62 Fremont Place


There would, inevitably, be a higher density in Fremont Place than would be suggested by the 48 lots originally delineated by its ambitious developers. The idea of a large suburban estate "For the Man of Means" sold better to those men if it was suggested that this was not to be just another tract of cheek-by-jowl houses, however grand. Prosperous Angelenos were seeking space and exclusivity that even the best parts of built-out West Adams—with the exceptions of Berkeley Square and short stretches of Figueroa and West Adams streets—could no longer offer. Real estate marketing strategies naturally gave way to economic realities; with the competitive pressures of ever-newer subdivisions nearby such as the contemporaneous Windsor Square and the decade-newer Hancock Park, not to mention developments farther west such as Bel-Air where true estate-size properties could be obtained, on the 48 original Fremont Place lots from Wilshire curb to Olympic curb there would come to be 72 addresses behind the gates today—quite a few cheek-by-jowl. As did many parcels, Lot 64 of Fremont Place lay fallow for at least a decade after the tract's founding. Its northern half became Lot 62, which was apparently the right size to attract real estate man Walter G. Young, who bought it in 1922 and began planning the impressive house that still stands.

Young commissioned architect Clarence J. Smale to design a 12-room house for his lot; on his way to becoming a designer of houses and theaters with imagination—including the exuberant 1946 Loyola Theater at Sepulveda and Manchester—Smale came up with a singular Venetianesque palazzo with a footprint of 54 by 48½ feet and a pitched roof of red ceramic barrel tiles encircling a flat center; what may be the original tiles remain on the house today. The Department of Buildings issued Young a permit to begin construction on September 14, 1922. Once moved in, the Youngs would stay at #62 for only four or five years before going on to occupy a succession of very nice but considerably less grand houses in various surrounding neighborhoods, perhaps projects of Walter's.

The successor to the builder of #62 was Paul M. Woods, a gold- and silver-mine developer who was known as Paddy. Woods and his wife Lillian had been living in San Francisco, coming to Fremont Place in 1928 first for a stay of a year or so at #89 before buying the Young house. The couple's gold and silver Venetian idyll did not last long, with reverberations of October 1929 appearing to have ushered them off the premises ignominiously and forthwith.

Lean times at the palazzo: All was on the block,
including the house, as advertised in the
Times on December 14, 1930.

Six months after an advertisement appeared in the Times for the auction of #62 Fremont Place and its contents, Lillian Woods died in the house. Its auction reserve apparently unmet, the house, with or without its furnishings, was beginning to languish as one of the Depression's many domestic white elephants—one wonders if Mrs. Woods lay on her deathbed in a bare, echoing house. It is not known who aside from a bank may have acquired the property before economic conditions improved later in the '30s, but once they did, the long-term prospects for the old barns of Fremont Place improved, including that of #62. Perhaps it was the proximity of the Archbishop of Los Angeles around the corner at #100 that drew a funeral director known with his partner as "The Catholic Undertakers" to make his home in Fremont Place. With Thomas J. Cunningham, Joseph Allen O'Connor's County Clare–born father began in business in Los Angeles in 1898, and on South Grand, eight years later, the men opened the first purpose-built mortuary facility in the West. The steady flow of Romans across its embalming tables—and the astute business practices that have kept the business in family hands to this day—paid for 62 Fremont Place. After Joseph O'Connor died in September 1962, his wife Mary remained in the house until her demise seven years later.

Having died of a heart attack at 41 two days before, Carmen Miranda lies in state at
Cunningham & O'Connor's Melrose Avenue parlors in West Hollywood on
August 7, 1955. Clark Gable, 
Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy,
William Lundigan, and Bing Crosby later also
had their last makeup applied here.

After the slow opening of Fremont Place and then the uncertainties of the Depression, there was another period of malaise in the '60s and '70s when central Los Angeles began to fall out of favor just as older precincts had before it. White elephants reappeared; after the Tate-LaBianca murders in August 1969, the affluent wanted security more substantial than even the then-still-impressive concrete gates of Fremont Place could provide, and many moved to the safer Westside. Would the Place and its adjacent neighborhoods—at the time of their inceptions called collectively the West End of Los Angeles—become another spotty, neglected West Adams? The better managed tracts did hang on through the '90s, but, as in prior lean times, some houses began to serve less than genteel purposes. In the early '70s, for instance, #62 was leased—perhaps from the O'Connors, if the house sat unsold after Mary's death—to the Committee for the Future. Apparently some sort of think tank to figure out ways to apply technological solutions to the ills of the day, such as those that plagued L.A. in the dismal '70s, "cosmic thinker" and toy heiress Barbara Marx Hubbard and her husband, artist and "space philosopher" Earl Hubbard, sought through the organization to transcend earthly concerns, or at least whatever tedium of their own daily existences there might have been. Buckminster Fuller, Ray Bradbury, Norman Cousins, and no less than Timothy Leary all participated in television forums organized by the Hubbards. And like Jules Verne's spaceship, travel to the moon was always first-class for leaders in cosmic thinking. In the Hubbards' real estate mix alongside Fremont Place was an apartment on Fifth Avenue in New York and a 40-acre spread in northwest Connecticut, the better to impress donors to contribute to a projected fund to sponsor private space travel on mothballed NASA rocketships. Well, well.... At any rate, it is unclear as to when the lease was up and the Enterprise departed #62.

Illustrations: USCDL; The Partners TrustLATGGN