10 St. James Park


TO WHOM SHOULD BE GIVEN the ultimate credit for having created St. James Park might depend on the obituary one reads. While John Downey Harvey seems to have been the primary moneybags—funding development of the Park while at the same time owing $100,000 to a litigiously impatient uncle, former California governor John G. Downey—the Los Angeles Herald of July 13, 1905, cites Frederick Harkness in his obituary as the man to whom "is given the credit of planning and arranging the present St. James Park." Tell that to George Wilson King, whose obituary 11 years later referred to him as "the man who laid out beautiful St. James Park." While Harvey, based in San Francisco, was all along more of a drop-in investor in terms of Southland real estate, Harkness lived in Los Angeles and within the larger parameters of the Park, they appear, at any rate, to have moved on from their association with the Park fairly early on. All in all it would therefore seem fair to deem King the King if not the Father of the Park. While it is often assumed, by Easterners at least, that everyone who crossed the country to settle in Los Angeles reached the city spent and in rags via freight car or dilapidated Studebaker, George Wilson King and his extended family were among the many thousands who arrived well-upholstered and highly accomplished. By no means ready to loll among the orange groves, these men, attuned as if by telepathy to the masculine romance of Manifest Destiny, proceeded to literally build Southern California once the transcontinental railroads extended their tracks.

Perhaps it was the view west over the Ohio River from Wheeling, Virginia, where he was born on January 18, 1830, before the creation of West Virginia, that first inspired King to wander. He left for California via Panama in 1848, just another young man with gold on his mind. It seems that he might have been one of the lucky ones who made at least something of a packet; having done so, he returned east, drawn to the new challenge of the promising boomtown of Chicago. At some point King went into the wholesale grocery business there, meeting in his dealings his future brother-in-law (and another future Angeleno) Samuel K. Lindley. Through this alliance George met Samuel's sister Mary Lindley; the siblings' father Giles, late of Missouri (where Samuel and Mary were born), was prominent in politics in—and soon to become mayor of—LaSalle, Illinois, southwest of Chicago, where George married 18-year-old Mary on September 6, 1855. Likely it was King who brought to his new in-laws stories of the West, prompting Lindleys in some number to migrate to California over the next few decades and providing Los Angeles with some of its most distinguished citizens. Among these were Mary's cousins Dr. Walter Lindley, who would go on to organize the medical school at U.S.C. (the first in Southern California) and to co-found the California Hospital; his son, attorney Francis Haynes Lindley of Berkeley Square; and Philo L. Lindley, who was in partnership in the real estate business with his father, Samuel, Mary King's brother, who had also come to Los Angeles to live. In the meantime, the combination of personal and civic drive allowed expansion of King's grocery business from Chicago to St. Louis and then to New York, to which he moved with Mary and two of their eventual three daughters after the Civil War. Living at 131 East 60th Street and commuting to the tip of Manhattan, King prospered still further before retiring from business at the age of 51. Even with his Gold Rush stake now multiplied many times over and his social position in New York solidified, he hadn't forgotten his years in California. There was still another boomtown to conquer, this one back out in the Golden State—the snowless eden of the City of Angels. There, land was the gold, real estate the perfect retirement occupation: You didn't work for it, it worked for you.


King's first home in Los Angeles is unclear. Though he had likely arrived by 1883 when Walter Lindley was first listed in the city directory, King was by 1887 in residence at the Marlborough Hotel, which opened that January on West 23rd Street near the north side of St. James Park, the development of which was also getting off the ground in 1887 in preparation for its official opening in 1888. (As for the Marlborough, General John C. Fremont also was in residence there in 1888. The hotel would fail after a year or so; by 1890 its building and name would be assumed by the private girls' school that is today in Hancock Park.) King and his family moved down the street to 917 West 23rd Street—a house still standing—in 1890 and remained there until moving into #10 in the latter half of 1904. Photographs of the new house have remained elusive; all we have to go on at present is a drawing seen in the Los Angeles Times on October 25, 1903, and the footprint of the house as represented on early Sanborn fire insurance maps along with a Times description of it being a two-story, 10-room frame dwelling. It was of rectangular plan, longer on its lot than wide in urban rather than suburban fashion, with a large round turret at its southwest corner. At this juncture in the Victorian age—technically now over—the turret was falling out of favor in domestic architecture in the rest of the country. But in the architectural time zone of Los Angeles, such appendages signaling affluence would remain popular for a few more years. The design of #10 was the work of the local partnership of Jasper N. Preston and Ira H. Seehorn; a building permit for it was issued in November 1903.

The continuation of the story of 10 St. James Park up to its demolition in 1967 will appear in due course.

Illustrations: LATPrivate Collection; Sanborn Maps