122 Fremont Place


The fashion for Mediterranean domestic architecture came and went with Southern California's roaring 1920s; once the Depression sobered things up, the style's variations came to be regarded by many as lumpen reminders of lost fantasies of a sunny Eden. In the lean years, the browner, more adobe-esque Spanish-derived versions seemed particularly associated with endless tracts of bungalows spread across the prairie. Larger versions in all Mediterranean styles often became white elephants, but many managed to survive, seeming slightly embarrassed to still be standing, until their original exuberance was rediscovered in the 1980s. Some of the breed were in fact indistinguishable and not very attractive; others, such as 122 Fremont Place, held charm in their details: low half- and quarter-round towers, balconies, and dovecotes. No particular architect is responsible for 122, but rather it was the team at the Los Angeles architecture, engineering, and construction firm of Chisholm, Fortine & Meikle that real estate developer Henry L. Gilbert chose to build his own house. The Department of Building and Safety issued a permit to begin construction on November 2, 1927. 

Lithuanian-born Henry Gilbert had arrived in Los Angeles four or five years before, retiring from an apparently a successful run as a Kenosha manufacturer. With returns on money he put into Los Angeles property as the city's population began its doubling during the '20s practically guaranteed, with California sun blowing away all memory of winters on Lake Michigan, Gilbert and his wife and two sons celebrated their ultimate American arrival by building their pretty house in gated Fremont Place. After a decade, things went a little south. While oldest son Irving had become a lawyer and had married, he also then divorced his wife to marry a lawyer with whom he would be convicted of conspiracy to commit grand theft in the swindling of an elderly widow and was sent to San Quentin (the second Mrs. Gilbert went off to Tehachapi; while in prison, they divorced and Irving became engaged to his first wife, Mildred). Poor Harry and Rachel hung their heads back in their Mediterranean/American dream house in Fremont Place. While probably not actually hounded out of the gates, they did decide to leave in 1939. In a convenient swap of residences, a deal probably put together by Harry, the Gilberts moved a block and half down to the southwest corner of Olympic and Queen Anne Place, just across the boulevard from the southwest gate of their old neighborhood. Urologist to "hundreds of persons prominent in local government, the society world and the entertainment business" (as his 1961 obituary put it), Dr. Joe Zeiler had been living at 1051 Queen Anne Place with his wife Elsie and young daughter Meyera for five years or so. With younger son Walter working alongside his father in real estate, married and living elsewhere, and Irving in the slammer, the Gilberts received a tidy sum of cash from Zeiler in the exchange of houses and were able to stay within a stone's throw of Fremont Place; the Zeilers moved into 122, now able to rub shoulders more closely with some of the doctor's prominent patients.

Dr. Joe Zeiler would remain at 122 Fremont Place for the next two decades; he suffered a fatal heart attack after his morning breakfast there on May 24, 1961.

Illustration: MLS