Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Part of a series on the Wyvernwood community, the sister city to Baldwin Hills Village/Village Green.

See the entire set of Wyvernwood blog posts HERE

On Friday, August 25, 1939, the Los Angeles Times devoted three full pages to the opening of Wyvernwood. 

Preparing the landscape for Wyvernwood's opening day, 1939.
"Dick" Whittington Collection, USC Digital Library

On Friday, August 25, 1939, the highly anticipated unveiling of the Wyvernwood community was showcased in three full pages of the Los Angeles Times. Over the course of the weekend that followed, a massive crowd of 50,000 people toured the groundbreaking new community, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.  John S. Griffith remarked that “we were amazed at the rapid acceptance of the new type of living accommodations being introduced at Wyvernwood. We naturally feel the immediate renting of all available homes is an indication of general public approval.” With twenty of the 143 buildings ready for occupancy, by the end of the weekend all of the 158 completed apartments had been rented, and a waiting list was started. 

Preparing the landscape for Wyvernwood's opening day, 1939.
"Dick" Whittington Collection, USC Digital Library

The area around the Wyvernwood community was taking shape as well, with shops, schools, restaurants, businesses and entertainment facilities either planned or in the early stages of construction, ensuring that residents of the new community would have a self-contained environment.

Hammond Sadler's landscape plan begins to mature, 1940

The Los Angeles Times reported that “Wyvernwood, great private rental housing community on E. Olympic Blvd., east of Soto St., powerfully demonstrates two achievements. It is a miracle of modern multiple housing and it supplies a delightful mode of living,” and was “itself a mighty accomplishment even in a nation accustomed to tremendous developments.”

Marian Manners, the fictitious Times lifestyle and cooking expert who, beginning in 1931, advised trusting Southern California homemakers on "all the thousand and one intermediary problems and snags that confront the housewife daily," gave her overwhelmingly positive impressions of this “livable and charming” community. Her leading article in that three-page spread on August 25th clearly and charmingly described all of the benefits Wyvernwood had to offer the middle-class housewife in 1939, so I’m including it here in its entirety:

Hammond Sadler's landscape plan called for beds of flowering plants carpeting the area between
buildings and paths. Fred Barlow, Jr. may have been influenced by this design feature,
because he used it even more extensively at Baldwin Hills Village, switching the flowering
plants instead to a variety of lower water, lower maintenance groundcovers.

“Wyvernwood homes are charmingly different from the usual multiple-unit dwelling. The inviting, informal interior of each a homey, amiable house built to overlook a lovely park.

These attractive homes in Wyvernwood are well adapted to the traditional Western idea of outdoor living as well as to indoor comfort. Sunny rooms usually have two or more outside exposures; wide windows provide cross ventilation and a delightful, clear view over velvety green lawns, trees and flowers."

Wyvernwood offered a large variety of floor plan types.

"The room arrangement is compact and well planned. The proportions give an effect of spaciousness. Following the modern tendency to ‘open-up’ the plan, the dining space in the smaller units is an alcove at the end of the kitchen or living room. Both living room and bedrooms have well placed windows allowing ample wall space for interesting furniture grouping."

Barker Bros., the large high-end furniture department store in
downtown Los Angeles, provided several furnished
model homes for Wyvernwood's opening day.
"Any homemaker will delight in completing the decoration of one of these new homes.  Their clean, fresh ‘newness’ is an inspiration! Walls and woodwork are beautifully finished in off-white; the perfect background for the smartest or gayest color scheme, and for any mode of furnishings, early American, 18th Century, or Swedish Modern."

In 1939, All-Electric units were considered modern, scientific and cheaper than gas!
"Circulation is difficult in a small house, but in Wyvernwood homes we find the three elements, entertaining, service and living sections separate enough to avoid crossing the kitchen to reach a bedroom or any other awkward maneuver. There is generous closet space, another important feature unusual in the small apartment or cottage. Walls and floors of living rooms and bedrooms are, where necessary, sound-deadened for greater privacy."

"In the bathroom are good fixtures, a built-in heater, practical wall and floor treatment. These bathrooms have plenty of sunlight; let a variety of colorful towels and other accessories blossom forth and you’ll have a bright spot from which to start the day on a cheerful note!"

The kitchens featured stainless steel countertops, Armstrong
"Marbelle" linoleum, and a choice of either a gas or
electric range.
"The most important room in the house, however, is the kitchen, because it is the health center of the home. At Wyvernwood kitchens are roomy, airy, sparklingly fresh with creamy walls and cupboards, and an attractive easily scrubbable floor covering.

Each kitchen is planned and built around an up-to-the-minute electric refrigerator and a modern range fully equipped with oven control and fast cooking surface units, with generous storage space, scientific lighting and step-saving arrangements.

Both the U-shaped and the Pullman type kitchens are to be found at Wyvernwood. The sink and adjoining counters are of the easy-to-keep-clean stainless steel that is so agreeable to use because its resiliency reduces kitchen clatter and helps to prevent dish breakage."

One of the many recreational features planned by the design team at Wyvernwood, 1940

"The time and labor saving kitchens in Wyvernwood will give busy mothers added hours of leisure time. “Time off” from kitchen work which they can devote to the children and enjoy with them the many recreational advantages provided to promote healthy, happy family living in this new community.

Among the highlights of these comfortable Wyvernwood homes are several other features that will meet with the busy homemaker’s enthusiastic approval. For example: an excellent automatic water heater which gives instantaneous hot water the moment a faucet is turned on; handsome oak floors in all rooms except kitchen and bathroom; plenty of base outlets for lamps and radio; a drudgery-saving method for daily disposal of garbage; sturdy, modern clothes dryers placed in a well-protected, sunny service yard. A rapid-growing hedge has been planted bordering the service yard; now about three feet high, it will reach a height of six feet. Many of the apartments have a private garden space for lawn or flowers. All of these and other homemaking aids will simplify and add enjoyment to the pleasurable task of keeping house in a brand new home at beautiful, parklike Wyvernwood.”[i]

The newly planted landscape at Wyvernwood, 1939. 
"Dick" Whittington Collection, USC Digital Library
As more buildings were completed, they quickly filled up. One year after it had initially opened, the last remaining buildings were finished. Howard Cunningham, the manager of the facility, said that “all who visit Wyvernwood are so struck by its beauty and uniqueness that a majority return to live here. The attractiveness of these new apartments, together with the delightful atmosphere of the surrounding lawns and gardens prove a lure that few can resist.”[ii]

From The Architectural Forum, May, 1940

"...and now we plan"
In addition being widely covered by the Southern California newspapers, Wyvernwood was featured in all of the leading design journals of the day, and with Baldwin Hills Village was included in an important exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum, organized by a group called “Telesis.” Led by architect Richard Neutra, the group attempted to show the latest and best developments in recent architecture and urban planning.  The show, called “…and now we plan,” opened in late 1941.[iii]

"Dick" Whittington Collection, USC Digital Library
The catalog for the exhibition pointed out that that the typical rectangular street grid, with unplanned speculative development, “prevents the development of a community consciousness. There is little neighborly contact, but rather a continual and often irritating consciousness of neighbors.”

At Wyvernwood and Baldwin Hills Village, however, the creative designers responsible for their intelligent plans had created desirable neighborhoods, each one “developed as a community in which the concept of home extends beyond the individual house and lot to the neighborhood, where an opportunity to participate in the life of the group leads to the development of a sense of social responsibility for the whole.”[iv]

That spirit of community lives on in both places today.

Vern Theater, S. Charles Lee, architect, 1941.
S.C. Lee Collection, UCLA Digital Library

Planned to harmonize with the architecture and layout of Wyvernwood, in July, 1938 it was announced that “approximately $3,000,000 will be spent on the development of a modern shopping center, to be known as the Hostetter retail business district, which will be constructed in connection with the residential section of Wyvernwood. The new business district will have a street frontage of more than 1000 feet located principally at the corners of East Olympic and Soto streets and is being planned to care for the daily wants and needs of the growing community surrounding the project, as well was Wyvernwood’s 4500 occupants.” Negotiations were under way with several national merchants, and it was noted that “architecturally, the buildings in the business district will conform in design to the residential units of Wyvernwood and be so constructed as to provide attractive shopper’s entrances in both front and rear of all structures.”[v]

Interior, Vern Theater, S. Charles Lee, architect, 1941.
S.C. Lee Collection, UCLA Digital Library
Lobby, Vern Theater, S. Charles Lee, architect, 1941.
S.C. Lee Collection, UCLA Digital Library
In 1941, the $100,000 S. Charles Lee designed Vern Theater completed the district, and the 900-seat air-conditioned structure was said to be one of the most modern and best-equipped theaters in Los Angeles.[vi]

A newly planted garden court, 1939.
"Dick" Whittington Collection, USC Digital Library

In September of 1944, the mortgage loans for both Wyvernwood ($2,700,000) and Baldwin Hills Village ($2,600,000) were acquired from their original loan holders when their owners refinanced, though it was noted that the FHA insurance would remain in place for both.

On March 13, 1950, D. Herbert Hostetter, Jr. died after a brief illness, his wife dying just three months later. On December 28, 1950, the Los Angeles Times reported that after “intensive negotiations,” the Wyvernwood community had been sold to Harry Jaffe, a prominent real estate investor, for $5,000,000, the sale called “one of the largest real estate transactions here in recent years.”[vii]

Though Wyvernwood would remain a vital community, and a desirable place to live, the sale marked the end of an era.

John S. Griffith, the visionary businessman behind Wyvernwood, went on to develop Lakewood City near Long Beach, afterward forming the real estate firm Griffith, Walker & Lee, which later became one of the nation's largest independently owned real estate sales organizations.

Griffith and his partners also built shopping centers in Lakewood, Santa Fe Springs, Buena Park, San Bernardino and Pomona.

Outside of real estate, Griffith was also involved in several financial organizations, including a controlling interest in the Metropolitan Savings and Loan Association (later Allstate) and the State Mutual Savings & Loan Association. He was a primary stockholder of the Southern California Savings & Loan Association.

He organized the Peoples Bank of Lakewood, becoming a director at Bank of America after it bought the Peoples Bank.  He was also a life trustee of Caltech University.

John S. Griffith died on November 14, 1979, at age 78.

For the entire set of Wyvernwood blog posts, see HERE

Garage courts alternate with garden courts, 1939
"Dick" Whittington Collection, USC Digital Library

Witmer & Watson modified building types to conform to the hilly site, 1939.
"Dick" Whittington Collection, USC Digital Library

"Dick" Whittington Collection, USC Digital Library

The "Olive Court" and Sussex Lane, 1939.
"Dick" Whittington Collection, USC Digital Library

"Dick" Whittington Collection, USC Digital Library

[i] “Wyvernwood Homes Livable and Charming,” Los Angeles Times, Aug 25, 1939, p. 11
[ii] “Gain in Population Continues at Wyvernwood Community,” Los Angeles Times, Aug, 25, 1939, p. F3
[iii] Other members of the Southern California Telesis group included Baldwin Hills Village architect Robert Alexander and landscape architect Fred Barlow, Jr.; architects Gregory Ain, J.R. Davidson, John Lautner, Raphael Soriano, Sumner Spaulding; other notables included influential bookseller Jake Zeitlin, urban planner and writer Mel Scott, and his wife landscape architect Geraldine Knight-Scott; and Los Angeles Times art editor and critic Arthur Millier.
[iv] “…and now we plan,” Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Catalog for the exhibit, October 22 1941 through January 18, 1942
[v] “Shopping Center Involves Investment of $3,000,000,” Los Angeles Times, Jul 24, 1938, p. 12
[vi] “Wyvernwood Area Theater to Open,” Los Angeles Times, May 25, 1941, p. E3
[vii] “Wyvernwood Project Sold For $5,000,000,” Los Angeles Times, December 28, 1950, p. A1

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