118 Fremont Place


Buckeye born in 1876, Howell North Baker kicked around San Diego County in his early 20s, at one point accidentally shooting himself in the foot on a hunting trip along the Tijuana River. Eventually, someone whispered "lumber" in his ear, setting him on his life's course, one in which there'd be no more stumbles, at least for a while. Settling in Los Angeles in 1906, he became associated with the Western Hardwood Lumber Company, incorporated that year. Maude Louise Stanton Jessup, a 1904 Wellesley graduate from New York's Finger Lakes district, was living with a sister in Pendleton, Oregon, to which Howell is likely to have gone on business trips; it was there on July 10, 1907, that they married. Now thoroughgoing westerners, the couple returned to live in a series of houses in Los Angeles before alighting at 231 North Vendome Street. Carolyn had arrived just before Christmas 1909 and, after the apparent loss of two male heirs, Howell North Baker Jr.—to be known as "North"—was born in April 1912. With a change in control of Western Hardwood coming, Howell formed a partnership to establish the specialty California Panel and Veneer Company, which would deal exclusively in plywood and veneer products and which remains in business to this day. With the city in a constant state of boom and bungalows growing across it like mushrooms after rain, it was hard not to do well in the lumber trade. Howell Baker bought out his partners in California Panel in 1921; before long, the establishment Bakers, while never flashy, would nevertheless be ready for a celebratory house.

George Taylor was a contractor and energetic developer of high-end speculative houses in what was referred to in the 1910s and early '20s as the West End of Los Angeles. Real estate reportage of the era includes numerous sales of houses built by him on lots he acquired in tracts including Windsor Square and Fremont Place, where he took out a permit to build #118 from the Department of Buildings on December 12, 1922. It would be Howell and Maude Baker who would decide to buy it from Taylor and move in by the end of 1923.

The 1920s seemed to go as well for the Bakers as it did for many well-placed Angelenos; Howell tended to business and Maude to her household duties and those she had as treasurer of the Friday Morning and Women's University clubs. The Willits Holes' addition of a looming art gallery to their house at 114—smack dab next door to the Bakers—cannot have been an altogether wonderful development, even if paintings would be quiet neighbors. But the Depression seems to have brought a particular, if unquantifiable, shadow over 118 Fremont Place. In the fall of 1933, the house was on the market, with a series of classified ads in the Times describing a residence "among million-dollar houses in a beautiful setting.... Sacrifice at less than lot value": The price was $25,000. 

The eventual mother of television producer and
writer Stephen J. Cannell is seen in the Times
 on August 4, 1935, just before her marriage
and her family's departure from 118
Fremont Place after 12 years.

There appear to have been reasons behind the urgency other than the economy; Howell was not well. The house unsold, he would die at the Glendale Sanitarium on January 15, 1935. Number 118 Fremont Place would see a bit of happiness soon after as Carolyn prepared to marry Joseph K. Cannell of the famous furniture and decorating firm Cannell & Chaffin; the reception after their September 26 wedding in Beverly Hills was held at the house. (The couples' son Stephen J. Cannell would in his own right become almost a household name as the prolific television producer and writer of such series as The Rockford Files and Columbo.) As soon as the caterers cleaned up, Maude, apparently giving up on selling the house for the time being, rented it to her San Diego friends the Hugh Dawson Cooks, at least until it was put back on the market in January 1937 at $19,000, a price which Maude negotiated for a sale by April to attorney Abraham S. Gold.

Although they appear to have moved into 118, Abraham and Rita Gold decided to flip it. Ads appeared in the Times in the fall of 1937 offering the house and its "poudre room" for $25,000. A fire appears to have intervened, however, the repairs for which Gold hired architect Lawrence B. Clapp to design. Curiously, the building permit for this work indicates that the house was moved on the lot during the renovations; whether this might have involved pushing the building back on the lot to take it out of the Hole gallery's shadow or was just a temporary vertical move to replace floor joists is unclear. At any rate, the Golds did sell before long. Maurice Zuckerman was in residence by April 1940; the 62-year-old wholesale produce merchant—who'd cornered the California potato market in 1911—was married to Josephine, 33 years his junior, and had six children, the youngest of whom was a year-old daughter named Fortune. The Zuckermans' stay was brief. Maurice would be moving to San Quentin after fatally shooting a former commander of the Stockton American Legion in November 1941 in a cocktail-lounge brawl from which the perp attempted to flee in his chauffeur-driven car before surrendering. Although Zuckerman was discharged from prison by court order in January 1943, the Fremont Place house had been sold even before the murder. Mrs. Margaret Wagner, who added an elevator to the house, settled into #118 and stayed for at least a decade.

Interesting alliances: The Los Angeles Public Library's photograph collection includes
this image accompanied by a caption reading "Dr. James Fifield...minister of
First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, escorts Senator and Mrs.
Joseph McCarthy from his church on February 9, 1954, as a
heckler, identified as Wilbur J. Jerger...shouts challenges
at McCarthy via a loudspeaker system atop
his car. A near riot was averted."

If not immediately after Mrs. Wagner left Fremont Place, #118 became the property of a well-known and not exactly selfless or publicity-averse preacher man by 1960. James W. Fifield Jr., who became a sort of Aimee Semple McPherson but one who catered to the upper rather than the working classes, made few bones about seeking for himself the material advantages of those local plutocrats with whom he wished to rub elbows and with whom he shared his virulent anti–New Deal, anti-Roosevelt sentiments. Fifield created an organization he called "Spiritual Mobilization," which appears to have become, with his full cooperation, something of a tool of industry to promote via nationwide pulpits the idea that America was going to hell in a pagan handbag and that only prayer and unfettered capitalism could save it—a movement which gained traction during the ensuing Communist hysteria that seemed to turn these same titans of industry into shrieking schoolgirls, at least for the benefit of the man in the street.

Before he was overshadowed by the much cleverer and less condescending Billy Graham and thus had to be satisfied with a more provincial influence from his perch at the First Congregational Church—to the head of which he'd been drafted from Grand Rapids in 1935—and on the radio well into an era that had passed him by, Fifield bought the first of his palazzos in the old West End. No spare manse for Fifield; Los Angeles was always where heartlanders, if in his case very well educated ones, could escape harsh winters and live like kings in the sun. The pretty half-timbered 1928 house at 111 North June Street he bought soon after arrival was in the thick of Hancock Park's bon ton and staffed with a butler, a chauffeur, and a cook even before he and his wife, Helen, had the first of their two children and he began to add things like trips to Hawaii on the Lurline to the lifestyle of what one reporter called without irony the "Apostle to Millionaires." As though it was a seaside country estate, the June Street house was given the name "Copper Harbor" and would be featured in the Times's rotogravure on February 19, 1950, a nice advertisement for its sale when the Fifields decided to scale things down a bit by the early '50s—though only for a little while. After a few years in an apartment at the Chateau Elysee on Franklin Avenue (now, interestingly, Scientology's "Celebrity Centre"), the Fifields moved to another Copper Harbor, the name traveling with the family like a prized doorknocker. Not one to let the Catholic church upstage him—that faith's archbishop lived in conspicuous luxury at 100 Fremont Place—Fifield bought #55 in 1956. (The name Copper Harbor—and, apparently, the real family funds and perhaps much of the taste for grandeur—originated with Mrs. Fifield's family; her father had developed mines back in Copper Harbor, Michigan, at the extreme northerly point of that state.) After Helen Fifield died on November 15, 1957, the Reverend, even before disposing of #55, bought another house in the neighborhood, none other than 118 Fremont Place. There he maintained the splendor, even if his career had long since been eclipsed; 118 also became an office to which readers solicited in display ads in the Times as late as 1967—the year Fifield retired from First Congregational after 32 years—were encouraged to write for a tract produced by Dr. Fifield and his daughter Mary entitled "Does God Care?" Fifield appears to have retained 118 Fremont Place until at least a few years before his death on February 25, 1977. 

NOTE: An excellent source of information on James W. Fifield and his influence is Kevin M. Kruse's timely One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America published in 2015.

Illustrations: Private Collection; LAPLLAT;
Southwest Contractor and Manufacturer Volume 19