306 Loma Drive, via Google Street View.
Long a beautiful site at 306 Loma Drive in Los Angeles, the Mary Andrews Clark Memorial Home has been a site of affordable housing for more than 100 years. Built by Sen. William Andrews Clark as a memorial to his mother, the home provided attractive and safe housing to young working women, at a time when middle and working-class people strained to make ends meet, then as now.
Mary Andrews Clark was born in Pennsylvania in 1814, living a simple, quiet live. She married farmer John Clark in 1837 and raised a large family before they moved to Iowa in 1856. After her son William began making his fortune, the family moved to Los Angeles in 1882. Sen. Clark worked his way through mining, trading, and various professions, eventually becoming a copper baron known as one of the Copper Kings of Butte, Mont. As such, he owned mines, railroads, banks, and newspapers, as well as later serving as a senator from Montana from 1901 to 1907, bribing members of the Montana Legislature in return for their votes when earlier running for senator. Clark doted on his mother, a lifelong Presbyterian who devoted her life to her family, friends, charities, and helping others.
Mary Mallory’s latest book, “Living With Grace: Life Lessons from America’s Princess,” will be released June 30.
A postcard of the Mary Andrews Clark Memorial Home, listed on EBay at $24.99.
Six years after her death in 1904, he began planning a way to memorialize her life. The Sept. 3, 1910, Los Angeles Herald proclaimed that Sen. Clark planned to build a grand home in honor of his mother for “young working women who have no home, especially those employed at stores and offices.” These girls or women worked in respectable positions but found housing costs prohibitive. The paper called it similar to a Young Women’s Christian Association home, except cheaper. This residence would be constructed at 336 Loma Drive on land purchased by his brother-in-law, T.F. Miller. The paper stated that the land was selected because of its nearness to the business area of Los Angeles, two streetcar lines, “and at the same time, its refined environment.”
The Nov. 18 paper reported that after negotiations, Clark would present the home to the YWCA upon completion if certain conditions were met. They printed a letter from Clark to Mrs. D.K. Edwards, president of the Los Angeles’ YWCA Board of Directors. “I have purchased a tract of land on the Loma Drive of this city and intend to erect thereon a veritable building to constitute a home for young women working for a living, where they may be provided with the comforts of home life at a nominal expense to themselves, sufficient however, to cover actual costs of living and maintenance of the institution…. The institution is to be a permanent memorial in honor of his mother and to be known as the Mary Andrews Clark Memorial Home.”
This deal stated that Clark would completely construct and furnish the home and grounds before conveying it to the YWCA. It required that the institution be nonsectarian, never sold, remain free from debt, fully insured, and maintained in perpetuity for this purpose by the YWCA with no cost to Clark or his heirs. If the organization failed to follow through, the property would revert to Clark and/or his heirs for charity purposes.
The dining room at the Mary Andrews Clark Memorial Home, courtesy of Mary Mallory.
By May 7, 1911, Arthur B. Benton was hired as architect. Benton, later a president of the Southern California chapter of the American Institute of Architects, designed YWCAs, churches, and hotels, but perhaps is most well known for his designs of Riverside’s Mission Inn and the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse.
Sen. Clark, busy with all his interests, finally began soliciting bids in October 1911 for a building the paper described in its Oct. 8, 1911, edition as a four-story reinforced concrete building of brick walls with a mansard roof in the French Renaissance style, containing a reception room, parlors, chapel, library, lecture room to seat 300, hospital suite, dining room to seat 200, kitchen, sleeping porches, 15 washrooms, bowling alleys, power plant, and servants’ quarters. Each individual room would contain a lavatory and toilet. Hardwood and pine trim would decorate the structure, which would also possess steam heat, a vacuum cleaning system, an elevator, and tile floors. G.H. White served as contractor for the combination Class A/B/C structure per the Nov. 17, 1911, permit.
Perhaps the city doubted the true use of the home, as architect Benton wrote Chief Inspector J. J. Backus a typed letter on the Nov. 10, 1911, permit stating that the sole function of the home “will be practically the same as the Young Men’s dormitory, really a woman’s hotel.” It was not to be employed to “house sick, demented, injured, infirm, aged, or specifically orphaned persons.”
The cornerstone was laid Feb. 9, 1912, at 3:30 p.m. on a building estimated to cost $200,000. Mayor Alexander of Los Angeles and Mrs. D.K. Edward spoke, along with prayers and invocations from several ministers. Sen. Clark addressed the crowd before the audience sang the hymn “Jesus Shall Reign.”
Almost a year later, the building celebrated its grand opening on Feb. 6, 1913 at 3 pm, with the Hon. A. Clark presenting rights to the building to Mrs. Willets J. Hole, YWCA local president. After speeches by several ministers, the main floor of the home opened for tours by the public. The Feb. 1, 1913, Herald stated that the building cost $300,000 to build and furnish, and now also possessed tennis, handball, and basketball courts. The Los Angeles Times reported that the grandchildren of Mrs. Clark purchased a large American flag they presented to the institution, hoisting it at the ceremony.
The library at the Mary Andrews Clark Memorial Home, courtesy of Mary Mallory.
Each young woman between the ages of 18 and 30 would pay $4 to $8 weekly for room and board, receiving the right to use sewing machines, laundry equipment, gymnasium, library, and attend regular lectures and courses at the home. They would be provided two meals a day, with three provided on Sunday, and be allowed to stay only three years. On Feb. 20, 1913, 200 young business women began moving in to the elaborate structure, which included cherry red tiled floors in the receiving and dining rooms and leather cushions nooks in the library.
Mrs. Harriet Murray, Mrs. Laura Drum, and Miss Florence Calderwood were in charge of the girls and home, and hosted an open house on Tuesday, May 3 from 3 to 5 p.m. and 8 to 10 p.m. for the public reception rooms. The YWCA would hold regular open house tours of the building through the 1960s.
Besides hosting open houses, the Mary Andrews Clark Memorial Home entertained visiting YWCA girls and members, especially for conventions held in Los Angeles, meetings of the local group, and lectures and classes. On Jan. 24, 1915, the YWCA held a memorial service in honor of what would have been Mrs. Clark’s 101st birthday at the facility. In its early days, the home also celebrated the lighting of Yuletide candles at Christmas, Easter sunrise for its residents, and anniversary parties. The girls themselves could also host events, ranging in size from one person up to 40 in the different size reception rooms or even their own wedding announcements and receptions.
The Veranda at the Mary Andrews Clark Memorial Home, courtesy of Mary Mallory.
The home experienced a different kind of entertainment on Dec. 2, 1915, when a fashionably dressed female burglar entered the building via the fire escape and robbed 12 rooms on the third floor of $75 before being noticed, and escaped by running down the fire escape and fleeing by car.
Over the years, the Clark family donated various items to the house, including a grand piano donated by four of Sen. Clark’s sisters in 1938 on the Mary Andrew Clark Memorial Home’s 25th anniversary. A newspaper story claimed that 11,000 girls had supposedly lived in the facility at one time or another.
On June 17, 1954, however, Clark family heirs sued, claiming the YWCA was requiring residents to sign a loyalty oath, improperly depleting the home’s trust fund, and trying to gain control of the board to void the Clark bequest by stacking the board with additional members and asking family members to step aside. The case was eventually settled on Dec. 9, 1955, with the YWCA taking over the home but unable to further access the fund, and able to set up the board however they wished.
The living room at the Mary Andrews Clark Memorial Home, courtesy of Mary Mallory.
Times were changing, however. Expenses were going up and fewer girls lived at the home, getting their own or sharing apartments in order to obtain more freedom. The area had declined in prestige as well. To help pay the bills, the YWCA began allowing filming. Such movies and television shows as “Eleanor and Franklin: the White House Years,” “Twins,” “American Pie 2,” “The Ring 2,” “The Wedding Planner,” “Dear God,” “ER,” “Charmed,” and “Melrose Place” have employed the house in location shoots. After the fact, it was discovered that many porn films were shot there surreptitiously in 1989.
On July 24, 1976, the Mary Andrews Clark Memorial Home was named Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Monument No. 158, recognized for its long history and its “French Colonial Chateauesque” architecture. It was later named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.
The 1980s were not as kind to the Clark home however. It closed after damage from the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake, and the YWCA considered its options. In 1990, the YWCA sold the building to the Los Angeles Community Design Center for $3 million, which began a slow process of restoration, rehabilitation, and seismic reinforcement, with added work after the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
After spending $16 million of public and private funds, the Design Center completed the project in February 1995, opening it once again as a place of affordable housing, this time to single people making $17,650 a year, with rooms priced between $220 and $306 a month, including utilities. Instead of white, young single women, the structure now housed hard-working, mostly multi-ethnic immigrants working blue-collar jobs required to keep businesses running. The center brought in social services offering reading and literacy classes.
The former Mary Andrews Clark Memorial Home still operates today as a low income housing complex, more needed than ever in this time of soaring rents, house prices, and construction of high end housing.