Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Homer Laughlin - No China Here

A quick scan of the internet for Homer Laughlin(1843-1913) results in tens of thousands of hits for Homer Laughlin China Co., at one time the largest china plate maker in the world. Located at a large source of clay deposits in East Liverpool, Ohio, it was indeed named by Homer Laughlin for himself, after he bought out his brother's interest in 1877. The company established itself with world-class products, as exemplified by being the only gold medal winner for ceramics at the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

By 1896 Laughlin was ready to retire.  He made some real estate investments in Los Angeles, and after his son Homer Jr.(1876-1932) graduated from Stanford that same year, they went into real estate development together in Los Angeles, living in various hotels and temporary residences.

In 1897 they'd completed the first steel-reinforced concrete fire-proof structure in the city at 315 S. Broadway, named aptly enough the Homer Laughlin Building (father or son?).  Homer sold the business in Ohio in December, and concentrated his new efforts in L.A. real estate. In 1901 father and son moved to the St. James Park area, where Homer found a suitable house a couple of blocks east at 666 West Adams Boulevard. As a long time friend of fellow Ohioan William McKinley, Homer led the reception committee for the President's visit in the summer of 1901, one of the last before his assassination later that year in Buffalo. In 1905 a new, concrete-reinforced addition was made to the Laughlin Building, which now went completely through the block to Hill Street. To prove the building strength, a test was made of applying up to 56 tons of pressure to the building. The building addition is most noted for housing the Grand Central Market since 1917.

By 1904 everyone in the family had arrived in L.A. and they moved in to 666 W. Adams--Homer, his wife Cornelia (1846-1907), daughter Guendolen (1886-1942), and son Homer Jr. An older daughter Nanita (1883-1891) had died previously in Ohio.


 A ca. 1906 photo of the house below:

 666 West Adams Street in 1906
A sample of the Keeley Cure

The house was not new when it was bought by the Laughlins. It turns out that it was owned by Mary Keeley, young widow of Dr. Leslie Keeley, inventor and franchiser of the "Keeley Cure" for alcoholism and drug addiction. This was a winter home for the Keeleys. Interestingly the 1899 directory makes no mention of his occupation, while posting in bold print a few lines above the Keeley entry, the local franchise address for his "cure". The house was new in 1898 after a severe fire had burned down the previous house.

The house was probably planned to be a temporary stop for Homer, as in 1905 he purchased property between Los Feliz and Franklin with a prominent hilltop, planning to build his retirement home in the country.  Something happened to create a change of plans and the area, known today as Laughlin Park, became an upscale, gated development that housed celebrities such as W.C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin and Cecil B. DeMille (who picked off that lot at the top of the hill).

In early January, 1913 Homer came down with appendicitis, and as a result caught pneumonia and died that month at age 69. His estate was equally split between son Homer, Jr. and Guendoline. According to the L.A. Times, they split $1.7 million before estate taxes.  Guendoline kept the house and lived there until moving to the Biltmore Hotel in the late 1920's. Homer Jr. lived a few blocks south at the same house number on 28th street with his family. He continued his real estate development career for the next 18+ years. There was a Homer Laughlin Theatre in Long Beach, completed in 1915--but as yet I've been unable to tie it to Jr.

By 1951 666 West Adams had been demolished. Today the AAA Club buildings expanding west from Figueroa have usurped the former property.

A few other photos:
ca1904  USC Collections 2516
ca1904 USC Collections 202
ca1900 USC Collections 1944
A short bio and image of Homer Laughlin (1915)

10 comments:

  1. What an incredible house. His downtown building, now home of Grand Central Market, has a connection to #21 Berkeley Square, appearing tomorrow on... berkeleysquarelosangeles.blogspot.com

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  2. Thanks for the post, I found your blog while researching LA architecture, and I love it. A quick dose of history and art for the day.

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  3. CCRC,thanks for your note--I have to admit it's been fun researching the old houses...

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  4. I came upon a piece of pottery one afternoon while collecting sea glass on south end beach in rockland maine. Homers name was on it so I goggled it and found this was a piece of Homers history. I found the story interesting.

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  5. There are many Homer Laughlin's it seems. Homer Laughlin, Jr. was a client of the architect Irving Gill. Gill designed a marvelous house for him at 666 West 28th Street, Los Angeles (altered beyond recognition.)

    The Laughlin Theater in Long Beach was also designed by Gill and built 1914-1915. This building is typically listed as the "Homer Laughlin Theater Building." I think we can safely assume it Homer Laughlin, Jr.'s theater venture since senior died in 1913.

    There a number of online sources with pictures can be found by searching the theater. Photos of the house can be found as well.

    house: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-hKJnGoWOSiI/UhEI5J6janI/AAAAAAAAXKw/wVTaR6T0uyo/s400/Screen+Shot+2013-08-18+at+12.47.37+PM.png

    theater: http://photos.cinematreasures.org/production/photos/26827/1316620074/large.jpg?1316620074

    (Bloody hell...I don't know why these photo links won't link. Every site seems different.)

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  6. Blogger is indeed a bit obtuse for doing links, as it makes you write the actual HTML. Thanks for the links--I"ve taken the liberty to make copies that do link.

    House

    Theater

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  7. The Los Angeles Times spelled the daughter's name Gwendolin in 1904 and Guendolyn in 1942. I have used the standard spelling "Gwendolyn" in the Wikipedia article. The Ohio press spells the deceased daughter's name Nanette, the L.A. Times calls her Nanita. As she died in Ohio, I have used that spelling as they are more likely to have had direct access to the correct information at the time of her death, beside the fact that the family was Scots-Irish, not Hispanic.

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  8. I have updated the daughter name spelling to Guendolen, which appears on her tombstone.
    And it appears Nanita is buried in that same cemetery.

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  9. I just bought a beautiful photo album from 1898 or so. A series of small but stunning shots of a family home on Westlake Avenue. The final shot says that they have sold their home to Homer Laughlin of East Liverpool, Ohio. So it appears that Homer, Sr.'s first LA home was in fact on Westlake Avenue, facing the lake. Allison Burnett nemo1043@yahoo.com

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    1. Al,
      Thanks for your note. It might be nice to link to a couple of the photos of their early L.A. home.

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