24 St. James Park


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Major Horace Marvin Russell was by all accounts a superstar Westerner. While not a native, Major Russell was practically an Old Angeleno by the time he built 24 St. James Park in 1900. Having already compiled an exhausting résumé by the time he arrived in Los Angeles in 1882, he would spend the next 45 years behaving just as energetically. Born on May 13, 1846, in Jamestown, New York, Russell moved west with his parents to grow up in Baraboo, Wisconsin. After training as a blacksmith and after Fort Sumter, he joined the Third Wisconsin Cavalry at age 15, serving the Union cause for 3½ years before returning to Baraboo. Having had time off the farm, Russell was soon restless—it was not long before he set off alone across the plains with a yoke of oxen and a wagon, reaching Denver five months later. From there, the adventurer crisscrossed the West and northern Mexico prospecting for gold, launching stagecoach lines, and operating lumber mills that helped create the towns of Leadville and Cheyenne and supplied ties for the Union Pacific. Settling briefly back in Denver, he added real estate to his business pursuits, an endeavor he resumed once he arrived in Los Angeles. His first office there was at Spring and Temple streets in what was then the center of downtown; Russell is credited with being first to build a brick office block south of First Street. Another first attributed to Russell is producing illuminating oil from California crude—he had entered the oil business—and somehow, in addition to petroleum, insurance, real estate, banking, railroads, mining on an even larger scale, and actively participating in the National Guard, this human dynamo's participation in the civic and social life of Los Angeles was no less prodigious. He was a charter member of the Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Municipal League. Described in his biographies as a happy man with great charisma, Major Russell enjoyed the company of others, and they him. He was both a Mason of high degree and a Shriner. A profile in the Los Angeles Herald of July 29, 1906, went so far as to say that "it is seldom given to any one man to be so signally blessed, to be so remarkably successful in business life and so universally admired socially as is Major Russell." Not just having friends but organizing them also came naturally: He was a charter member of both the California Club and the Jonathan Club. And somehow he found still more time for wives and stepchildren.



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Major Horace Marvin Russell



In the manner of many real estate operators in Los Angeles at the time—including John Hyde Braly of 38 St. James Park, which would be one of Russell's own residences in the near future—the Major kept his family moving more in pursuit of the deal than domestic permanence, which is not generally in the DNA of the adventurous soul. Marvin and his first wife Hannah moved several times from the time of their marriage in 1883 to her death in 1895, as did Marvin and Laura Keating for 30 years after their marriage in 1898. Among the houses Marvin and Hannah lived in was 1316 Carroll Avenue, still standing in Angelino Heights. After marrying Laura, Russell found housing deals in the considerably nicer West Adams district, the first of which was a block from St. James Park at 854 Adams Street. On December 15, 1899, the Los Angeles Times reported that Laura Russell—perhaps using her separate funds—had let contracts for a new house at at 2362 Park Grove Avenue—a house facing west onto the green rectangle of St. James Park that by 1902 had been readdressed as 24 St. James Park. There the Russells remained until May 1904, having the month before sold #24 to Juliette Graham Bixby, the widow of Harry L. Bixby of the Long Beach Bixbys. Real estate man Harry Lombard, who lived across the street at 26 St. James Park, brokered the deal. The Russells would be moving to the 10-room house on the other side of the park at #38, which the Bralys had built less than two years before. (Never not restless, less than a year later, in April 1905, the Russells sold the #38 and were back around the corner on Adams Street, having bought the S. B. Lewis house at #718 for $30,000.)



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Juliette Bixby did not make personal use of her new house for any length of time. While away on an extended trip in 1906, she rented it to Henry E. Huntington's son Howard, the general manager of the Los Angeles Railway, while he was building his own house in Pasadena. Then, in August 1908, Mrs. Bixby married Lieutenant Commander Ashley Herman Robertson, attached to the Pacific fleet. Moving with her husband to Bremerton, Washington, Mrs. Robertson briefly rented #24 to Dr. George Martyn. By early 1911, George L. Raymond was in residence.

By the 1920s, 24 could be seen as something of a bellwether of the postwar changes coming to St. James Park and the West Adams District as a whole. The house appears to have been broken up into flats after the departure of George Raymond; by 1922, it had become a sanitarium, the treatment specialty of which is unclear. Two years later, in one of the earliest occupancies in the Park by a U.S.C. fraternity, Zeta Kappa Epsilon was in residence. The neighborhood was fraying as West Adamsites decamped for the new suburbs out on Wilshire Boulevard and beyond; an exception was Henry Workman Keller, who lived next door at 20 St. James Park and who would remain into the 1940s. Curiously, Keller was prevented from converting his house into rental apartments in 1944 on the grounds that the neighborhood was zoned for single-family residences; it is apparent from available records, however, that 24 St. James Park, at least, housed more than one family—or recovering alcoholic or fraternity boy—from the 1920s until its demolition in 1972.


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