12 St. James Park
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RICHARD VINCENT DAY could be said to be the embodiment of Manifest Destiny: Born in southwestern Virginia on November 16, 1842, he moved west with his family to Iowa at the age of six. The Days were the first settlers of Decorah, in the northeastern corner of the state, and are credited with securing for the town its status as the seat of Winnesheik County. Decorah would become a family business—father and sons would deal in livestock and produce as well as in real estate. Most significantly, after the death of their father, the brothers would pragmatically become lumberman to provide the materials needed to put houses on the land they sold. Eventually there were offices of Day Brothers Lumber Company in cities as far-flung as Duluth, New Orleans, and Portland, Oregon: All corners of America were building. Richard married one Decorah damsel (who died in 1877) and then another, Cordelia Noble, with whom he'd have three daughters. Although he would remain the titular head of Day Brothers until his death, along about the turn of the 20th century Richard decided to shake the Iowa slush off his boots and settle in his retirement under the sun and palms of Southern California. No doubt he'd seen many a Decorahan leave on the Union Pacific only to send back hand-tinted postcards of roses in January. That, and the fact that money has a way of driving its possessor toward where it can be spent—how much could the emporiums of Decorah offer his financially empowered wife and daughters in their small town? How much glamour could there be in Podunk? While for some the grail was in New York or Chicago, neither were very sunny: Naturally, the Days looked west. San Francisco was even by this time an insular society, but Los Angeles, though inevitably honing its hierarchy, remained more open, still with the orange-scented air of a resort. And it would be only the best of the best for the successful Richard V. Day and his girls: St. James Park in the West Adams district just south of downtown Los Angeles.
|Mrs. Richard Vincent Day, upper right, and her three daughters:|
clockwise, Gretchen, Virginia, and Kathryn.
The brief residence of the Baroness von Zimmerman in St. James Park is the subject of 20 St. James Park; suffice it to say here that this somewhat fickle woman—fickle in terms of her domestic arrangements, at least—made her mark on the Park architecturally, and, once done, left available the lot on which Richard V. Day would settle in Los Angeles. The grand turreted pile the baroness built in 1903 on her property (lots 22 through 25 on the east side of the Park), first addressed #16 and later #20, was sold in May 1905 to Watson Hill of Chicago, who in short order sold it to William H. Perry, whose St. James Park story will be told here in due course. It was during these transactions that lot #12 was separated from the baroness's original holdings and sold to Richard Day. The architect for the Von Zimmerman house was San Francisco–based Frederick K. Heinlein, who would also be the designer of the Day house. The employment of Heinlein by both the baroness and Day, with an interim owner of the property, is curious; one source, however, suggests the unlikely possibility that the baroness, somehow shy of space in her six-bedroom palace next door, may have originally commissioned what became #12 to house her surplus artwork—and that perhaps the plans for such a private museum, though having little in common architecturally with the Victorianesque #20, came with the sale of #12's lot. Whatever the derivation of the plans for the Day house, another curiosity is that the resulting building appears to share some design cues with the extant and well-known 1904 residence of his new son-in-law's father, Pomeroy W. Powers, at 1345 Alvarado Terrace, though it was designed not by Heinlein but by Arthur L. Haley. At any rate, whether the baroness had plans to build something on the plot on which Richard Day eventually built his granite-faced house, building permits for a residence and barn at 12 St. James Park (on the southerly 45 feet of Lot 25 and the northerly 15 feet of Lot 24) were issued to Day on June 28, 1905. The result wasn't an especially pretty house, but rather something of a graceless box, in our estimation. Not that to have actually seen it might not have given a more favorable impression, and not that we don't wish it was still standing. It is, of course, a shame that #12 and most of its neighbors have disappeared, whatever their various architectural miscues might have been.
Richard and Cordelia (Caddie to her intimates) Day were living at 2721 Portland Street, not far from the Park, when their daughter Virginia married John Raymond Powers on May 3, 1905, just before the family purchased their slice of the Von Zimmerman property. Once the new house was completed later in the year and the Days had moved in, the card and supper parties beloved by Caddie, Kathryn, and Gretchen resumed, some given together and some separately; in the natural order of things feminine and social, Kathryn's engagement to Los Angeles furniture manufacturer Royal DeWitt Bronson was announced in June 1907.
|Two Day sisters as featured in the Los Angeles Times of May 15, 1910, and|
June 25, 1907, respectively: Gretchen's long wait to be married
allowed her to accompany her parents on months-long
travels to Europe and westward around the world.
The entertainments at #12 proceeded apace for some years. Virginia and Kathryn and their two families appear to have been close to the girls' parents, living within blocks of #12. A shadow of sadness crept over the family in the 1910s: Roy Bronson died suddenly of heart failure on June 5, 1916, leaving Kathryn and their two young daughters, Kathryn, 3, and Betty, not quite a year old. While the family was coping with the loss, Caddie, long active in the Friday Morning Club and various philanthropies, expired at home on November 29, 1916. Kathryn and her children moved into commodious #12, joining her father and Gretchen. There three generations lived together until July 29, 1919, when Richard Vincent Day died at home at the age of 76.
Gretchen appeared to be settling into spinsterhood by the time of her father's death, but it was perhaps his demise that freed her to announce to her sisters by wire from Portland her sudden marriage to an acquaintance, Lieutenant John Ross of Vancouver, B.C. By this time Kathryn had remarried, her new husband being divorced neckwear manufacturer Marion R. Gray, who moved into #12; it seems that the Bronsons and the Grays had known each other socially for some years. So many events in the life of #12 in just five years! But there would be still more comings and goings of Bekins vans: By the time the Grays moved to Hollywood in 1922, the Powerses had moved in to #12. Mr. Powers, however, soon flew the family coop. There was a divorce, and the Day tenure on the Square was becoming tenuous. Within a few years, the house was put on the market. Divorcée Virginia then lived with the Grays on Franklin Avenue when she wasn't traveling, and before long a new family was in residence at #12 St. James Park.
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Although the faintest stirrings of decline were settling over West Adams, 12 St. James Park was not yet a candidate for being broken up into apartments. It would continue to be a home for top-drawer West Adamsites: The Robert Gephard Meylers, long of the neighborhood, would soon be in residence. If anything, the Meylers could be said to represent the history of West Adams, from a time when it included the area east of Figueroa, toward the old Main Street demarcation of east and west Los Angeles. While the Meyler line itself was not Old California, having only been in Los Angeles since the early 1890s, the Gephards added the bona fides to the family's heritage, as did the forebears of #12's new chatelaine, Helen Pendleton Jones Meyler.
Robert Meyler's father, though an Easterner, came to Southern California with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers two years after being graduated from West Point in 1887. He was charged with preparing the original surveys for improvements to the new harbor being developed for Los Angeles at San Pedro. James J. Meyler's affinity for the Southland included at least one of the proper young ladies to whom he, as an Army officer, would be introduced. During his tour of duty he married Frances Gephard at St. Paul's in downtown Los Angeles, with a reception afterward at the bride's home on Bunker Hill. The couple then followed Lieutenant Meyler's career in the Corps; their son Robert Gephard Meyler was born in Thomasville, Georgia, on March 5, 1894. Eventually the now Captain Meyler returned to California to construct the new breakwater at San Pedro (where Meyler Street is named for him) and to assist in the mining of San Francisco Bay during the Spanish-American War. It was on a trip home to Newark that he died of pneumonia in 1901. His widow and son took his body to Los Angeles for burial in Evergreen Cemetery and settled in West Adams, the successor high-toned neighborhood to Bunker Hill.
|Depression chic: The ever stylish Mrs. Meyler, organizer of the Assembly|
Ball that year, graced the Los Angeles Times of October 30, 1932.
After his Los Angeles youth, Robert went east to Cornell, receiving his engineering degree in 1916. We do not know how long their courtship lasted, but his marriage to Helen Pendleton Jones of West Adams took place on November 8, 1917, at the bride's home at 801 West 28th Street, a few blocks from St. James Park. Owing to the groom's sudden call to war duty, the wedding was a quieter affair than originally planned. After the Armistice, resettled in Los Angeles, the Meylers lived first at 826 South Normandie and later at 1708 South Figueroa, just few blocks from the house in which Helen was born at South Grand and 20th Street in 1893.
|Robert Meyler kept Los Angeles steamed. He was president of his firm|
for nearly 40 years before retiring in 1962, coincident with
the end of his family's long tenure in West Adams.
Robert Gephard Meyler Jr. arrived on August 9, 1920, and Helen Evadne Meyler on February 11, 1923, around the time Robert Sr. was about to strike out on his own in business. Following a stint as a mechanical engineer with the Baker Iron Works, he formed the R. G. Meyler Corporation dealing in boilers and boiler accessories, including such mysteries as Jenkins valves, Penberthy injectors, Lonergan guages, and roto tube cleaners. Helen was a young mother preparing to establish her family in new quarters suitable for her own career outside of the house: Society Matron. This was a serious role in the urban haute bourgeoisie, even if emancipation had recently brought women the vote: Just as with men, the leaders of Society's distaff side were expected to raise money, though for charitable causes rather than to spend on furnishing a new house or buying a Marmon or producing entertainments. To her great credit Helen took the role seriously and unflinchingly throughout her entire life.
If you will excuse the pun—the Meylers were a boilerplate Los Angeles Society couple, right down to the © symbol. Robert peddled his boiler thingies by day, lunching at the California Club or the Athletic Club; Helen, over the years, involved herself with the Assembly Ball, the Patroness Committee of the Hollywood Bowl, the Navy Committee of the Pacific Southwest Tennis Tournament, and she headed up the Las Madrinas of Children's Hospital, which presented Los Angeles's best-bred debutantes at a charity ball each year. She produced teas and luncheons and dinner parties for friends and entertainments for the children—James Albert Meyler arrived between courses on June 15, 1928—at #12 or at the California, Athletic, or Beach clubs. Judging by the coverage in the Times, this girl had energy as well as a sense of duty to her provincial heritage—she was quoted in 1952 as boasting that she was sixth-generation Californian (they must have married awfully young in California in the old days). The Old Guard of Los Angeles did seem to appreciate her talents as a hostess with the mostess: The names at Meyler functions were invariably the oldest in the Southwest Blue Book, those of the owners of the old ranchos and those found on buildings and street signs.
The Meylers at home before attending
a 1948 Assembly ball. The dress...the corsage...that
chair.... Makes you want to throw it all out for a something,
say, Eamesian, doesn't it? Below: "Will the annual meeting of the Helen
Hokinson Society please come to order!" This is in actuality a gathering in
support of the Los Angeles Orphans' Home on August 1, 1951. Helen Meyler
is standing second from the right; by this time she had moved from
St. James Park to a house nearby on West Adams. Her
onetime closer neighbor, Julia Stearns Dockweiler of
27 St. James Park, is seen at left.
Considering the effects of the Depression on housing on the heels of the pressure of explosive population growth in Los Angeles during the '20s, not to mention the lure of the newer, now more fashionable neighborhoods to the north and west, it is significant that when the Meylers left #12, it was merely to move around the corner. At some point in the mid-'30s, Helen's parents had acquired 745 West Adams Boulevard (recently upgraded from mere "Street"), perhaps with the intention of housing their extended family; Albert Carlos Jones, described as a pioneer Los Angeles opera impresario, died on October 13, 1937. It was within the next year that the Meylers did vacate 12 St. James Park to move into 745 West Adams; her mother, Anna Pendleton Jones (who described herself as an "authoress of fiction"), was an invalid who would live with her daughter and son-in-law at 745 until she died at home on June 30, 1956. In the meantime, her grandchildren Eve Meyler would marry Whittier boy Robert Craig; Robert Jr. would marry Barbara Broatch of Moosejaw, Saskatchewan; and in 1958, Jim would marry Valley Girl Dorothy Leifson ... all liaisons signaling the West Adams diaspora. The senior Meylers—loyal West Adamsites in league with the Dockweilers and a few others—would stay on, not leaving their house until as late as 1962, when the Santa Monica Freeway finally walled off their half of the West Adams district from the long-since more fashionable northern neighborhoods to which they would finally retreat.
Robert Gephard Meyler Sr. died on December 23, 1967, just a little more than a month after he and Helen celebrated their golden anniversary. In a grim postscript, it was in her apartment in Hancock Park, one of the neighborhoods supposedly now more secure than West Adams, that 79-year-old Helen was murdered on August 27, 1972. The weapon was a six-pound metal-and-glass triple candelabrum, the motive assumed to be robbery, though the case remains unsolved. Sic transit gloria occidentalis Adams.
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A most curious name was the next to be engraved on the knocker of 12 St. James Park: Cheap. The word chepe refers "marketplace" in medieval English, and the London neighborhood called Cheapside was built on the site of produce markets. Perhaps the Cheaps of #12 were descended from London produce sellers; perhaps naming their house "Cheapside" was a wry reference to their origins. The insecure and snobbish Miss Bingley refers to the social inferiority of Bennet relations living in Cheapside in Pride and Predjudice; in the same way she might have cast a critical eye on the Los Angeles Cheaps, a teeming, Kennedyesque clan to whom, curiously, family seems to have been more important than caste.
Albert Henry Cheap was a Hoosier, born in New Albany on November 11, 1880. As one of eight children born to a prominent brick manufacturer, he was used to a crowd—and he liked them. But it would be understandable that he would want to strike out on his own. After his schooling in New Albany, he set out to see the world by ship, eventually landing in New York at the turn of the 20th century. During his three years there he met the woman he would marry, Miss Alice V. Smith. Presumably they came to a romantic understanding before he left for the west to begin his long career with the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe; in any case, wise Alice was not going to drop her musical studies before completing her college career at Hunter to move across the country before Alfred got himself sorted out with a job and a home, wherever it may be. Alfred's brother Hubert was already in California. In 1903 he was employed by a brickworks in the city; no doubt exhorted by his brother to come west for the climate and the opportunities, within a few years Albert was in Los Angeles and both brothers were employed by the Santa Fe, Hubert as an electrician and Albert as a clerk. A clerkship was enough to lure Alice and her mother west to live—no doubt they both saw in Cheap a great drive that would not keep him selling tickets for very long. Records vary slightly as the marriage of Albert and Alice; one source indicates that their wedding took place in New Albany on February 28, 1906, another that the marriage was in Los Angeles on February 13, 1906. At any rate, Albert was 25 and Alice was 19. There began a long habit of the couple extending shelter to various family members—to Hubert; to Charles, another of Albert's brothers; to Mrs. Smith; and eventually to George Cheap, who came west to live with his sons. Hubert, interestingly, would later marry Alice Smith Cheap's aunt, just six years older than her niece and also, confusingly, named Alice. (The two Alices even had the same middle initial V.) The Hubert Cheaps lived in the same house for 45 years in Boyle Heights before he died in 1960.
And a new generation of Cheaps began to come in short order: Angela Cecilia arrived on Christmas Eve, 1906. As Albert and Alice's family grew to no less than 13 children, there were successive moves to ever bigger houses. Albert Cheap was always on the lookout for a wise investment that would gain an extra bedroom; the family started out in Boyle Heights, eventually living at 715 South St. Louis Street from 1909 until the early '20s, when Albert's real estate acumen afforded a move "uptown" across the river to the West Adams district. After several addresses there, most notably at 2627 South Van Buren, there was a stint in the mid '30s in Windsor Square. When the opportunity to own one of the largest St. James Park houses arose in late 1937, Albert seized it, moving his family back to West Adams from 637 South Windsor Boulevard, in reverse of prevailing trends of intracity migration, to settle for the next 26 years at 12 St. James Park. It was in the first half of 1938 that the Cheaps moved into the 19 rooms of Cheapside.
|From the Times of October 13, 1952|
Real estate was a sideline for Albert—he had a talent for it, and, of course, he was creating a serious demand for income with so many mouths to feed. Over the years he bought lots in several different part of town, improving each with a house or apartment building before selling. He invested in 40 acres near Fresno to start a vineyard; presumably the apartment house he built at 206 South Catalina and retained for many years provided more of a regular supplement to his Santa Fe paycheck than did grapes. Not that Albert didn't rise though the ranks of the railroad; Alice had been right: He was much too energetic remain a clerk, moving on to the position of coach-yard foreman on his way to the executive suite. In an accolade in California and Californians published in 1932, nevertheless, Albert's greatest contribution to Los Angeles was his "gracious and talented" wife and having reared with her "their fine family of 13 children." By all accounts the vitality of both Mr. and Mrs. Cheap was astounding. Together they regularly attended the opera, concerts, and theater. In addition to having given birth to a baker's dozen and mothering them with only one in help, Alice somehow found the time for active extracurricular participation in the chorus of St. Vincent's Catholic Church, in the Reciprocity club, the California Chapter of Hunter College Alumnae, the Big Sisters League, the National Flower Guild, as well as being active in the efforts of the Community Chest. Downright dizzying, but Mrs. Cheap still was able to entertain regularly at home, not just to gather her burgeoning family but on behalf of her civic endeavors. And she did so right up to her untimely death on November 7, 1945, while a trip to San Diego. Her family carried on in her memory, however, recovering from their grief to celebrate more weddings and other gatherings at #12. The multi-generational, multi-sibling Southfork aspect of Cheap family living arrangements also carried on: Uncle Charles Cheap was still living with the family in the '40s. Charles died in November 1948, nine months after Albert and Alice's son Vincent had married Mary Helen Palmer and moved into #12. Two more Cheap daughters and their families lived at Cheapside during the '50s: Dorothy and Vincent McDonough and Alice and John Ruggiero. Remarkably, Cheapside would remain the family seat until Albert Henry Cheap died on February 9, 1965, at age 84. There was considerable sadness at Cheapside in the '60s: Vincent Francis Cheap died in February 1963 at age 40, leaving Mary Helen and four children. Alice had divorced her husband and married James Pedigo in 1962, with whom she was also to live for a time at #12. In what might be a sad indication that not everyone growing up in an enormous family turns out happy, she divorced Mr. Pedigo in 1968 and then married Frank I. Green in 1971 and divorced him a year later. Holy Monsignor!
The last Cheaps to occupy 12 St. James Park were Alice, then on husband number two, and her sister-in-law Mary Helen. Curiously, despite his having retreated to Calvary Cemetery in February, demolition permits for the house and barn-now-garage were issued by the city in the name of Albert H. Cheap on December 6, 1965. The property became part of the Frank D. Lanterman High School, which, in an obscure, convoluted connection, had been named for a California state assemblyman who was a grandson of a founder of La Cañada, where his father had had architect Arthur L. Haley, previously mentioned here, build a well-known house in 1915.
Illustrations: Los Angeles Herald; Los Angeles Times; LAPL ; USCDL