Hollywood Home Reveals Glimpse of L.A. History

Times Staff Writer

Mayor James R. Toberman racked up plenty of firsts during his seven one-year terms at Los Angeles City Hall.

He switched on the city’s first electric streetlights. He helped map out its first street-car grid and water and sewer systems. Its first Jewish synagogue was organized during his tenure. So was its first chamber of commerce, its ritzy L.A. Athletic Club and the Los Angeles State Normal School, the forerunner to UCLA.

But Toberman didn’t get his first permanent civic recognition until Wednesday -- 123 years after leaving office.


City representatives, historic preservationists and community activists gathered in east Hollywood to commemorate the restoration of the Toberman House, the late mayor’s final residence.

The two-story, clapboard dwelling was saved from being bulldozed to make way for a new apartment complex by a preservation-minded architect who bought it for $1.5 million and then restored it to its 1907 glory.

Fran Offenhauser will lease out four residential suites in the 4,000-square-foot structure and maintain its sprawling yard, at 1749 Harvard Blvd., as garden open space.

Occupying Toberman’s bedroom suite will be renter Dave Monks -- who as a newcomer to the neighborhood from San Francisco two years ago discovered that the crumbling home had once belonged to one of Los Angeles’ most successful mayors.

Monks, a transportation consultant, researched public records on the property to find that Toberman had lived there until his death in 1911, at age 74.

He scoured historic records to learn that Toberman’s mayoral achievements had included paving Main Street for the first time and fiscal reforms that cut property taxes by nearly 38% and left the city with its first fiscal surplus.

Toberman was mayor from 1872 to 1874 and from 1878 to 1882. He came to Los Angeles in 1864 when President Lincoln appointed him U.S. revenue assessor.

Before unseating an incumbent mayor, he co-founded the Hellman, Temple & Co. Bank and served six years as the city’s Wells Fargo agent.

He built his Harvard Boulevard home after creating, with nephew Charles Toberman, the Hollywood Holding Co. That firm is credited with developing the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the El Capitan Theatre and the Max Factor Building.

When son Homer Toberman died at age 29 in 1902, the former mayor established the Homer Toberman Mission in Echo Park as a memorial to him. The women and children’s social services center moved to Boyle Heights in 1913 and to San Pedro in 1937. Today it is known as the Toberman Settlement House.

After Toberman’s death, family members continued living in the 10-room Harvard Boulevard dwelling until 1924.

Still, no memorials or statues stand in Toberman’s honor, Monks discovered. He took his findings to Hollywood Heritage, a preservation group that quickly took up the cause of the old house -- and the old mayor. Soon, other civic organizations joined the effort.

Offenhauser, who is current president of Hollywood Heritage, credited Monks for uncovering the home’s past. “It took someone from elsewhere to save L.A.’s heritage,” she told those attending Wednesday’s ceremony.

According to Offenhauser, she spent $50,000 repairing the dilapidated house and hauled away 18 large trash bins of debris “before I could even show it to the bank” that helped finance its purchase.

City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents the neighborhood, presented City Hall resolutions to Offenhauser and Monks.

“It’s so rare to find a person from San Francisco who loves Los Angeles,” LaBonge said. Referring to his own childhood home, he added: “I hope 100 years from now Hollywood Heritage saves a house on Panorama Terrace, if I’m as lucky as Toberman was.”

Even though the house is privately owned, its restoration will give a visual and emotional lift to its working-class neighborhood, predicted preservationist Sally Beaudette.

“Every four blocks you find a place like this,” she said, admiring the Toberman House’s Colonial Revival and Craftsman influences and the Ionic columns supporting its broad front porch.

“It works for everybody when you’re able to bring a place like this back to life.”