by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Sometimes artifacts get acquired for reasons that aren’t all that obvious at first approach. The object highlighted here is a good example. It was a postcard showing an architectural rendering of the “Residence of F.J. Stutesman” located at the corner of Hobart Boulevard and West 8th Street in Los Angeles. Inscribed in ink at the upper left is “Jean’s home in Los Angeles Cal.”
There didn’t appear to be anything different with these details than could be found in any number of postcards, especially real photos showing many homes in greater Los Angeles where the owner or a relative noted that the building was the residence of “s0-and-so.” But, what made this one different was that, on the reverse of the postally unused card,was the inscription, “Stutesman’s Folly / Built in 1920.”
Clearly here was a story that needed investigating although the implication was obvious. F.J. Stutesman, whoever he was, built himself a large Spanish Colonial Revival mansion that he either couldn’t afford to build or couldn’t afford to keep long (or both.) What was the story of Casa Stutesman?
Well, a complete answer has been elusive, but there may be enough in the research to give a decent clue as to the story behind this postcard and its brief, but telling, inscriptions.
Frank J. Stutesman was born in Illinois in November 1857 and his parents were from Kentucky, but information about his early years is hard to find. In 1884, in Louisville, Kentucky, a Frank J. Stutesman was sued by two men over debts amounting to some $1200 based on a due note of payment on a loan and for four notes on sureties for some unknown purpose.
A dozen years later, a Chicago newspaper article discussed him as a resident of Philadelphia and marrying Jean H. McGready (obviously this is the “Jean” in the inscription on the front of the postcard. In 1898, Stutesman was in Fort Wayne, Indiana where he made a deal to buy the Randall Hotel. In a newspaper article announcing the sale, it was stated that Stutesman had been “in control” of a Philadelphia hotel called The Green and that he was a “thoroughgoing business man” who worked for the Rand McNally publishing company in Chicago.
However, in the $11,000 deal executed to buy the hotel, Stutesman advanced a $1,000 payment and then borrowed the remainder on mortgages, which he was unable to make good on in monthly payments. Not only did he lose the hotel, but he faced both bankruptcy and federal charges, in March 1899, for selling liquor without a license.
The following year, Stutesman and his wife were in East St. Louis, Illinois boarding in a rooming house and with Frank’s occupation given as “traveling salesman.” Clearly, he had traveled a good deal in his life and would further and what he was selling wasn’t stated, but it may not have all been above board!
In 1901, Stutesman was working as the business manager of Banker’s Magazine and was listed as a New York resident working for the firm the following year. He then returned to Chicago where he became something of a financier, operated F.J. Stutesman and Company, which advertised itself as providing financial assistance for corporations of various types, especially those deemed “conservative” in the railroad, water, electricity, and telephone industries with “gilt edge stock and bond propositions.” He also promoted “high class industrial stocks and bonds for sale bearing 6% guaranteed, eliminating all chance of loss to the investor.”
His various endeavors also included, oddly, a patent for a pencil sharpener, secured in 1905. Later, he was the owner of the Stutesman Farm Tractor Company, capitalized at $100,000 and then doubled by 1919 for the manufacturing of tractors and other farm machinery. He also was a real estate investor, buying two apartment buildings in Chicago in the mid-1910s. In 1912, he showed up in Tucson, Arizona making investments.
By 1915, Stutesman was visiting Los Angeles and, evidently, decided to make the move out from Chicago. By 1920, he, his wife and her mother were renting a comfortable Craftsman home on 5th Avenue near Crenshaw near the Mid-Wilshire district, but they were also, as the reverse of the photo indicates, building the mansion several blocks to the northeast.
Given some of Stutesman’s history with using a small down payment on a hotel he couldn’t afford, which then led to bankruptcy and federal liquor selling charges and then his “financial assistance” and stock and bond sales with guaranteed returns, and his frequent moving around the country, it may not be too far a stretch to suggest that his building of the Hobart mansion was done with some creative financing.
The only hint about this is a record that a lien on the property held by an “A. Anderson” was released to Stutesman in 1922. Within two years, however, Stutesman, shown as retired on a voter registration list, had moved to an apartment building a short distance southeast of the Hobart property on Berendo between 8th and Olympic. In 1928, listing himself as a salesman, Stutesman was residing in a hotel (now the Huntington Apartments) at South Main Street downtown Los Angeles. A couple of years later, he resided in another hotel further south on Main, but was, again, retired. His last known address, in 1932, was at a seedier location at Maple and 5th Street, in what is now Skid Row, near the Los Angeles Mission. His wife was not shown with him at these last few addresses in downtown.
Clearly, he had fallen on hard times and the following year, in February 1933, at age 75, Stutesman died and was buried at Valhalla Cemetery in North Hollywood.
So, while a definitive answer about “Stutesman’s Folly” is lacking, it does seem very likely that this restless traveling salesman, failed hotelier, investment broker, and real estate investor who moved from Louisville to Philadelphia to Chicago to Fort Wayne to East St. Louis to Tucson to Los Angeles probably built himself an impressive Spanish Colonial Revival mansion that he could not afford.
If this is true, he would hardly have been alone. In some ways his story might have some parallel with that of Walter P. Temple, whose luck in striking oil on his Montebello Hills property in 1917, about the time Stutesman came to Los Angeles, allowed him to take on real estate and oil projects and build himself an impressive Spanish Colonial Revival mansion here at the Homestead that he could not afford.
Like Stutesman, who lived maybe a few years at most in his Hobart residence, Temple, who had to refinance his debt in 1926 before his home was finished, only lived about that long in La Casa Nueva and then lost the home and his ranch in 1932, residing in areas in Baja California, San Diego and Los Angeles, where he died six years later.
The stories of Frank J. Stutesman and Walter P. Temple may be generally similar and reflective of what happens during boom times to people with great ambition, but perhaps not the business acumen or luck (or both) to pull through. Boom and bust cycles are full of examples like these and this simple postcard looks to be an apt visual representation of such an instance.