The Bizarre Saga of 410 North Rossmore Avenue

A Google Earth view of 410 North Rossmore sandwiched between the El Royale (L) and the Country Club Manor (R)

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.

(Via Google Earth)

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.

Uncle Sam Takes Over. (LAPL)

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.

(Via Google Earth)

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.

This entry was posted in Hancock Park and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to The Bizarre Saga of 410 North Rossmore Avenue

  1. Dee says:

    What a saga!

  2. James LoCascio says:

    I absolutely love this article for good reason, I manage 410 Rossmore. I’m very curious about the pic’s of our building where you got them from and are they accesible to anyone?
    Cheers,

    James LoCascio
    323-469-3166

    • Steve says:

      That’s great! I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece. It really is an amazing building with an amazing story. “Who knew?” As they say. I wrote you separately about this, but for anyone else interested, the pics came from the Los Angeles Public Library’s online photo database @ http://www.lapl.org. They have thousands of pictures available to view online, but it is only a part of their vast collection. Anyone with a specific need should contact them and see if they have “anything under the counter.” So glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. Alice Landly says:

    Great Article. Great Story. I lived at this building for almost 6 years and never knew the whole story!

  4. Joe M says:

    I currently live at 410 Rossmore and its a great building, in a great location, and the Management is phenomenal. One of the best living situations Ive ever had. Great story too!!

    Joe M

  5. Bradley M says:

    Great article Steve. I just came across it. Until recently, I lived it what I believe to be Max Maltzman’s most interesting work located at 1840 N Berendo in Los Feliz. It is an Italian Revival meets Spanish Colonial Revival. I loved every minute in that masterpiece. Maltzman remains of the finest architects in Los Angeles and his work is becoming more celebrated over the years.

  6. This was my first Los Angeles home when I moved from Manhattan; I lived there for 14 years — first in #302, then in #107, with my then-husband. Since we moved out, I’ve lived in a Glendale townhouse, a post-and-beam home on top of Mt. Washington, and in a Downtown LA loft. They all had/have their charms…but I’d move back to the very solid, and Larchmont-close, 410 in a minute. Thank you for sharing this building’s rather remarkable history, Steve!

  7. Pingback: North Rossmore Avenue between Melrose and Rosewood - City-Data Forum

  8. Deidre says:

    Max Maltzman is increasingly revered in LA architecture circles. The Ravenwood is one of LA’s best buildings and a constant source of admiration and discussion amongst my architecture-phile friends. i live one block from Maltzman’s Los Feliz Northmere at 1840 Berendo street. I admire its exquisite detail while walking my dog past it every morning. The Northmere has incredible views of Griffith Park and Barnsdall Park in addition to exuding Maltzman magic.

  9. Steve Dinardo says:

    Max Maltzman showed versatility in the types of buildings he designed and seemed well-versed in a variety of styles. His best works being the Ravenswood in Larchmont, the Charmont in Santa and The Northmere Apartments in Los Feliz. It should also be noted that he undertook major projects for the Jewish community , including: the Beth Thepelo Synagogue in East Los Angeles; and expansion of the Talmud Torah Synagogue; the Morgen David Synagogue; and the Hebrew Home for the Aged. It is believed that is was probably one of the first Jewish architects to set up his own practice in the city in the 1920s.

  10. Ken Kemzura says:

    I lived there for two months with my Aunt in 1975. I remember my Dad telling me how it stood unfinished during the war. Now I know the whole story. Thank you! I moved from there to 649
    N. Rossmore Ave and lived there for almost 37 years!

  11. Lauren Keller says:

    Max Maltzman’s The Northmere in Los Feliz was recently painted. It looks fabulous! Warren Beatty was filming a movie at the building a few weeks ago. It will be interesting to see Matlzman’s masterpiece on the big screen. The building is located at 1840 North Berendo Street in Los Feliz just south of Franklin.

  12. Jose J. Rosado says:

    For sci-fi buffs, there was an old tv sci-fi series in the mid-1960’s called ‘The Invaders’, with Roy Thinnes. Loved it as a kid, still love it at 59. Season one episode ‘Genesis’ features some outside shots of the Rossmore, in the episode it is supposed to be a hospital (Newport General Hospital, as the sign over the door says) in Rhode Island. Some of the action in the episode happens inside the ‘hospital’ (although those shots look like they were done in-studio). If you can watch this episode (on dvd, internet, etc.) the initial sequence of the main character’s arrival at the ‘Newport General Hospital’ happens from about the 5 minute mark (on the dvd version) to about the 5 minute 30 second mark.
    I have been having a lot of fun for the last week, hunting down places used for the location shots on this series. They did a good job of changing signs and street marker names to make the viewer believe that the action was happening all over the U.S., but sometimes a detail would escape their attention.
    I have been watching the episodes looking for those details, when I spot one I use the net and Google Earth (especially Street View) to find the locations. Some look untouched by time, others have been altered, others have been redeveloped and are no more (such as Marineland California, also used in the ‘Genesis’ episode).

  13. Meghan says:

    I love Max Maltzman’s Northmere in Los Feliz. My friend lives there and I will be the first in line for the next available unit. :)Unfortunately, No one ever seems to move out of there b/c it is the coolest place in Los Feliz.😦

  14. Pingback: California Fool’s Gold — Exploring Hancock Park | Eric Brightwell

  15. T-Klein says:

    It would be fascinating to see more pics of The Northmere on Berendo street in Los Feliz. it is an incredible building with a rich LA history.

  16. Dawn Bresnahan says:

    Steve,

    Can you do a piece on the Northmere on 1840 N Berendo street? My husband and I love that building. We walked by it this morning and commented how it is one of the best properties in Los Feliz.

  17. j. Gillespie says:

    My SCI-Arc prof loved Max Maltzman and frequently quipped in class: “To admire a Maltzman building is one thing, to live in one is an entirely different experience.”

  18. Some may have missed a less-well-known Maltzman at 357 S. Alvarado (1929), across from the site of William Desmond Taylor’s 1922 murder. There’s a post with pix here: http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showpost.php?p=7284858&postcount=32845. Westlake (and Pico-Union) is packed with architectural gems. Many get demolished and no one seems to notice.
    (just one intact block, with 3 Morgan, Walls & (Clements) buildings and a Monaco & Bordeaux) is highlighted in this post: http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showpost.php?p=7275757&postcount=32618) Another pair of buildings is here (and the peregrinations of an 1897 barn): http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showpost.php?p=7267614&postcount=32499

    Thx for your site Steve. You’re the best.

  19. Charlie says:

    I lived in 410 Rossmore for two years. It’s very mysterious. The lobby’s low ceilings reminded me of the thirteenth-and-a-half floor in “Being John Malkovich”–you always had the suspicion there’s a small door leading to a whole other set of rooms.

    The evidence of the building’s original 13 floor design can be spotted in the building’s sub-basement, where concrete support beams as thick as redwoods now support a structure one quarter the weight they were designed to.

    I’m most curious about the fate of the cast concrete arched windows on the lobby level. You can see them in the early photos when the building went derelict…but they’re not visible on the completed building. I have a feeling the army brought in a concrete saw and did what the army does best: make a round window fit a square frame.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s