117 Fremont Place


Exactly how Minnesota-born sisters Marie Ferté Dawson and Bertha Ferté McCue acquired the capital to build the lavish 117 Fremont Place in 1924 is unclear; after Marie divorced her husband, William, she was by 1910 living with Bertha and Harry McCue and the sisters' widowed French-born father Dr. Joseph Ferté in the railroad town of Livingston, Montana. After the men in the house died within six weeks of each other in early 1911, the sisters made plans for a new life in a milder climate 900 miles to the southwest. They were living high at the Hotel Cordova in downtown Los Angeles by 1915. 

It could be that Marie and Bertha just had a knack for making the most of real estate in booming Southern California; among other properties, they invested in a 30-unit apartment building completed in 1923 at 360 South Burlington Avenue that they christened the Mariebert. The sisters' ambitions were reaching a fever pitch by the early '20s. Having also acquired a large building lot in grand, gated Fremont Place, the ladies commissioned a distinctive Mediterranean house for the parcel from the obscure Reed & Company, the architect and contractor cited on the original building permit for 117 issued by the Department of Buildings on April 15, 1924. What was particularly unusual about the house was that it had a swimming pool at the center of its original design—if not Fremont Place's first pool, certainly one of its most interestingly shaped and one whose charm has survived to this day. Seemingly an unlikely residence for two single women, it could be that 117 had been intended as a speculative project that turned out to be too expensive for easy resale; while Fremont Place was originally promoted as an enclave of "in-town estates," with tracts of larger and more private spreads to the west coming to vie for the big bucks, it had become more of a conventional middle-class suburban neighborhood in density and price point, rendering their palazzo a house perhaps a tad over the top for its time and location. Whether or not it was their original intention, they moved into 117 themselves once it was completed in the fall of 1924.

Three halves of stereoscopic views of 117 Fremont Place, circa 1932

Marie and Bertha enjoyed their private little resort for only about five years. Perhaps they came to realize all too well that, unlike in an apartment building, all the money was going out and none was coming in to pay what must have been considerable upkeep. Their timing did not get any better; it was in 1929 that they decided to move into their namesake building themselves, Marie assuming the management of the Mariebert. They appear to have wound up renting the house in Fremont Place, prospects for a sale all but killed by the events of that October. An unknown tenant was advertising for a nanny in January 1930; this may have been Edward J. Montagne, the prolific movie scenarist associated successively with Universal, Paramount, and R.K.O. and with 117 in the early '30s. Montagne died in September 1932, though he was then living elsewhere; the record of who may have rented or owned the house during the balance of the decade is spotty. A Mrs. Clarence Gasque, who the Times cited as "also a resident of Paris and London," had as her houseguest the visiting soprano Joy McArden in October 1935. In November 1938, a series of classified ads in the Times described 117 as a "sacrifice that's different"; the house was still on the market the following spring. Finally, a buyer stepped forward. There was no question that Dr. Arthur C. Daniels and his extended family were in need of new housing; still living atop long-since déclassé Bunker Hill in a house at 511 West Second Street that he had renovated a little over a year before, the family was awakened there to the sharp sounds of a cracking foundation at three on the morning of Valentine's Day 1937. Torrential rains were undermining the house's already precarious perch 20 feet above a parking lot. In a complete change of venue and domestic circumstance—with a pool even—the Danielses were the owners of 117 by 1940, if not for a particularly long stay. The family was back in less expensive digs on Elden Avenue eight years later.

In the early '50s, one name connected with 117 was Franklin M. Lee. By 1955, the old house found a buyer in Mr. and Mrs. Samuel R. Rabinoff; he was a onetime F.C.C. attorney who headed the pioneering American Television Laboratories and was a founder of the Emmys. Estelle Rabinoff made the most of 117 for entertaining. She moved out after her husband died in January 1962.

Illustrations: Private Collection; California State Library