Thursday, September 15, 2011
Wilson, Bulla: Two More Lawyers At Second and Spring in 1896
By ROGER M. GRACE
Add socialite Percy R. Wilson and politico Robert N. Bulla to the list of lawyers who were among the original tenants in 1896 in the Wilcox Building.
The law firm of Wilson & Bulla is listed in the 1896 city directory as occupying offices at 37 Temple Block, a three-story building located at what is now the northeast tip of City Hall.
Notwithstanding that directory entry, by July of that year, the firm had relocated in the new Wilcox Building where, as I’ve noted, this newspaper now has its offices and its press.
The law firm’s tenancy can be ascertained from two 1896 articles in the Los Angeles Times.
A July 18 report says:
“The creditors of the Mt. Lowe Railway Company held a meeting yesterday afternoon at the offices of Wilson & Bulla in the Wilcox Block. About fifty of the creditors were present.”
Another article, which appears in the July 24 issue, relates:
“Creditors of the Mt. Lowe Railway Company met again yesterday afternoon at the office of Wilson & Bulla in the Wilcox building. The meeting was called chiefly for the purpose of considering a proposition in writing from Prof. Lowe, which, if accepted by all parties in interest, would secure all claims against the company.”
“Prof. Lowe” was Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, owner/proprietor of the Mount Lowe Railway, the “Railway in the Clouds.” He’s been mentioned here before. His son-in-law, attorney Herbert Cutler Brown, was also a tenant in the Wilcox Building in those initial days.
Lowe, who had overextended himself, was able to hold off his creditors for three more years. In 1899, his mountain-top empire and the electric railway that transported passengers up to it were taken from him, except for an observatory.
It’s no mystery why the 1896 city directory—“Maxwell’s Los Angeles City Directory and Gazetteer of Southern California”—does not correctly reflect the whereabouts of Wilson & Bulla in July. The book was issued in early June, perhaps even late May. The Los Angeles Times’ edition of June 5 refers to it as having “just appeared.”
What is remarkable is that of the 14 lawyers previously identified here as occupying spaces in the building from the outset, the names of 13 of them do appear in that directory…though it appears that few, if any, of their tenancies had yet commenced when publication took place. The directory evidently included anticipatory listings based on Maxwell’s “canvassers” learning of leases having been signed.
In fact, the directory contained ads for H. Jevne’s grocery store, with an address of 208 and 210 S. Spring Street, even though he did not open there until July 25.
The one lawyer I’ve profiled as an original tenant who was not listed in that directory was Lynn Helm, who went on to become a Los Angeles Bar Assn. president. His tenancy was determined from a July 8 item in the Times announcing that Helm had “removed his office to No. 450 Wilcox Block.”
Before telling of the careers of Wilson and Bulla, I pause to clear up possible confusion over the term “block”—as in “Temple Block” or “Wilcox Block”—and to offer a glimpse at the 1896 directory.
While the term “block” today connotes the area between two cross-streets, it previously also had a narrower meaning. The 1913 Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary includes this definition: “A large or long building divided into separate houses or shops, or a number of houses or shops built in contact with each other so as to form one building; a row of houses or shops.”
In 1896, there were some allusions to our building, at the southeast corner of Second and Spring, as the “Wilcox Block.” However, that denominator was more commonly used in reference to a pre-existing building on North Spring Street (where Jevne’s store was located before moving to its larger quarters). “Wilcox Building” was usually used as the name of the new edifice on South Spring Street.
The directory reflects that the legal profession was suffering from an image problem even then. The June 5 Times article mentions that the directory that year showed that 397 lawyers were now practicing in the city, contrasted with 344 the year before. This comment appears:
“Whether the increase of 53 lawyers during the year will be considered as a step in advance depends upon the point of view from which each citizen regards the legal profession.”
The directory contains the names of 43,281 persons. Multiplying that by 2.25, it reckoned that the City of Los Angeles had a population of 97,382.
The June 10 issue of the Los Angeles Herald comments that “the apparently modest ratio adopted for estimate, makes safe the assertion that the population of the area covered by the term Los Angeles city is past the 100,000 mark.”
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company