Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, January 3, 2008


Page 11



Attorney Lynn Helm: Among First Tenants of Wilcox Building




Lynn Helm, who was to serve as president of the Los Angeles Bar Assn. and later head the voluntary organization that was a precusor to the State Bar of California, started out in law practice in L.A. in 1896 as a tenant in the newly opened Wilcox Building.

An item in the July 8, 1896 issue of the Los Angeles Times reads:

“Lynn Helm, Esq., attorney-at-law, has removed his office to No. 450 Wilcox Block, corner of Second and Spring streets.”

In those days, street addresses of prominent buildings were omitted. Helm was in Room 450, and it was assumed you knew that the entryway to offices on upper floors in the building was at 206 S. Spring Street. (That space is now occupied by the “Blue Cube,” a restaurant; there’s no longer a Fourth Floor; the 5-story building was reduced to a single floor—not counting its basement—in the aftermath of the 1971 Sylmar earthquake.) The word “block” did not then necessarily connote a city block but, rather, could describe a large building with multiple users.

Any previous office Helm might have had in Los Angeles was a makeshift one; it wasn’t until 1896 that he came here from Chicago.

Helm, born in Chicago on Oct. 29, 1857, graduated high in his class from Princeton with a bachelor’s degree in 1879, then studied law in the office of his father, longtime attorney Henry T. Helm…who had once argued a case opposite a fellow Illinois barrister named Abraham Lincoln. Lynn Helm was admitted to the bars in Illinois and Indiana in 1881, then joined with his father in practice until coming to Los Angeles.

The Sept. 13, 1901 issue of the Times reports:

“United States District Judge Olin Wellborn yesterday afternoon appointed Lynn Helm, Esq., as referee in bankruptcy for Los Angeles county….

“Mr. Helm came to Los Angeles about four years ago, and has attained marked success in the practice of his profession. As an attorney for wealthy business men and property owners he has been a prominent figure of the local bar. In the United States court some time ago he secured $17,000 damages against the Union Pacific Railway Company for a passenger put off a train when riding on a ‘scalped’ ticket.

“The new referee at present has his offices in the Wilcox Block, and resides at No. 1225 West Adams street. His appointment has met with general approval among those most interested in the bankrutcy court.”

Helm’s federal appointment did not entail moving his office. The entire membership of the U.S. District Court for the southern part of the state—that is, Wellborn—was then housed with other employees of the federal government in Los Angeles on the Fourth Floor of the Tajo Building, at the northeast corner of First Street and Broadway. But Helm did not have so much as a desk there.

Official federal business was conducted by him in his law office. Here, for example, is an item appearing on Feb. 12, 1904, in the Oxnard Courier:

“Notice has been received from Lynn Helm, Referee in Bankruptcy at Los Angeles, that the creditors of Jos. S. Linnell, a duly adjudicated bankrupt, will have the first meeting on Feb. 20, 1904 at 2 p. m. at 450 Wilcox Building.”

Although Helm was to move his office to other commercial buildings, he never gained space in a government structure, even after a federal facility was opened Sept. 26, 1910, marked by Wellborn hoisting the American flag to the pinnicle of the pole on the roof.

By contrast, after Helm retired in 1915, his successor was given space in the Federal Building in which to conduct official business, as well as a rent-free private office…that is, one in which to carry on his outside law practice.

Ethical notions were quite different then. Helm was a close friend of Wellborn…it might be said a protégé of the judge. In an official capacity, Helm was answerable to him. Nonetheless, Helm appeared before Wellborn, representing private clients.

Next week, I’ll tell more of Lynn Helm, one of the original occupants of the building that now houses the offices and the press of this newspaper and our tenants.

A quest to uncover the history of the building, out of personal curiosity, has uncovered information that has struck me as too interesting not to share.

Last year’s columns were devoted to only two of the original lessees: first, grocer Hans Jevne; next, the Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Assn. For the next several columns, I’ll tell, at a more rapid pace, of some of the notable persons who have maintained offices here—including lawyers Joseph Scott and ex-District Attorney James McLachlan—as well as prominent entities that carried on their operations in the structure such as Southwestern University School of Law, the University of Southern California Law School, the California Club, and the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers.

Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company

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