108 Fremont Place


Some famous names associated with Fremont Place seem on further inquiry rather to be part of the subdivision's folklore. In 1918 Mary Pickford did rent #56 for a year, her tenancy there followed by another brief one by her silent-screen contemporary Mary Miles Minter; in later years Muhammed Ali and actress Karen Black were in residence. Others of fame and fortune, though widely reputed as having lived in the Place, seem actually to never have done so; #55, for example, is often referred to as being a home of King Camp Gillette, the vaunted inventor of the safety razor, but records indicate that it was instead his banker son, King Gaines Gillette, who bought that house in 1922. Documentary evidence also does not seem to point to the actual residency of the founder in 1904 of what became the Bank of America, Amadeo Peter "A. P." Giannini, who is widely cited online as having lived at our subject, #108, but who died before its original owner expired in the house in 1950. It just so happens that A. P.'s younger brother, Attilio Henry Giannini, a physician who later joined A. P. as a banking partner and who at one time headed United Artists, dropped dead of a heart attack in 1943 while visiting #70 around the corner, the home of Frank H. Powell; oddly, somehow, it appears that an oblique death has spawned the myth of another famous personage as having lived in Fremont Place.

A rendering of the Clem Wilson house by architects Meyer & Holler 

appeared in the Los Angeles Times on November 16, 1919; a drawing of
its main entrance appeared in the paper on December 14, two days after 
the Department of Buildings issued its permit to begin construction.

All that said, unless one Giannini or another rented or bunked in with the long-time owners of 108 at some point, there was in fact just one occupant of the prime southwest corner of Westerly Drive (later Fremont Park West) and Ninth Street until after the bankers' deaths. Elihu Clement Wilson was not as famous as Pickford or Minter or Gillette or Giannini, but he was well known in Los Angeles. Financed by and named for Wilson, a splendid 190-foot-tall Art Deco tower opened in 1930 at the northeast corner of Wilshire and La Brea; designed by prolific architects Meyer & Holler, it remains as part of Wilson's legacy. So does his Fremont Place house, which he had the same firm design for him (and its wholly owned Milwaukee Building Company construct) 11 years before.

Brothers Benton, Clem, and Webb Wilson appeared
along with an advertisement in the February 1920 issue
of The Oil Age very close to the time of the completion
of Clem's lavish new house at 108 Fremont Place.

Clem Wilson was born in Ohio on July 5, 1870. Arriving in Los Angeles in 1886 via Colorado and Kansas, his family became part the city's quickly assembling Old Guard, one measured in fewer years than in other cities, largely composed as it was of gentlefolk arrived since direct transcontinental railroads reached the city in the 1880s. A number of early business endeavors led Wilson into the manufacture of metal products, in which he would drive himself hard enough to become a millionaire in short order. As his Times obituary would eventually report, his Wilson & Willard Company, founded in 1907 with a partner he later bought out to replace with his youngest brother Webb, held patents on "many devices still used in the oil industry throughout the world." Among these were such obscurities as casing spears and shoes, ratchet rope sockets, the Wilson steel pitman, the Willard circulating head, and an apparently revolutionary item known distinctively as the Wilson Perfection Underreamer. Later a third brother, Benton, would join the company as its attorney. Clem Wilson's extracurricular activities included a year as a police commissioner and directorships at Citizens National Bank and Producers Cotton Oil Company of Fresno. When he wasn't cutting deals, he was golfing or hunting or motoring, or else on his cruiser the Ripple, often for months at a time.

Seen at top within a few years of completion in 1920, 108 Fremont Place was joined
on its north side in 1927 by 106, above at left; it is not yet clear as to when
and why the two properties were later combined.

After a first marriage ended in 1904 with the death of his bride after seven months, Wilson married Eva Pearl Thurston of Bakersfield two years later. According the the Times, he was at the time as well known in Los Angeles social and musical circles as he was in business, possessing "a tenor voice of much sweetness and power." It was power of another sort that Wilson would come to exemplify, that of the establishment man of the California, Tuna, and Bolsa Chica clubs who can be said fairly to have built Los Angeles, including some of its most important buildings and prettiest houses. The Wilsons would remain at 108 Fremont Place for 30 years; both died there, Pearl at the age of 65 on September 19, 1947, Clem a few weeks before his 80th birthday on June 12, 1950. 

Clem Wilson died at 108 Fremont Place on June 12, 1950; the house
 was on the market by the following January. The  advertisement
 above appeared in the Times  on September 21, 1951,
 three months after an auction of
the house's contents. 

The Wilson lot has somewhat of a curious history in that its northern third appears to have been sold off—unless it was never part of the original Wilson property—in the mid '20s. A house dated 1927 and in some records designated 106 remains there today just north of the Wilsons'. Over the years the two properties appear to have had by turns their separate addresses and then to be offered for sale as a single parcel. An advertisement in the Times following the death of Clem and an auction of the Wilsons' possessions in January 1951 offered only the original four-bedroom corner house for sale; in recent years 108 has been presented as something of a compound. Perhaps Karen Black, who bought 108 in 1978, was the owner who combined or recombined it with 106; at any rate, unlike the founder of the Bank of America, the actress is a famous person who can be linked certifiably to Clem and Pearl Wilson's house.

Sold in May 2014 for a reported $7,750,000, the combined 106 and 108 Fremont Place will
require a considerable maintenance budget for its boxwood alone. As for the palms you
see...it's not impossible that they were planted (as already fairly mature trees) when
the house was built; compare the distinctive bend in the now wildly tall one close
to the house to the similarly bent tree in the vintage photos above.

Illustrations: USCDLLATUSCDL; The Oil Age; Sotheby's