A drawing of the electrical adobe home, Journal of Electricity, Jan. 15, 1921.
Real estate brokers often look for a unique hook or gimmick on which to sell their developments. Any special amenity or feature which can grab headlines and attract the attention of serious buyers, such as a giant electric advertising sign or exclusive, high-end features, is dreamed up.
S.H. (Sidney H.) Woodruff reigns as one of the early Los Angeles masters of ballyhoo, perhaps most well known for his involvement with, and perhaps conception of, the creation of one of the world’s largest electrified advertising signs spelling out the name of the Hollywoodland development in 1923. Woodruff dreamed up fanciful gimmicks promoting his real estate schemes, some of them leading to legal troubles.
Hollywood at Play, by Donovan Brandt, Mary Mallory and Stephen X. Sylvester goes on sale Feb. 1.
A photo of the Electrical Adobe House, Feb. 5, 1921, Los Angeles Herald.
Sometimes he inflated his architectural background and experience, leading a San Francisco businessman and financier to sue him for fraud and cost overruns in 1912 in a case which ended up in California’s Supreme Court. In 1919, he was arrested for defrauding through the United States mail in a case regarding bogus land sales.
Veteran real estate salesman Tracy Shoults signed Woodruff in 1920 to help promote his new Windsor Square project, an offshoot of his upscale developments in Marlborough Square and Windsor Heights. Solid and dependable, Shoults began selling small lots around south Los Angeles in the 1890s, gradually working his way up to more prestigious areas like these near Hancock Park. Shoults needed some flash and sizzle to attract more public attention and the gregarious, creative Woodruff fit the bill.
The June 13, 1920, Los Angeles Times reported, using press release hyperbole, that the Tracy Shoults Company intended to construct “the most pretentious adobe structure erected in California since 1856,” conceived by mastermind Woodruff in the Spanish Revival style. The modern two-story showplace at Second Street and Larchmont Boulevard would serve as a demonstration model of an all-electrical home, filled with every new appliance, part of a “convenience outlet campaign” as described in the January 1, 1921, Electrical Review. Juan Fernandez would lead construction of the adobe home, for owner R. (Ralph) K. Snow. Unknown to the public, this so-called “owner” was actually a bookkeeper with Title Insurance and Trust Co. which handled titles for the development, and would rise to assistant trust officer in Glendale by 1921.
The Electrical Adobe House, Feb. 5, 1921, Los Angeles Herald.
This unique showplace was actually a prime advertising showcase for both the Tracy E. Shoults Co. and their fellow sponsors, particularly the electrical industry, who provided their products and services free of charge in exchange for listings in newspaper and magazine stories and ads directed at upper middle class and wealthy home owners. Architect Harley Bradley described in the January 15, 1921, Journal of Electricity that the home “incorporates in its construction all the most modern electrical features of present-day building methods including 117 outlets, 37 of which are convenience outlets of the latest plug-in type for the efficient use of all household electrical appliances and laborsaving devices, underground electrical service and complete telephone wiring.”
“This home will be completely furnished and decorated, “ready to live in” by Barker Bros. of Los Angeles….In addition to the furnishings, this home will be equipped by the electrical industry with about fifty of the very latest and most practical household appliances, which can be seen in actual operation.” These devices included dishwasher, silver polisher, knife sharpener, mixer, vacuum electrical fan, vacuum cleaner, phonograph, heater, range, sewing machine, warming pad, electric piano, refrigerator, boiler, washing machine, dryer, ironing machine, tire inflator, battery recharger, and car polisher. These unique and special features and “artistic decoration” would hopefully draw high end, exclusive customers.
An ad for homes in Windsor Square, Los Angeles Herald, Feb. 5, 1921.
Woodruff recognized the value of free advertising and cross-promotion, allowing more bang for the buck. Companies taking part in the construction of the home joined in co-op advertising of the home tour in local newspapers, describing their products and the convenience and safety of electricity. These businesses included the Southern California Contractor and Dealers’ Association, Apex Electric Suction Cleaner, Electric Supply Lighting Co., F. E. Newbery Electric Co., F. A. Clarke Co., and Unit System of Heating and Manufacturing Co.Two automobiles provided by Hudson Motor Co. on display in the garage would be included in the sales price. Beverly Hills Nurseries would design and plant the garden.
This adobe home would be built to modern specifications, with concrete lintels and plates all the way to the foundation, and bearing plates of redwood or cypress would be employed for water resistance. The concrete foundation would also be water-proofed to guard against deterioration.
It would serve as a gateway to the new community, with viewing opportunities by the general public to tour, hopefully leading to real estate sales in the tract. Shoults described the idea as a successful advertising stunt in Electrical Merchandising, from organizing the tract around distinctive architecture to working on the largest scale project of this type in Los Angeles with the California Electrical Co-operative Campaign as an “opportunity to educate the public in the use of the latest electrical appliances…and to encourage the building of electrical homes.”
“White coal” powers a house, Los Angeles Times, Jan. 21, 1921.
Shoults proudly reported on the attention grabbing campaign which basically advertised an advertisement in newspaper and magazines, a wonderful cross-promotional stunt for everyone involved. Ads would describe the home in detail and each of the advertising partners, while tours of the facility would hopefully generate sales.
The Shoults Company allowed tours January 20 to February 13, 1921, from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays, with groups such as women’s groups and service organizations allowed to reserve their own special tours. Special illumination in the evenings from 6 to 10 p.m. further drove spectator interest by making it even more conspicuous. Crowds appeared to be huge, with the company estimating that $25,000 had viewed the home by February 5. A February 13, 1921, Los Angeles Herald ad called it “the most famous house in Southern California now for sale.”
The Hudson automobile replaces the ox cart in modern adobe! Los Angeles Herald, Jan. 29, 1921.
During the three weeks the home was open, sales for lots amounted to $250,000 with prospects of more per the Electrical Merchandising story. High-class attendees who owned automobiles costing more than $4,000 each seemed to dominate visiting lists. The company believed that of the more than 75,000 visitors who toured the home, a vast majority became acquainted with the real estate tract and if they did not buy, would at least recommend to their friends.
In the end, it appears the house sat for a time before selling, and virtually no listings for it appear in Los Angeles city directories but it did serve as a successful advertising stunt for the Windsor Square development. City directories and newspapers fail to list owners through 1970. Per the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety Records, a demolition permit was pulled March 10, 1970, for the gorgeous two-story home. Perhaps the lot sat empty for several years, because not until April 10, 1976, does a new construction permit pop up for Adriana Caselotti, the voice of “Snow White” in Disney’s animated feature of the same name, to build a simple one-story frame structure.
This fascinating sales gimmick for 201 S. Larchmont Blvd. drove public viewings at the same time it advertised and educated the powers of electrical products, soon to be a boon in middle class American homes, also demonstrating the safety and exotic possibilities of adobe construction. It also foreshadows publicity and advertising gimmicks for Tracy Shoults and S. H. Woodruff in what would become perhaps their most successful real estate development, Hollywoodland, enhanced in late 1923 with the construction of the largest electrical advertising sign in the United States, which stands to this day.