Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Mervin J. Monnette -- 951 South Western Ave.

The Los Angeles Herald put a very large picture at the top center of its real estate section on that Sunday in 1905. Mr. Alfred Jeremy, a "Pittsburgh capitalist", had announced plans to build a new home on a small knoll located at Western Avenue and San Marino Street. The Herald explained:
"Some weeks ago Mr. Jeremy purchased four lots in the Country Club Heights tract, with frontage of 196 feet on Western avenue and 255 feet on San Marino street. The ground surmounts a knoll from which a fine view of the surrounding country can be had--the ocean to the south and Hollywood and the mountains on the north.
On this knoll will be erected a highly ornamental and commodious home of the old mission style of architecture from plans drawn by Dennis & Farwell, architects, at a cost of about $10,000. The porch and terrace on the south and east fronts are 12 to 14 feet wide. The reception hall finished in oak and with recessed seats will be 18x21 feet, with ornamented staircase at the rear of the hall. At the right of the hall the plans show the parlor 15x18 feet, and the living room 18x26 feet. In each room is a tile mantel, and French windows separate the living room and conservatory at the rear. Provision is made in the conservatory for a fountain.

The family dining room 19x26 feet with large mantel in oak, is at the left of the hall, and at the rear is the butler's pantry, a large kitchen and other home conveniences; also the servant's hall and a screen porch. The patio, 16x30 feet, is at the rear of the center of the residence, flanked by the living room and the kitchen.

On the second floor are five large bedrooms, two mantels, two bath rooms, besides numerous closets and balconies, one on the east front and one at the rear.

This improvement will be one of the show places of the southeastern [sic] section of Los Angeles."
As pictured in the L.A. Herald of June 11, 1905
(courtesy of cdnc.ucr.edu)
Another article later that year in the Herald mentioned Mr. Jeremy's intention to "be in by Christmas".

Meanwhile, in Goldfield, Nevada in September of 1905, a Mr. Mervin Jeremiah Monnette (1847-1931) had just signed an agreement with a Mr. Granville Hayes for 1/2 ownership in a two-year lease on a not-so-well-performing mine. Mervin, who was a cattle rancher in Omaha at the time, was sent by Chicago business associates earlier that year to check out an offered lease on another mine. The associates knew that Mervin, who had previously operated in Cripple Creek, was an "honest" man who would provide an impartial report. Mervin concluded that the mine was worthless and had been "salted". But since he had spent the time and effort to reach Goldfield, he remained in town to see if anything else might be worthwhile.

1906 Caricature of M. J. Monnette
He soon met Granville Hayes, who owned the previously mentioned lease, and who had been working it when he ran low on capital. Trusting Granville's long experience in mining, along with some promising assays of prior workings, Mervin decided to sign up, contributing $10,000 in capital for the 50% ownership position. He quickly saw that this would not be enough money, so he convinced two of his Chicago business partners, J.W. Smith and Harry Benedict, to join him. Another $25,000 was expended without uncovering any ore worth shipping, when in April, 1906 they hit the "mother lode".

From the Goldfield News, 1906-1907:

"...At this point in the sinking, Hayes had wanted to drift on the big body of low-grade ore then in evidence, believing that it would narrow down to a good-sized high-grade vein, and he had cut a station at the 80-foot point with that in view, but he had been dissuaded. He now returned to demonstrate his theory.
Hardly had the miners fired their first round of shots, when lo! and behold, the long-expected bonanza was at hand. Here was ore that needed no assayer's test. Sulphide ore which, by its very weight and dull yellow color in the glare of the candle light told that it was rich in gold. As the miners pushed inwards with their work the discovery became even more startling. It was one monstrous ore chamber that had apparently neither walls, tops nor bottom. Ore everywhere!" [1]
They ended up taking over $5 million in ore by January, 1907 when their lease expired.

Granville and Mervin ended up in Los Angeles and went their separate ways. Mervin contacted his son Orra (1875-1936), a successful lawyer back in Ohio, who came to L.A. to manage his father's new-found wealth. They spent a goodly sum on L.A. banks, installing Mervin as President of one purchase, American National Bank, and VP of another, Citizens National Bank. And for a new L.A. residence Mervin bought Mr. Jeremy's house out on South Western Avenue for $55,000.

911 S. Western Ave. in 1910
In 1910, living in the house when the census came by, were Mervin, his wife Olive (1850-1912), a niece Cora, and two maids.

The next year son Orra published the family genealogy, a tome of 1100+ pages, making approximately 350 copies, which over time were distributed to libraries across the country. You may find one in your city's main library. Archive.org has a digitized copy (#229) from the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In the book the house on S. Western Avenue was featured.

911 S. Western Ave. in 1910

A closeup of Mervin, Olive, and Cora
Just a guess but standing in front of the steps were most likely Mervin and Olive, while on the porch to the right was probably their niece Cora (who lived there in 1910).  The plantings have grown, and a driveway across the front had been added to accommodate visitors who arrive by new-fangled auto. Sadly the next year Olive contracted pneumonia and passed away. She was buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood.

Mervin decided to remarry in June, 1913 but it was not to be.  Elizabeth Spencer, 38, (Mervin is now 66), abandoned him for another man within two months.  The San Francisco Call on its front page reported that Mervin "quits wife". He tried again, however, and remarried this time to 36 year-old Ethel Clark. They resided in the house until well into 1917. In 1921 the city renamed the one-block long street directly across from the mansion from Gage Place to Monnette Place. Even though younger, Ethel passed away from cancer in 1927, preceding Mervin. She, too, was buried in the Monnette family plot at Inglewood Park Cemetery.

After the Monnettes left, the house entered a new era. As many older, close-in houses did in that time period, it appeared to have been broken up into rental units. By 1926 three families are living at various addresses between 901 and 951 S. Western.

In 1927 Dick Whittington Studio decided to do a photo shoot of Western Ave. from Olympic Blvd. to 3rd St. While they didn't catch the house (except for a small bit of the tower), they did catch a shot of the front yard and street with the now-large trees surrounding the property.

Driveway of 951 S. Western Ave. at right of photo. Notice the current height of the palm trees.
(courtesy of USC Digital Collections)

In 1930, there are 16 people now living at 901, 909, and 945 S. Western.

In 1938 a new owner arrived.  The National Institute of Music & Arts located its headquarters in the building, relocating from its formative location in Seattle. Along with music and art, they rent out space in the building (Ralph Hoffman and Laurence Smith show up in the 1940 census). The Institute remains through 1951.

Then in 1965 a new list of businesses appear at 945 S. Western, which we can assume was the new two-story building we see today.  The back of the building's parking lot enters to the upper level, thus keeping the original knoll intact. From today's photo, it can be seen as an integral element of Koreatown.

945-955 S. Western Ave. recently
More info:
Mervin in 1910
M. J.'s purchase of the house in 1907
Mervin's breakup in 1913
The Hayes-Monnette mine[1]
[1]from Monnett Family Genealogy