Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ben Platt Residence, Paul R. Williams, Architect 1926 & Albert E. Hansen (1929)

The house has a fascinating history, not too surprising given its grandeur. Originally designed for Rudolph Rosenberg by Architect Harley S. Bradley, the home was purchased in the same year by music store magnate Ben Platt. Platt hired Paul R. Williams to enlarge the house, adding an additional story. In 1929, Platt embellished the house again, hiring architect Albert E. Hansen to add a swimming pool, tennis court, garden house and pergola. The next owner was con man C.C. Julian. The Julian Petroleum scandal exposed the speculative mania of the times and the greed of certain individuals (much like the Bernard Madoff's of today's generation) that eventually led to the stock market crash of 1929 and its devastating aftermath. Julian arrived in Los Angeles in 1922 shortly after oil was discovered in the communities of Long Beach, Huntington Beach and Santa Fe Springs. Securing a lease to drill oil in Santa Fe Springs, he launched a clever scheme, portraying himself as the "champion of the small investor, battling against big oil and the corporate moguls" in colorful advertisements in the Los Angeles Times. After each of his first five wells hit gushers, money poured in quickly. He launched Julian Petroleum Corporation in 1923, promising the venture would supplant Standard Oil. In 56 days, he sold $5 million worth of stock. During his brief fame, Julian emerged as one of the most colorful figures in Los Angeles. His lavish mansion in Los Feliz, along with his flamboyant wardrobe, attractive female companions and fleet of luxury cars and a well-publicized nightclub row with Charlie Chaplin probably led to his undoing. Suspecting fraudulent activity, the California corporations commissioner launched several investigations into his activities.

The Julian Petroleum crash revealed a web of corruption, contributing to the collapse of the First National Bank, the election of former Ku Klux Klansman John Porter as Mayor, and the defeat of Governor C.C. Young in his bid for re-election. More drama unfolded, including the courtroom assassination of a banker, a blackmail plot involving the city's best-known reporter and the double murder of gangster Charlie Crawford and a newspaper editor by a candidate for municipal court judge. C.C. Julian committed suicide in a hotel room in 1934.

In the year 2000, the home was acquired by the Saint Columbans Foreign Missionary Society, a Catholic society of secular priests organized around global mission. Brother Tom Reynolds was kind enough to greet me and provided much of the information about C.C. Julian and the history of the house. Located at 2600 North Vermont Avenue.

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