6376 Yucca Ave., via Google Street View.
More than 98 years old, the Halifax Apartments at 6376 Yucca Ave. exists due to boxing and the movies. Built by Leach Cross, known as the “boxing dentist,” the apartment house served as a solid investment in a city booming from the movies. Classy and elegant, the structure possesses a story as fancy as any movie.
The motion picture industry was exploding in the early 1920s as film production in the United States moved west from Fort Lee, N.J., to sunny, warm California. Blessed with abundant sunshine and varied landscapes within short drives, Hollywood grew exponentially as new production companies opened every day and men and women moved to the city looking for new opportunities.
A cigarette card showing Leach Cross, listed on EBay at $24.99.
Boxing dentist Leach Cross hoped for new beginnings too. Recently retired from the ring for the second time, he hoped to find a career in Hollywood while investing his earnings in real estate. Born Louis C. Wallach Feb. 12, 1886, in New York to a businessman father, Cross studied dentistry at New York University. Needing some extra money for school, he took up boxing in 1905, creating the name “Leach Cross” trying to hide his exploits from his parents.
A 135-pound lightweight, Cross fought at a time when matches could last 40-50 rounds until someone literally collapsed. In 1909, Cross lost a 41-round fight. Though he graduated with his dentistry degree, Cross loved the thrill and money of boxing. He continued the sport through 1916, though he possessed only middling skills.
Recognizing his fame came more from his background than his actual talent, Cross took to the stage, playing up his history. Comedian Lonny Haskell helped him and lightweight world champion Abe Attell create an act, which they premiered at Hammerstein’s in 1910. With Attell as straight man and Cross as the comedian, the two performed exhibition matches and comedy sketches. In 1913, comedian Fred Mace hired Cross to perform boxing skits in some of his one- and two-reel comedies. Cross set up his own film company in 1914 with two of his brothers, hoping to “engage in the motion picture business in all its branches.”
Though nothing came from the company, he did appear in some films, such as a small scene in the 1917 Douglas Fairbanks film “Reaching for the Moon,” where he and others tried to attack Fairbanks. Cross trained some stars in the pugilistic sport after his first retirement in 1916, but realized he missed boxing, returning to the sport for a short time in 1921 to pad his funds before retiring permanently.
Unlike many of his compatriots, Cross saved and invested his money. By 1921, he looked for profitable ways to increase his savings. Harry Carr wrote in the Jan. 20, 1922, Los Angeles Times that the boxer intended to build something “midway between a regular hotel and an apartment house” on land he had recently purchased. About the same time, Camera magazine reported in its gossip column that he had purchased “a tract of land at Cahuenga and Yucca, where he intends to build an apartment house that will be a credit to Hollywood.” Six months later, Cross went to court, winning the right to permanently change his name from Wallach to Cross in order to play off his fame.
Papers noted in early February 1923 that Cross planned to build a four-story, 172-room Class C apartment hotel building for $225,000, hiring renowned architects Walker and Eisen, architects of such structures as the Oviatt Building, Beverly Wilshire Hotel, and United Artists Theatre to design a striking facade. Opening onto Yucca, the building would contain lounge area, kitchen, and public rooms in which guests could entertain. Guests could stay for short times or rent for long periods. Cross’ wife Alta, a painter of some renown, helped decorate the interiors. Copying old masters and creating her own landscapes, she turned out 150 paintings to fill the building, known as the Cross Arms Apartments.
After owning for less than a year, Cross sold the building, furniture, and lease on the property on June 1, 1924, to Boston financier A. C. Burrage for $1 million, moving into the restaurant/nightclub business. His restaurants did well for a few years before the stock market crash virtually wiped him out. Cross returned to New York and once again worked as a dentist, later serving as a New York boxing referee.
The apartment building in the 1927 film “Fast and Furious.”
Burrage made further upgrades to the building and renamed it the Halifax Apartments in December 1924. Located a block above Hollywood Boulevard, the house served as home base for actors like Ned Sparks and Henry Heink, son of opera singer Madame Schumann-Heink, as well as those attempting to break into the business. Thanks to its public rooms, the new Halifax hosted luncheons and lectures as well as occasional small film screenings. The building appeared in the 1927 Universal film “Fast and Furious” as well, in a scene with Reginald Denny in an office at the intersection of Hollywood and Cahuenga looking north up the street towards the building and the Hollywoodland Sign on the hill.
While few celebrities actually lived in the building, dramatic events happened in and around it, often including tragedy to its residents. On June 2, 1928, 25-year-old aspiring screenwriter Helen Carlyle was one of the first to commit suicide in the building, swallowing poison. In late July 1931, a water main pipe burst a few blocks down the street, flooding the basement and lobby of the building. Robert Horner, another 25-year-old living in the building, died in a car crash May 4, 1935, on a hunting trip with actors Junior Durkin and Jackie Coogan when the car was forced off the road by another roadster, hit rocks, and ran over an embankment. Along with Horner, Durkin and Coogan’s father Jack Coogan Sr. were killed, while the famous young actor himself survived while being thrown from the car and landing in a tree, breaking bones. On July 21, 1948, 65-year-old resident Bess Mumford jumped from a 12-story building downtown to her death.
A murder also occurred in the Halifax. Resident Hyman Miller, a 31-year-old sports promoter and deli owner, was shot to death in his room Nov. 15, 1937, surviving in a coma for a few days before dying, days after being questioned about the rackets. The police suspected actor Dennis (Danny) Wilson, who fled Nov. 26, 1937. For three years, Los Angeles detectives sought him before arresting him in New Orleans under the alias James Cannon but a judge later dismissed the charges for lack of evidence.
The Halifax saw several changes through the years as new ownership tried to maintain its refinement and attractions. By 1932, S.J. Straus took ownership of the building with Leigh Battson, second husband of Ned Doheny Jr.’s widow Lucy, serving as head of the Board of Trustees. The group hired Electric Products Corporation Jan. 24, 1933, to erect a neon roof sign, which still stands. An awning was erected in 1939, only to be removed in 1940. The apartment apparently changed hands in the 1940s before once again passing on to another in April 1955 when Louis Friedkin exchanged properties and $1.25 million with Max Drezdner. Keeping up with the times, he added a new pool.
By the late 1960s, the apartment house and its clientele slid slightly downhill along with the neighborhood as stars moved west to more upscale areas. Senior citizens began moving in, and in 1988 Regent Properties purchased the building, before selling to Halifax Properties in 2019. Halifax has painted and made upgrades, recognizing the quality construction of the building. One of the more recent tenants is the Thai Community Development Center.
Still a beauty 98 years later, the Halifax Apartments exudes class and dignity, a grande dame saluting Hollywood’s glory days of the 1920s.