In Hancock Park the section of Rossmore Avenue between Beverly Boulevard and Melrose Avenue is known as the Hancock Park Apartment Corridor owing to the cluster of apartment houses/condominiums lining the thoroughfare that range from the rather modest to the ultra grand. Presiding most elegantly and most dramatically over this district is W. Douglas Lee’s magnificent 1929 El Royale at 450 North Rossmore Avenue, the grande dame of the Hancock Park Apartment Corridor. And, but a few doors down, is the equally magnificent Country Club Manor (1927) at 316 North Rossmore Avenue designed by the masterful Leland A. Bryant. Found between these two glamorous and majestic buildings is the somewhat innocuous little 410 North Rossmore Avenue, a plain but good-hearted girl of an apartment house that cannot compete aesthetically with its stylish neighbors. But like the plain but good-hearted girl, one should not judge on appearances alone. Hidden beneath its bland institutional exterior lies a surprisingly dramatic and even bizarre history of how it came to be built by the most unlikely of sources – the United States Army.
While 410 North Rossmore was officially completed in 1944, she is in fact much older than she at first looks, actually dating back to 1930. In that year, amid much hoopla, it was announced that a great new apartment structure, to be known as the Beverly-Rossmore, was to be built at the then enormous cost of over $1,000,000 for developer Harry Feigenbaum. Upon its completion, the striking Beverly-Rossmore would take its place as one of the great apartment house structures of the West eclipsing its haughty older sisters on either side. Max Maltzman, fresh off his success in designing the nearby Ravenswood Apartments at 570 North Rossmore (1930), was engaged by Feigenbaum to design the height-limit structure, which was to rise the maximum legally allowable height of thirteen stories.
For the Beverly-Rossmore, Maltzman turned away from the sleek art deco of the Ravenswood and pulled out all the stops for the French Gothic, creating a dramatic and mammoth edifice that would have looked quite at home in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Candle snuffer towers, parapets, crenulation – the only thing Maltzman seems to have left out of his design were gargoyles. The outwardly old world exterior, however, belied the Beverly-Rossmore’s ultra-modern layout, which was done in a cross-plan form allowing for maximum exposures for each of the Beverly-Rossmore’s luxurious apartment suites. Incorporated into the overall design was an underground garage capable of accommodating 125 automobiles accessible through two separate entrance/exits. The first floor was given over to a series of grand public spaces starting with a jaw-dropping lobby from which led to an enormous ball-room, lounge, billiards room and eighty-foot long solarium, all created for the pleasure of the Beverly-Rossmore’s residents and guests. Upstairs were 103 elegant apartments with the twelfth and thirteenth floors the exclusive domain of a set of spectacular eight-room duplex penthouses, each with their own private rooftop gardens and 360 degree views from mountains to the sea.
Construction on the massive apartment block began in November of 1930 and while the world’s economic news continued to grow grimmer and grimmer by the day, the steadily rising Beverly-Rossmore was cheered by an ever more fearful public. But it was all bravado. In the summer of 1931, with four floors completed and nearly a half-million spent, the project’s financing collapsed and construction ground to a halt. It was said it was just a temporary glitch, but it wasn’t. The financing that dried up stayed that way and for years the mammoth uncompleted hulk of the Beverly-Rossmore sat rotting across from the Wilshire Country Club, a sad and mute testament of the nation’s grim economic times and a notable eyesore in the upscale community.
In the summer of 1937, dame fortune appeared to smile at long last upon the forlorn skeleton of the Beverly-Rossmore with the announcement that financing to the tune of $810,000 had been arranged to bring the long moribund project finally to completion. A lot had changed in public tastes since construction halted in 1931 and the blueprints for Maltzman’s now-dated design were unceremoniously chucked in the trash and a whole new design by the highly regarded Gilbert Stanley Underwood was commissioned along with a whole new name. No longer would the building be known by the antiquated and dull “Beverly-Rossmore.” Now it would be known by the sexy new name of the “Rossmore-Beverly.”
In announcing the start of construction, the building’s investors declared that Underwood’s bold design would “reflect the newest in European designing adapted to the American viewpoint.” Underwood, an experienced hotel architect whose work included the bungalows of the Garden of Allah and Yosemite’s renowned Ahwahnee, reworked the building, adding four more stories to the existing section creating an eight-story Streamline Deco block highlighted by a series of semi-circular balconies across the front façade. Gone were the gigantic movie-star penthouses of Maltzman’s earlier design and there would now be 119 units in the structure ranging from hotel rooms, bachelor rooms, single rooms, doubles, triples and four-room apartments. There would also be a large lounge and a set of “recreation balconies” incorporated into the more than 130,000 square feet of floor space in the new Rossmore-Beverly. But as any gambler will tell you, Dame Fortune can be a cruel mistress and after such a promising start, the funding suddenly vanished and the hammers and saws once again fell silent at 410 North Rossmore. As the weeds began to sprout up all around it, the tired old skeleton of a building returned to its familiar somnolent state awaiting the day, if ever, of its reawakening.
It would, as it turned out, take a world war to finally cause the completion of the long abandoned apartment house. From the “Day of Infamy” onward, the United States was thrown into a frenzy of frenetic activity in its efforts to prosecute the war. The swelling ranks of the military were constantly on the move and between the soldiers and others returning to war production work there came to pass a great housing shortage, particularly in Southern California. This problem became so acute that the Army itself stepped in and began looking for a way to help ease the crisis. Popping up on their radar was the gigantic unfinished apartment house at 410 North Rossmore. Seeing four stories already structurally completed, the Army Corps of Engineers believed they could quickly rework the site with just what was already finished and have the building open in double time. The order of the day for the Army was, of course, speed not aesthetic beauty with their design on a far more modest scale than either Maltzman’s or Underwood’s. But by chopping the grand double height public rooms into two separate floors, the Army was still able to create 78 spacious apartments in less than half the floor height of either previous design. And while the simple, somewhat deco exterior may have looked vaguely like a hospital, the Army Corps. of Engineers managed to do something no one else had ever been able to do before and that was to actually complete 410 North Rossmore.
The Sturm & Drang of its bizarre origins long behind it, 410 North Rossmore today leads a quiet, dignified existence as a highly respectable high-end building in a highly respectable high-end neighborhood. Although not as outwardly glamorous as its exalted neighbors, 410 North Rossmore can nonetheless turn up its nose in pride over its much more unique origins.