Thursday, December 15, 2016

Own-Your-Own Apartments

             By 1921 Long Beach had leaped to the forefront  as one of the most progressive cities in the United States, accomplishing a marvelous record of growth by trebling its population and property valuations and multiplying its bank deposits by five in the past decade. It had also acquired a world-wide fame as a place of beautiful homes, and a desirable place to live.  In February 1921 it took another leap forward by holding a week long industrial fair to show its potential importance in commerce and manufacturing. The manufacturing growth started in 1907 when the city dredged and opened a navigable gateway to the sea to induce Craig Shipbuilding to construct a shipyard in Long Beach.  Much development followed this municipal enterprise and in 1921, at the time of the industrial fair, Long Beach had 150 industries, with $16,500,000 ($218 billion today*) invested, giving employment to 6000 with an aggregate monthly payroll of $1,250,000 ($16.6 billion). (Source: Los Angeles Herald 1/29/1921).  The city's future got even brighter when oil was discovered on Signal Hill on June 23, 1921.  
            As a result of this tremendous growth, a construction frenzy in own-your-own apartments hit the downtown area in 1922---the Cooper-Arms, the Omar Hubbard, St. Regis, and the Sovereign were the largest.  Smaller projects included the American on 4th Street, the Artiban and Palace.    
          The idea of owning a piece of property as a group was a novel idea, but one that was making headway.  One ad stated:
         The people of the world are beginning to realize that an object can be accomplished more easily and with less expense by working with their fellow citizens.  This pertains not only to a community apartment but also to business and all things in general.  If the people of this country were entirely dependent upon their own personal libraries for all they read, they would not stand in such a high rank as an educated nation.  The community library makes it possible for every one to have access to books on all subjects.  This is only one of the many institutions that prove the feasibility of a community apartment building. (LB Press 9/26/1921)

            The city prided itself with keeping up with modern innovations---only the latest technology and ideas for this expanding city. One of these ideas, according to the Long Beach Press (11/28/1923), was the own-your-own apartment concept.  Long Beach, the newspaper stated, was the first city in the nation to institute the own-your-own apartment idea. But the following year the newspaper admitted the concept had originated in New York 40 years earlier, so perhaps Long Beach could only claim the distinction of being the first city "west of the Mississippi" to institute the idea. (LB Press 7/30/1924). In any case, Long Beach was in the forefront of the movement the Los Angeles Times reported (7/13/1924) stating: "There is no city in the country that is ahead of Long Beach in this particular type of building."

              Today many may not be familiar with the term "own-your-own" confusing it with the newer term "condominium." They are similar in that they are both fee simple ownership with individual tax bills and deeds.  One big difference is parking.
Loynes Garage
When the own-your-owns were built in Long Beach in the 1920s mass transit was the norm and owning your own car a concept new to most. Later "own-your-own auto palaces" like Motor Home
, Inc. on Atlantic between Ocean and First  sprang up, so apartment dwellers who owned autos could park.  The Loynes garage, which opened at Chestnut and Second in 1922, was also anxious to serve the growing influx of automobiles to the downtown area.  The $80,000 ($1.13 million) structure was said to be the second largest garage in the state. In 1940 it was leased to the city and became the city's municipal garage.  It was torn down a few years ago for redevelopment.


           Of Tudor Gothic Design, the $800,000 ($10.6 million) Sovereign, built opposite the famous Hotel Virginia on Ocean and Magnolia, was the first of the own-your-own apartment buildings in Long Beach. Frank P. Wright and Pearl West, the promoters of the Sovereign, were credited with coining the phrase "own-your-own apartment." When Wright came west he found a dearth of homes, and rental costs high because of the lack of housing. He remembered Chicago where many wealthy people had gotten together and purchased apartment buildings, each family owing a floor or two.**  He believed this Chicago social club idea could be developed commercially. His business partner, Pearl West, thought the idea had merit and the two decided on a pioneer venture---the Sovereign “own-your-own” apartment. They approached Fred Knight, a local attorney, who worked out the legal aspects to the proposal, and sales of the Sovereign began in 1921.  Because of problems with financing, excavation did not begin until September 8, 1922; the building was finished in September 1923.
          The individually owned apartment idea met with great success and others quickly entered the market.  Though five other own-your-owns were completed in Long Beach before the Sovereign, the Sovereign remains the first creation using the cooperative own-your-own idea.
            The 11-story structure, designed by local architect W. Horace Austin, contained 76 two, three and four room apartments, each with outside exposure, tiled bathroom, large dressing room with full length mirror and the latest design of disappearing bed.  On top of the structure was a ballroom, amusement room and sun parlor.  A beauty shop, grocery store, barber shop, French cafe and drug store were businesses located on the Windsor Place side of the Sovereign.  Asking price for apartments in the Sovereign was not advertised.

            The first own-your-own to be finished in Long Beach was the $400,000 ($5.3 million) Artiban Apartments at Ocean Boulevard and Atlantic (10 Atlantic), designed by architect Harold Cross (who also designed the Grant Hotel in San Diego).  Ground was broken for the nine story, seventy apartment homes on May 12, 1921.  At the time construction began 75 percent of the apartments had been sold (5 were still available).  Each apartment consisted of from two to seven rooms with individual telephones, tiled baths and kitchens, choice of disappearing beds, vacuum cleaner system, and automatic ice-less refrigerators.  There was a sun parlor, social hall and promenade on the roof; a banquet room,  kitchen, showers and dressing rooms, storage rooms, refuse incinerator, and the latest laundry equipment in the basement; the floor of the lobby was tile, the woodwork of mahogany, and the walls and ceilings “tiffanied” or hand stenciled in oil colors.  At the east of the building was a sixteen-foot court with flowers and fountains.  The Artiban was turned over to its apartment owners in April 1922.

St. Regis

      Because of the financial problems in getting the Sovereign started, owners E. J. and Bryon Burgess insisted on delaying sales of their apartments until the first floor of their own-your-own, the St. Regis, was completed.  Ground was broken in September 1921 for the 7-story (with basement) structure.   It contained 76 apartments and an ocean bluff location on Second  Place and East Ocean Boulevard.  Cost of the building was to be $660,000 ($8.74 million) with apartments ranging in price from $4,250-$14,400 ($56,300-$192,000).  The individual apartments were two to three rooms, including kitchen, bath and dressing rooms.  The two or three rooms could be converted into a four, five or six room suite at the option of the owner.  Buyers had a choice of either mahogany or gum woodwork.  An ice-less refrigerator system, breakfast nook, tile kitchen sink and tile floors in the bathroom were also featured.  Oscillating, disappearing beds were a built-in feature.
     The St. Regis, opened for occupancy in November 1922. It  was advertised as having all the advantages of a high class club, electricity, power, water, etc., all paid for from an assessment of 3% per year based on the purchase price. 

Omar H. Hubbard
            On March 9, 1922, the 11-story Omar Hubbard apartment building began to rise from the southwest corner of Broadway and Cedar (310 W. Broadway), where two houses and a fruit market had stood a short time earlier.  The death of the building’s contractor, Joseph Dowl, slowed construction on Southern California’s first reinforced concrete building.  Dowl’s son, Lloyd, ably took on the job of completing the $700,000 ($9.27 million) structure designed by Los Angeles architect Donald Parkinson, but failed to meet the October 15, 1922 advertised deadline.
           The latest in apartment house features was incorporated into the design of this own-your-own apartment building. Plate glass windows, oak floors, automatic refrigerators, incinerators and steam heat complimented the design.  Besides swings, settees, potted palms and hanging ferns, the enclosed roof garden had a large fountain containing an assortment of fish.   All 118 apartments had outside views, were guaranteed fireproof, furnished in mahogany and ivory and sold for between $3885 to $7500 ($51,400-$99,300 )
        Sixty-seven year-old Omar Hubbard was the man behind the building.  He moved to Los Angeles in 1899 from Brainerd, Minnesota, giving up a thriving law practice because of his wife Didama's poor health.  Arriving in Long Beach in 1913, he purchased three lots between Eighth and Ninth streets on Pacific Avenue, for $50 each. His interest in real estate piqued, and he partnered with Homer Laughlin on several big real estate projects, including the Arcade Market Building on the southwest corner of Magnolia and Broadway. He owned a home at 1250 East Ocean, which he sold when he moved into his new apartment complex.  Mrs. Hubbard’s health improved in the warm Southern California climate, but she died on May 11, 1932, at her home in the Omar H. Hubbard Apartments. Her husband followed her in death five years later.
            The building too would meet its death on April 3, 1976, to make way for a museum that was never built---an art museum, designed by famed architect I. M. Pei.

            Ten old buildings owned by Mr. & Mrs. Larkin Y. Cooper were removed from the northwest corner of Ocean and Linden to clear the site for the Cooper-Arms building.  The buildings, whose removal was said to be the biggest single job of its kind ever contracted for in Long Beach, were relocated on four lots on Alamitos north of Anaheim.  They were to be remodeled, and sold under the name of Leolin Terrace.  Leolin was an old family name which had been handed down in the Cooper household for 400 years.

       Two of the largest buildings on the site, the California Ocean View Apartments and The Palms were moved together so they could pass under the electric wires at the same time.  An entire story was taken off the California Ocean View to make it possible to move it under the Edison Company’s power lines.  Once in its new location it was remodeled into a modern 25 room apartment.  When Cooper purchased the California Ocean View in 1902 it was ranked as one of the largest and most popular hotels in the area.  Year after year it was the winter home of visitors from all over the country.  It was here that Mr. Cooper met his wife, Effie, which was why he wanted to preserve the structure. 
         The Palms started as a three room inn and gradually became a 14 room apartment house.  Originally owned by Jack Boyd, Boyd decorated the floor with inlaid squares to cover secret nooks. He also placed paintings on the wall that turned out to be doors.  One of the first African Americans in Long Beach, known simply as Henry, worked at the Palms, he was so highly esteemed that one of the guests remembered him in her will. (LB Press 10/29/1922).
            Originally christened  "Carma Leon Grande," Spanish for beauty, strength and grandeur, the name of the 12 story, 1 1/3 million dollar ($17,200 million) structure was changed to the Cooper-Arms.  It was advertised as the "largest and finest" apartment structure west of Chicago.  The project was officially launched in July 1922, but construction did not begin until March 7,1923.  It was the fifth own-your-own building in the city.  It was "technically" finished in March 1924, but it wasn’t until July 1924 that owners finally settled in.  Apartments were furnished with ice-less refrigerators, incinerators, dining nooks, water coolers, marble terrazzo corridors, bathrooms, kitchens, roller screens and balconies affording a view of the ocean.  A number of exclusive shops and a restaurant were on the ground floor, the rents from these businesses going to the apartment owners for the upkeep on the building.  It was hoped the revenues would equal the total maintenance expense.
            Mr. Cooper was a former Kansas feed and grain dealer and local land developer, with a bent to heraldry.  On the marquis of the Cooper-Arms was a coat-of arms with the quote: “Beata Domus Coniuncta Sub Uno Tecto” which translated as “Happy families united under one roof.” The price of the apartments was not listed in any advertising, but a document in the Long Beach History Collection at the Public Library lists a selling price of $7500 ($101,000 ) for Apartment #209 in April 1925.

            Erected on Fourth Street between Cedar and Chestnut (323 W. Fourth), "American Homes"was the sixth own-your-own project in Long Beach.  Four stories in height, with a large solarium on the roof, it contained 47 individual apartment homes costing between $3000-$5000 ($42,400-$70,700), a price to attract the "average" family.  It was designed "not to dazzle and bewilder with its splendor, but to impress with its outstanding usefulness, its pleasing and homelike atmosphere." F. H. Butterfield, architect and builder, was responsible for the Italian Ionic style, combined with California stucco.
       Sales began in November 1922, with sixteen apartments selling in one week. Val Lester, the exclusive selling agent for the American Homes, told the Daily Telegram (11/26/1922) he attributed the rapid sale of the apartments to the reasonable price, and the fact that it was close to theaters, the shopping district, beach and schools.  Building began in February 1923 and was completed by the fall of 1923. 

            Built in 1913 and described as one of the “most elegant structures ever erected in Long Beach,” the Palace Hotel, across from the Virginia Hotel at Ocean and Magnolia (15 S. Magnolia) was converted into an own-your-own in 1923.  Touted as being “one of the most exceptional buildings on the Pacific coast, because of its unusual construction,” the Palace’s apartments were said to be noiseless as well as fireproof.  There were forty-four apartments in the building; the rooms were large, airy, and completely furnished (with substantial mahogany furniture and high grade carpets). The kitchens were white enameled; the bathrooms large, with woodwork, ceiling and upper walls in white enamel, and floors and side walls of tile. Each living room came equipped with a full size disappearing bed with beveled mirrors and large clothes closets. Prices ranged from $4,000-$12,500 ($55,500-$174,000).
 The Palace was purchased by the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency and in August 1966 was demolished as part of the West Beach urban renewal project.

Villa Riviera
          One of the landmarks of Long Beach is the Villa Riviera,  the last of the 1920s own-your-owns to be built in the city. Designed by architect Richard D. King, the 16-story, $2 million ($27.7 million) building was the second tallest building in the Southland after Los Angeles City Hall.  It's Chateauesque Gothic architecture blended in with that of its neighbor the Pacific Coast Club which opened in October 1926.
Pacific Coast Club & Villa Riviera
      Pacific Coast Club members were happy to see the shabby, old St. Anthony Apartments, erected in 1912, replaced with a structure more to their liking.  The St. Anthony was moved five blocks, finding a new home at 530 Alamitos Avenue in 1927.  Designed by architects W. Horace Austin and Harvey Lochridge, the St. Anthony still stands, its history largely forgotten.
    Ground was broken for the Villa Riviera in early December 1927, The project was supposed to be completed in a year, but various problems caused delays. Instead the Villa opened in April 1929. Built on the eve of the Depression, the structure came into the hands of a mortgage company during the early 1930s.   
      In October 1937, Twentieth Century Fox chairman Joseph M. Schenck and a group of investors purchased the Villa Riviera,  for $1,500,000 ($24.8 million).  Schenck's former wife, actress Norma Talmadge became its General Manager. Their new building contained 150 units, including hotel rooms and single, double and triple apartments.  Their plans included extensive improvements, such as adding a ballroom overlooking the ocean (on what had once been the sundeck over the garage at the rear of the building).  It would be especially "swanky," designed to compete with the best dinner dance rendezvous spots in Los Angeles, newspapers reportedTalmadge made extensive renovations to the building in the years the Schenck group owned it. She removed the fireplace from the ballroom and replaced it with a mural, removed the sconces and replaced them with the present day chandeliers. She also built a duplicate of the Ambassador Hotel ballroom on top of the roof top patio.   .
         Though the new owners accomplished much, all their plans were not to be.  On September 24, 1940, the Villa Riviera was sold at auction for $610,000 ($10.3 million) to the Title Insurance and Trust Company, the Schenck investors had defaulted on their loan. 
       For more on this iconic structure which became famous as "the home of the admirals" for housing more families of the Navy high command than any other building in the world, go to the Villa Riviera website.   (Ana Maria McGuan contributed to this Villa Riviera narrative). 

            Own-your-own apartments continued to be the rage throughout the 1920s, with million dollar apartment hotel buildings such as the Californian, the Stillwell (later called the Willmore), the El Bolivar, the Royal Palms and the Ambassador joining the Sovereign, Omar Hubbard, St. Regis and Cooper-Arms.  To purchase a bachelor apartment in the Stillwell your typical investment would be $2850 ($500 more if you wanted it furnished). If you wanted to rent out your apartment you could make a net profit of $84.27 per month, or $1011.24 per year, "a net annual profit of more than 30 per cent on the original investment," according to the Stillwell ads.

Bixby Court, originally Auburn Court

     Smaller and less costly own-your-owns were also being built such as the Bonnicastle (now called Casa Bonita) on Sixth Street, the Chancellor and Auburn Court (now Bixby Court) on First Street, and the Knickerbocker at Second and Hermosa. 
      Not all were happy about the development taking place in the city.  On May 5, 1923, Marie C. Brehm *** resigned as a member of the City Planning Commission because "someone must save Long Beach."  She joined former commissioner Mary Foster, who had resigned for similar reasons a few weeks earlier.  Miss Brehm was angered at the lack of height limitations of buildings going up along Ocean Boulevard. "It is wicked", she said, "to shut out the rest of the town from an ocean view by building a row of twelve and sixteen story apartment houses between Broadway and the beach."  She also stated there was not much need of a planning board when the council continually overruled its recommendations. (Press Telegram 5/5/1923)
            On May 8, 1923, the Council did deny permission to erect a sixteen story own-your-own apartment house, the Sten Apartments, on East Ocean boulevard between Seventeenth and Eighteenth places.  Though the City Planning Commission had granted permission, the Council overruled their recommendation because current zoning laws allowed only three story limits in that area.  They argued that the block of vacant land south of Bixby Park, which the Council intended to keep free of buildings, marked a natural boundary for twelve story buildings which should be confined to the district from Cherry avenue west.

             Today many of the buildings discussed here are designated Long Beach Historic Landmarks and will hopefully be preserved and appreciated for many more years to come.

* Calculations from website Measuring Worth, based on 2015 data.

The Long Beach History Collection has a pamphlet describing the original Chicago plan Wright discussed filed under Apartment Houses - Sovereign.

** Marie Brehm was also the first woman nominated for Vice President on the Prohibition ticket (see my October 2013  blog on her.)