Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Real estate developer and agent Elden P. Bryan (1852-1925) was one of tens of thousands of hopeful migrants flocking to Los Angeles during the Boom of the Eighties, setting foot in the city at the end of 1886. In his nearly forty years in real estate, Bryan had notable success and also built one of the city’s most unique residences.
Born in Dallas, Texas and the son of a prosperous farmer, Bryan was a merchant and cotton buyer in his home town when he pulled up stakes and headed west with his wife and two young daughters. With a keen eye for an opportunity when it came to property, Bryan formed a partnership with Wesley Clark and jumped into the burgeoning areas of Los Angeles to the south and southwest of downtown.
Clark and Bryan developed first in the downtown area of Los Angeles and then moved out to tracts along Figueroa Street, as well as areas south and southwest of Westlake Park in what are now the Pico-Union and MacArthur Park neighborhoods.
When railroad tycoon Henry E. Huntington went shopping for his first properties in the area, it was Bryan who sold him the parcels for some $100,000, a large sum for the end of the 19th century.
Bryan used some of the fruits of his early financial success to build the Bryan Hotel downtown in 1894 and, around the same time, a fine Queen Anne-style home on Bunker Hill. The residence was designed by the famed San Francisco-based architect Joseph C. Newsom and stood at 333 S. Grand Avenue, where the Wells Fargo Bank Tower now stands. The “On Bunker Hill” blog states that Bryan was very superstitious and when dual sets of steps were built to lead to the porch from the street, he made sure that one had twelve and the other had fourteen steps. The blog also indicates that Bryan stopped and restarted construction and had the plans altered because of his paranoia.
In 1903, Bryan and Clark bought out a barley farmer near Westlake Park and created what was originally called the “Lone Star Tract” for what should be obvious reasons given Bryan’s background. The tract was renamed Westmoreland Place and it was, evidently, based very closely on one of the same name in St. Louis.
Bryan sold the Bunker Hill home, which quickly gave way to apartments as the affluent left Bunker Hill for parts west and south, and built a new and very eclectic mansion at the new tract. The address was 41 Westmoreland Place and the 18-room home was designed by Charles W. Whittlesey, who was known for his extensive use of reinforced concrete and was the architect of the Auditorium Theater across from Central Park, later renamed Pershing Square.
While some sources describe the Bryan home as Mission Revival, it also appears, from the accompanying photo taken by H.C. Tibbits in the museum’s collection, there was a very strong Japanese influence, judging from the curved and pointed peak on the ends of the roof spanning the majority of the structure. Rooms at the corners jut out at unexpected angles and wood details on the exterior wall of the second story almost suggest a Tudor influence.
The uniqueness of the home meant that it drew a good deal of attention, as the structure was featured on commercially produced postcards and was professionally photographed. One such of the latter, by the Graham Company, was published in the 20 November 1910 edition of the Los Angeles Herald newspaper. A caption employed a typical motif in promoting the region as it discussed “graceful palms and [a] prolific display of vines and flowers in [a] California ‘winter’ season.”
The Westmoreland Tract, however, was atypically unsuccessful for Bryan. Only nine houses were completed among sixty-five lots, including those by Bryan and his partner Clark (whose home was later owned by film studio impresario Mack Sennett.) Today, there is a concrete retaining wall along Olympic Boulevard (known as 9th Street when the development was created) at Westmoreland Avenue as one of the few reminders of the tract.
Bryan continued in real estate after parting ways with Clark and taking on his son-in-law, Luther Bradford as a junior partner. A set of early 1910s biographical sketches, possibly paid for by Bryan for promotional purposes, in a compilation of “progressive men of the West,” goes on at great length about his importance in real estate, claiming that he
was one of the earliest real estate dealers to foresee the future growth of Los Angeles toward the southwest portion of the city, and, accordingly, invested in property in that direction. . . [he] shares to a great extent in the meteoric development of Los Angeles and immediate vicinity, and is one of the many factors working for the future of the city.
Bryan died in September 1925, at age 73, and was buried at what is now called Hollywood Forever Cemetery. He passed away as Los Angeles was the in the midst of another huge boom period much like the one taking place forty years before when the young capitalist migrated from Dallas. His landmark home did not long survive him and it was evidently razed in the 1940s.