Main Street Side Trip

Main Street Side Trip!
View Pershing Square – Main Street Side Trip in a larger map

Include this Side Trip after Stop 17 in the Pershing Square Tour.

–> Cross Spring Street to the Herman Hellman Buildng.

A) Herman Hellman Building. This Beaux Arts building features a classic lobby where the skylights are the highlights! Blacked out during World War II, they were finally restored in a 1970s restoration. The white Italian marble staircase and deeply-carved newell posts are notable, too; the marble patterns match left-to-right and their grain flows up the stairs. The elevators are not original. The 1903 building was designed by Alfred F. Rosenheim – the same architect who designed the former May Company (today’s Broadway Trade Center).

Saturday access to the building is via the rear parking lot.

–> Exit the Herman Hellman Building and continue down Fourth Street to Barclays Hotel entrance.

B) Barclays Hotel (formerly Van Nuys Hotel, Morgan and Walls, 1896) went up in 1896, a year before Main Street was even paved. Completed in the Beaux Arts style, its six stories loomed over the area’s Victorian-style residences. But not for long! Downtown was on the move and within a decade the Van Nuys was at the epicenter of a growing city. It was the first hotel in the city with electricity and a telephone in every room. And although not every room had a private bathroom, they all had “electric curling irons” for the ladies! Until the Alexandria opened, this was the “class act” for downtown guests – good enough even for President McKinley who stayed here with his wife in 1901.

Don’t miss the stained glass windows (look for Van Nuys’ initials) and the intricate tilework on the floor. The “V-shaped” supports have nothing to do with Van Nuys and everything to do with seismic retrofitting. Admittedly, the hotel has seen better times, but it’s still here!

Now pay attention: The hotel was built by Isaac Newton Van Nuys, who was married to Susanna Lankershim whose father was a big land owner in the San Fernando Valley and whose brother built the San Fernando Building diagonally across the street. Downey, Widney, Doheny, Temple, the Hellmans, Kinney, Rowan – all were early movers and shakers in downtown Los Angeles and their names pop up on buildings, boulevards and place names throughout Los Angeles.

–> Cross Main Street, turn right and cross Fourth Steet to the corner.

C) San Fernando Building. You’re standing below the San Fernando Building (John F. Blee, 1907), a former office building. ‘Today it’s a 70-unit loft conversion, the first in Tom Gilmore’s “Old Bank District” threesome to open. As a private property, please use discretion, but you may be able to access the richly-appointed lobby level. The basement once housed a Turkish bath, a café and a billiard room. That basement, though lacking the above amenities, is accessible through Pete’s Café & Bar during business hours. Historic photos line the walls of the lower level – as well as throughout the café. You’ll hear more about the building’s exterior once you cross the street.

From the café, looking across Main Street, you have a better view of Barclay’s Hotel – and the original “Van Nuys Hotel” signage, too.

D) Farmers and Merchants Bank. You’ve also got a great view of the Farmers and Merchants Bank (Morgan and Walls, 1905). Like his younger brother Herman, Isaias used to live on the very lot where his bank now stands (image right). Unlike his brother, who went into the wholesale grocery business, Isaias went into men’s clothing.

So why the bank? Back in the city’s “Wild West” days (some say those days are still very much with us) a lot of his clients didn’t carry cash, they carried gold dust in little pouches. The streets weren’t particularly safe so before roaming the town they’d drop by Isaias’ shop and ask him to hold their gold in his vault. Effectively, the merchant had become a banker.

The Farmers and Merchants Bank became LA’s first successful, incorporated bank. Founded in 1871 with business partner John G. Downey, loans were extended to Henry Huntington enabling the expansion of his streetcar empire; to Edward Doheny to help fund his oil well operations; and to Harrison Gray Otis to help grow his newspaper – the Los Angeles Times. Isaias, also a major real estate developer, donated property to help found the University of Southern Californina in 1880. Levi Strauss was a heavy investor in Isaias’ banking operations.

The greenish terra cotta-clad building to the left of the bank, the Hellman Annex (which also wraps around the bank onto Fourth Street) , is also part of the “Old Bank District.”

–> Cross Main Street to the Farmers Merchant Bank.

From here you’ll have a better view of the bank’s interior. It eventually became a Bank of America but closed in the 1980s; today it’s used primarily for filming. You’ll also have a better look back at the San Fernando Building. The top two floors were added in 1911 (R.B. Young). The story goes that the original building was a popular place for gambling and the cops were frequent visitors to its “offices.” Maybe the extra floors were added to put more space between the cop on the street and the gamblers upstairs?

–> Return back to the northwest corner of Fourth and Spring Street (across from the Herman Hellman Building) to resume the Pershing Square tour.

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