, into something rather less successful.




Illustration: Christopher Choo