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Old Posted Oct 8, 2015, 4:27 PM
tovangar2 tovangar2 is offline
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Join Date: Nov 2012
Location: West Los Angeles
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Vibiana Lofts

As ground was broken in March for Vibiana's (Kysor and Matthews, 1876) new neighbor to the south, Vibiana Lofts, I thought it might be fun to take a quick look back at the prior buildings on that site and their occupants. As usual, I found more info than I know what to do with. I'll try to winnow it down.

First, here's St Vibiana's soon after it was built looking very bucolic across some scrub land with our now-vanished hills to the NW (POV is about 4th & San Pedro):

seaver center

ca1881. There was once a single-story structure, which pre-dated it, just to the south of the cathedral, which for twenty years or more was Dane Lorenzo Leck's grocery store . Leek, his wife Caroline and their children lived in the back. In 1861 Mrs Leek was stabbed to death in a robbery. The thief/murderer, a lad of 15, was found, repeatedly stabbed by a mob and then lynched:


Looking SE, one can see that a building is already in place on the other side of the single-story structure:

uscdl (detail)

Later the grocery was divided into a gun store and a shop which sold flowers and feathers:


The single-story building was replaced with a three-story brick edifice in 1895, the Odd Fellows Hall (Morgan and Walls), built cheek by jowl with the cathedral, filling in the gap between St. Vibiana's and the rest of the block:


Originally Posted by ethereal_reality View Post
The third floor was reserved for the Odd Fellows. The second floor was rental space and retail filled out the ground floor.

The Odd Fellows also use human bones in their rituals. Not those of their saints, just random ones ordered from fraternal organization supply catalogues.

Swanfeldt's Tents and Awnings may have started out in the Odd Fellows building (note the painted signage in the shot two images above). Swanfeldt was next-door to the south at least by the teens. I've seen No. 220 marked as "Swanfeldt and "IOOF" depending on which map one looks at and Nos.224-226 (generally called the Swanfeldt Building) as "The Dresden" or "Keifer", and that's just for 1909 and 1910.

Axel Swanfeldt (1847-1925) came here in 1869 from Sweden. From 1895 to 1902 Swanfeldt operated Santa Catalina’s famous “Tent City,” where one could rent tents by the day, week or month. The tents came with camp furniture, beds, bedding and cooking utensils. Tent City was very popular and very lucrative. Swanfeldt's island operation ended when his lease ran out and the the Santa Catalina Island Company took over the business:


Losing the Catalina concession didn't slow Swanfeldt's down much as they made a number of canvas products, including straightjackets.

A 1915 Swanfeldt straightjacket, once owned by Houdini. It fetched a tidy sum at auction in 2008:


I couldn't find a build date for the Swanfeldt building, but that could be either the Swanfeldt or the Lewis in this 1884 view looking north up Main from just above 3rd:


The east side of S Main was not much developed back then, but soon filled in with shops, hotels, at least one saloon and three theaters (the Manhattan/Denver, 1910, at No. 238, The Electric/Lyric/Glockner's Automatic, 1902, at No. 262 and A.C. Martin's beautiful Liberty, 1910, at No. 266). The Electric was said to be the first purpose-built moving-picture theater in the world. It was built of brick, the façade decorated with scrolls and lions' heads (here on the left on 24 September 1929):

los angeles city historical society

The Glockner is simply marked "theater" on the Baist map, the Liberty and the Manhattan/Denver don't even get that:

baist, plate 2, 1910 / historic mapworks

Here's the Odd Fellows building after John C. Austin's 1922-1924 remodel of Vibiana's facade:


The IOOF Hall got included on this postcard too, also post-1924:


The Union Rescue Mission (URM), first known as the Pacific Gospel Union, was founded in 1891 by Lyman Stewart (1840-1923), who also co-founded The Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA), Union Oil (now UNOCAL, wholly-owned by Chevron) and the Association for the Evangelization of California.

Driven by great urgency, and not interested in long-term plans, Stewart believed the End Times were nigh and that he must save as many souls as possible, as quickly as possible. He believed wealth (gained, apparently, by divination of supernatural signs) could be "transmuted into living gospel truth" (I think that means converts). He funded missions in the US and abroad plus publications and also schools to train religious professionals to advance his time-sensitive agenda. He also supported pastors and churches which exhibited the right Anglo-Protestant "purity", and envisioned soon-to-be Christian California as a pulpit which would be used to preach to, and save, the world before it was engulfed by the imminent End Times.

Not much remembered by the mainstream now, Stewart's ideas about the relationship between wealth and "living gospel truth" had huge influence in his lifetime. That influence lives on. He is known by many as the father of religious fundamentalism.

The URM trolled Los Angeles in "bible wagons", looking to urgently save souls and also held revival meetings in a big tent at 2nd and Main. Free food drew crowds, but the soul-saving was heavy going. By 1907, with the End Times running late, URM bought a building at 145 Main Street and moved indoors.

Eventually the city took the building away from them to build the current City Hall. Needing a new home, as the End Times remained elusive, URM bought half of the Swanfeldt building.

Here's the Swanfeldt building, immediately south of the IOOF Hall, with URM in the southern half (at No.226):

In SRO land

By then, the Odd Fellows building had been taken over by the City of Los Angeles Department of Playgrounds and Parks. It was used as the Municipal Men's Club and also, in 1934, at least, as as the State Emergency Relief Administration's intake office.

In 1938 URM bought the rest of the Swanfeldt Building, the Swanfeldt Company having moved to North Figueroa (HossC picks up the Swanfeldt trail here).

Here's the Swanfeldt, wholly occupied by URM, next to the city-owned IOOF building:

In 1940 URM bought the Odd Fellows building too, combining it with the Swanfeldt building by knocking doors through the connecting wall, and moving in in 1942:

Wm Reagh photographed the Odd Fellows building sporting "Union Rescue Mission" signage in 1955:


This image of the IOOF and Swanfeldt buildings combined is from 1959 (URM got a permit in 1950 allowing them to "cut off the parapet" of the Swanfeldt...the city had already diminished the IOOF). The Lewis is gone here, but much of the rest of this very historic block remained:


The CRA brought it's scorched-earth policy to the 200 block of S Main in the 1990s. Everything except the cathedral was demolished on the east side of the still-somewhat-intact block (most of what was left of the west side of the block went too). The theaters had long since closed. Some people suspect that the triangular building at 3rd and Main (a result of a very awkward attempt to straighten 3rd St) may be a remnant of the Liberty Theater. I doubt it.

The Union Rescue Mission moved to a $29MM facility on San Pedro St (between 5th and 6th) in 1994 (with an assist of $6.5MM in public funds). The east side of the 200 block of S Main currently looks like this (the big LAPD parking structure went up in 2008-10). I wish the Electric Theater had been saved, but I wish a lot of things:

gsv 2015

Originally there were plans to build something called Vibiana Plaza on the cleared block, containing low-rise housing and shops, like a paseo, but parking won out. Also, at one point, Cardinal Mahony intended to demolish St Vibiana's and build a new cathedral taking up the majority of the block. That, obviously, didn't happen either.

The cleared land makes this 2008 shot look very similar to the 1884 image above:

gsv 2008

The gap between Vibiana's and the LAPD facility is where the new building is rising, on the former site of the IOOF Hall and at least part of that of the Swanfeldt. I dunno where Vibiana staff and patrons will park now:

gsv, Feb 2015

The view of the construction site from Los Angeles Street:

gsv, March 2015

The proposal for the $90MM Vibiana Lofts. Zoning allows 42 stories, but the developer has decided to hold it to 8 so wood-frame construction can be used (what ever happened to wanting one's building to be "absolutely fireproof"?) Togawa Smith Martin are the architects (they are "strategic partners" with A.C. Martin Associates. The firms share an address, 444 S Flower):


Groceries, murder, guns, feathers, flowers, tents, straightjackets, human bones and many decades of attempts at hurried soul-saving. Altogether, there will be a lot of history behind (or under) the soon-to-be Vibiana Lofts.

HossC points out in the following post that he and e_r have been here before:

Post #23717
Post #23720
Post #23721
Post #23722

Well worth a look.

Thx Hoss

And thanks to Beaudry for the build date on the IOOF Hall.


Last edited by tovangar2; Jan 3, 2016 at 3:33 AM. Reason: add three images & links to priors. Thx to HossC (& e_r for the image) & thx to Beaudry too
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