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Old Posted Aug 6, 2015, 8:04 PM
tovangar2 tovangar2 is offline
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Join Date: Nov 2012
Location: West Los Angeles
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The Witmer Family

As Witmer and Watson have come up again, I'd thought I'd mention that the Witmers were one of LA's early families.

Joseph Myer and Henry Clayton Witmer came to LA in the early 1880s from Wisconsin, bringing their mother (Catherine) and two sisters (Mary Agnes and Victoria) with them, their father having died. The Witmer brothers bought 650 acres of empty land west of Bunker Hill, naming it Crown Hills. It's hard to recall now that this inner-city neighborhood was once so remote from town:

water and power

Determined to make their investment into a desirable suburb, the Witmers put in a cable car in 1885 which traveled over a deep cut in Bunker Hill at 2nd St., running from 2nd and Spring to 2nd and Belmont (as seen above). The powerhouse was at 2nd and Boylston. The route had the steepest cable car grade in North America, with a 27.7 degree slope between Hope and Bunker Hill Avenue:

water and power

HossC posted an excellent, and much clearer, version of the scene above here

This 1897 map shows the streets mentioned above. The intersections of Belmont and W 2nd St (then "Silver Street") and W 2nd and Boylston no longer exist:

maxwell's city directory

The brothers agitated the City Council for tunnels at W 3rd and W 4th Streets. The former eventually meeting with success after JM's death.

The brothers also formed and ran the California Bank, even though HC had bouts of insanity (he would forego clothing, become violent and refuse to be attended to).

The suburb was a success, even though its crowning glory, the Belmont Hotel (formerly the Ellis Villa College for girls), burned to the ground in 1887 (as has been mentioned before on the thread. One example from FW). After the first Ellis College was sold for the hotel, a second Ellis College was built nearby. It also burned. The hill turned into part of the Los Angeles Oil Field, crowned only with derricks. Finally, in the 1920s, Belmont High School was built on the site and remains in place.

JM Witmer died in 1897 at age 39, leaving $12K to each of his three children. HC died in 1909 at 53, felled by the same hereditary heart condition which had killed his father and younger brother. (HC's obit in the Herald did not mention his problems with insanity.)

David J, JM's son, born in 1888, graduated from Harvard with a degree in architecture in 1912. He opened his own practice in Los Angeles in 1914 before leaving for WWI.

Upon returning to LA, Witmer went into partnership with Loyall F Watson in 1919. Watson was trained as both an engineer and architect and was almost totally deaf. Little is known about him. He never met with clients. The partnership lasted 40 years, until Watson's death.

In 1921, Witmer built a family compound on two deep lots he owned on Witmer St at W 2nd (originally Silver St through this section), now HCM #538. Two homes were built on one lot, at 208/210 Witmer (one for Witmer, his wife and son, the other for his widowed mother, Josephine Witmer). A third home, for his mother-in-law, Mary O. Williams, was built at the back of lot No. 202/204 (eventually addressed as 1422 W 2nd Street). A garage with guest suite completed the compound. The front of the lot at No. 202/204 was reserved for a common garden. The garden was sold off in 1951 for other development.

The homes were in the Mediterranean-Revival style, of poured concrete and are, it is said, some of the best Witmer ever did. He moved his family in and stayed until his death 52 years later.

Grievously overgrown, four red-tile roofs indicate the Witmer compound today from above:

google maps

Witmer and Watson also designed a pair of duplexes, on a third lot, south of the compound (the buff-colored roofs).

This was not the first group of Witmer homes as we shall see. The previous generation also stuck together.

In 1921, just before the Witmer family compound was built. The Los Angeles Oil Field is all but exhausted, but Belmont HS has not been built yet.:

baist 1921, plate 7

Notice how few homes have been built in the "Crownwood" tract above (this subdivision was the Witmer's own). One large home is in place on the same block where the Witmer Compound will be built. It is the Captain Samuel J. Lewis and Mary Agnes Lewis (nee Witmer) House at 1425 3rd Street (now Miramar St). It was built for David J Witmer's aunt and uncle in ca 1890, designed by Joseph Cather Newsome and financed by the California Bank. It is where David J Witmer's grandmother, Catherine Witmer, spent her last years, dying at 93 in 1910, having outlived her husband and both her sons.

Directly across 3rd St (now Miramar) from the Lewis house was a pair of very large homes (also on the map above). The one on the west, at No. 1422 was built for HC Witmer; it was demolished in 1955. The home next door, on the corner of 3rd (Miramar) St and Lucas was built for Joseph and Josephine Witmer. It passed to the widow on JM's death in 1897. It was David J Witmer's childhood home and is also demolished. The original garden wall along the sidewalk remains, surrounding a grassy lot along the front of the property. Apartments have been built on the rear of the site:


David J Witmer built homes on lots 11,12 and 13. The previous generation of Witmers built homes on lots 15, 33 and 34:

baist 1921, plate 7

The extant Lewis house at No. 1425 Miramar (formerly 3rd) St:

Big Orange Landmarks (<-- more photos and info at link)

This home is now owned by the Sadhanna Hindu Temple of New York, Inc and looks very well cared for. The interior is reportedly in very fine shape. Unfortunately the second-floor balcony porch, over the entrance, was enclosed at some point giving the home a rather blank look.

The only photo I could find of one of the homes in the second Witmer Family Compound, when relatively new, is the back house at No. 210 Witmer, built behind No.208:


The front house at 208 Witmer today:


1422 W 2nd St today:


David J Witmer was an extremely successful architect, who knew how to play the game. He was one of the committee of architects who designed and built the Architects Building at 5th and Figueroa and kept his offices there. He was affiliated with USC, with Claremont and UC Berkeley. He was involved in in writing the first uniform building code for the state, a subject he felt strongly about, especially as regards earthquake safety (both to protect life and developers' investment). He served as secretary, director and president of the Southern California chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

In 1938 he designed the Wyvernwood housing complex and also consulted on Estrada Courts and Baldwin Hills Village. Witmer had been interested in lower-cost garden communities for some time, having designed Belmont Square Garden Apartments (1923) on Columbia between Miramar & W 2nd, bisected by Columbia Place, just 1/2 block from his home. (info here: - Some current (2022) interior shots of one of the Belmont Square units from Apartment Finder if anyone is interested & also an exterior shot of the unit from Miramar & Columbia Place:

There were many other projects.

In 1941 Witmer was named co-chief architect for the Pentagon along with G. Edwin Bergstrom (of Parkinson and Bergstom fame). Bergstrom was asked to step down in 1942. Witmer was sole chief architect through the construction phase and supervised the pouring of a great deal of concrete. He then left to serve in Eisenhower's European Command as a colonel. Eisenhower put Witmer to work ensuring that European civilians did not starve. Witmer got awards from various governments for his success in this role.

Throughout his career, Witmer continued to build tasteful houses in historic styles for those of means, but also found time for smaller homes (winning awards for the latter). He remained active as an architect until his death. Witmer was taken ill at an AIA banquet in 1973 and died within the week. He was 85.

Last edited by tovangar2; Jan 8, 2022 at 1:55 PM. Reason: add link
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