When Jack Dempsey captivated the world by taking the heavyweight title in 1919, it was natural that Hollywood would come calling. Although his film career was fairly brief, the Dempsey films were nonetheless popular fare capitalizing on the Manassa Mauler’s renown. Ironically, Jess Willard, “The Great White Hope,” whom he had beaten for the heavyweight title in a controversial match in Toledo, Ohio, had already preceded him to the film capital, becoming a real estate operator and later grocery store owner (of “Jess Willard’s Food Department Store”) @ 1334 North Vine Street and residing @ 1616 Wabasso Way in Glendale.
Upon his arrival in the film capital, Dempsey first rented 7021 Franklin Avenue in 1920, a grand English Tudor (no longer extant) that had formerly been rented out to such major Hollywood stars as Fannie Ward and Mae Murray, but soon purchased a home of his own in the Grand View Heights Tract in West Adams @ 2415 South Western Avenue.
Although Dempsey’s new digs may have seemed far away from Hollywood proper, the neighborhood was popular with some major motion picture figures including Rupert Hughes, who had taken the 1908 Frederick L. Roehrig designed William E. Ramsey (Ramsey-Durfee) estate right next door @ 2425 South Western Avenue.
While the Dempsey home was far more modest than the Hughes house, it was nonetheless quite charming. It’s seven rooms were surrounded by lush gardens and patios that seemed to extend the size of the property. The Dempsey home had been built by local businessman A.B. Tomlinson at the turn of the Twentieth Century in the Mission style so popular in Southern California at the time. The most dramatic feature of the house was an elaborate heraldic crest emblazoned in bold bas relief above the entry portal. Prior to Dempsey’s arrival, the home had a colorful ownership history that included newspaper magnate John Bradbury of the L.A. Herald, and “Copper King” Colonel W. C. Greene, who met an untimely death in a runaway horse accident in Cananea, Mexico in 1911.
When Bradbury purchased the house in 1904 for a reported $15,000, a considerable sum at the time, the L.A. Times nonetheless thought it a bargain, stating “the price quoted seems reasonable for this very pretty and comfortable little home.”
Dempsey remained in the house on Western for the duration of his brief Hollywood career, opening the house frequently for entertainments and charitable functions attended by the elite of the film colony before finally moving to Hollywood itself in 1925 with his purchase of the estate of legendary automobile designer Harley J. Earl on Los Feliz Boulevard. It was a golden time for both Dempsey and Hollywood. As he was later to write in his autobiography, “Those days were nothing but fun and laughs. I was rich and I was in motion pictures. What else was there?”
By the time Dempsey had decamped Western Avenue, the area’s character had changed dramatically and the grand homes that did not fall to the wrecker’s ball found a new life in institutional use. Dempsey’s home was no exception, becoming the Paradise Sanitarium for a number of years.
In 1968, the historic old home was demolished and replaced by a medical office. Although he later owned finer houses, Dempsey remembered his home on Western Avenue so fondly he put a picture of it in his 1977 autobiography.