Tuesday, April 9, 2013

From Farm to Moorish Fanstasia

Nice place, eh?

This was once the home of Mervin Jeremiah Monnette and his first wife Adelaide.  Mervin was/is my great great great uncle.

Mervin, not his sibling - from which Cookie is descended from - made a fortune and lost a fortune, and then made another fortune.  Just when life was looking good, he got the gold twitch in the early 1900s.  So he sold his farm in Nebraska and went west to Nevada.  There he met a Mr. Hayes.  Mr. Hayes had been studying the Mohawk Mine near Goldfield, Nevada.  The Mohawk was played out, but Hayes was convinced that there was more there.  Hayes couldn't afford the lease on the mine, and Mervin Monnette could.  So the two formed a partnership - and a back breaking job was undertaken.

And the hunch came in - big time.  The Hayes-Monnette (or Monnette-Hayes, depending on who you asked) partnership hit the single largest vein of gold in Nevada history to that date.   The gold ore shipped from that initial strike in 1906 was the single largest gold ore shipment in the United States History.

And with his share of the proceeds, Mervin bought Adelaide this house on Los Angeles' Western Avenue.   When they purchased the house, it had been built by the seller who found it to large for his needs.  And at that time, Western Avenue was still residential.

The design of the house can't be classified.  While it has Spanish  influences, the tower is defiantly Moorish.  My mother used to tell me that her grandmother - who visited it once - said that it was designed in the "Alamo" style.  And if you strip the front of the colonial Spanish gable of its Victorian bay windows, you can kind of see the Alamo influence.  But even I think that was pushing it.

The Monnette's were joined in California by their only living son, Orra E. Monnette who left his law practice in Toledo to help his father do something with the money from their mining haul.

Orra invested the money in banks in Los Angeles, and did well.  He started buying banks, merging banks and creating banc holding companies.  In 1923 he created the Bank of America, Los Angeles, which was - in fact - the only Bank of America operating in all of California.  But we'll get to the Italian from San Francisco in a second.

Orra used his business skills to develop the first modern bank branching system in the U.S.  He did this by centralizing cash vaulting, accounting and personnel.  He also instituted the first modern fleet of armored cars    to ferry cash replenishment, paperwork and other important papers.

In 1929 Orra sold BoA L.A. to a man named Amadeo Giannini of the Bank of Italy in San Francisco, and the Bank of America was born.  Orra retained his Board seat in the new company, and stayed on the board until his death in 1936.

Orra also Chaired the Los Angeles public library Board until his death.  During his twenty year tenure on the board he built L.A.'s public library system into a true countywide system, using what he learned  in building the branch banking business: Centralized library with satellite branches.  He centralized the business office and accounting, enable branch to branch book sharing, built a new main library in downtown L.A. and developed the funding base to build branch libraries.

Mervin and Adelaide remained in the Western Avenue home until Adelaide's death in 1912, after which the house no longer had its mistress. Mervin would eventually remarry, divorce and then remarry, but for the remainder of his life he lived in large apartments where he needs were met by servants.

Western Avenue was beginning to change.  In six short years, traffic on the street increased, and the families that lived in the houses along it began selling their properties.  While it was desirable for Victorian Families of means to live on handsome streets where their houses could bespeak their wealth, by 1914 the car brought dirty, noise and pollution to these broad streets.  So, well to do families in many cities sold off their mansions and moved to suburbs. In Cleveland, the families of Euclid Avenue (a street that as late as 1890 had a higher residential real estate value than New York's Fifth Avenue)  moved to Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights.  In Los Angeles, the families moved from this area to Pasadena and Beverly Hills.

The house was razed before long and its land parceled off for sale.  The only legacy of the Monnette house is  "Monnett Place," which intersects on Western Avenue in Los Angeles' Koreatown, where the house once stood.


  1. Did your father send you this today? Ask him where he got it?

    1. Bradford Caslon sent it. YOU made it possible!

  2. Fabulous house; a little wack-a-doo, with its Alamo front, and Colonial fort tower and Southern plantation porch all wrapped up in what looks like stucco.
    I would love to live in a house with that much personality!

    1. I always fantasied that the tower room hid a hash den, or white slavers. Who knows, after Merv moved out it could have.

  3. You KNOW I'm a sucker for Library history!

    1. Look up Orra. Interesting man, but lost to history. His daughter went onto become a librarian in the LA system and there is a big bronze bust of him in the main LA public library atrium.

  4. I love when you find a house like this that was the lone holdout and everything grew up around it. Trapping it like a fossil.

  5. Sweetie, I ate dinner on Western, in Koreatown, just last week.