Preservation on the move: Windsor Square and Kress Co.

| April 28, 2022 | 0 Comments

I recently was showing a visitor around my home, which originally had been commissioned by Henry O’Melveny, the founder of the law firm O’Melveny and Myers. One of the facts that always interests visitors is that the house had been moved from its original site, 3250 Wilshire Blvd., at the corner of New Hampshire Avenue, to its current site on Plymouth Boulevard. The story goes that the house was jacked up from its foundation, cut into three pieces, hoisted onto trucks and slowly driven two miles down Wilshire to Windsor Square. I usually follow up with the claim that another five houses in the neighborhood were also moved to Windsor Square from their former locations. However, the last time I told this story, I decided to find out just where these houses were in the neighborhood, and I discovered a much bigger story.

Moving West
Henry and his wife Nettie O’Melveny were not the first migrants to Windsor Square from the Wilshire District. In fact, they were late to the party, having had four of their neighbors relocate with their houses in the decade prior to the O’Melvenys’ arrival in 1930. The Wilshire District, later Wilshire Center and now Koreatown, was originally developed by Gaylord Wilshire as a fashionable counterweight to high society West Adams. By the 1920s, the Wilshire area was rapidly becoming more urban and commercial, leading to an exodus of residents westward, taking their homes with them. Perhaps the most famous of these relocations was the 1923 move of 637 S. Lucerne Blvd., then home to Howard Verbeck. In Great Gatsby style, Verbeck hosted a swinging party in a section of his house as it was moved down Wilshire.

House mover Kress
The man responsible for this move, and later the O’Melvenys, was George R. Kress Jr. of the Kress House Moving Company. Few men would have such an impact on the landscape of Los Angeles and the face of Windsor Square as Kress. A self-taught engineer, Kress moved to Los Angeles in 1913, purchasing an established house-moving company and quickly learning the ropes. Kress soon made a name for himself for not only moving houses but for devising novel solutions to moving buildings, including removing an 8.6’ slice out of the Commercial Exchange Building on Olive Street and stitching the building back together, which made national press. In his company brochure, Kress explained: “The advantage in using this method of altering buildings for the widening of streets are many … the alteration is made in about half the time required to tear down and rebuild the wall; the architecture of the building is preserved; and considerable saving of money is possible to the owner.”

By the time he started moving houses to Windsor Square in the early 1920s, Kress had become the leader of his industry, having moved nearly 350 buildings and assembling a Who’s Who of government, society, architectural and entertainment figures as clients. His work in Windsor Square culminated in the relocation of nearly 20 houses and more, if you include Fremont Place and Hancock Park.

This sets up a rather confusing paradox when examining Windsor Square’s history in that most of the “oldest houses” in the neighborhood actually arrived later than their neighbors.

VINTAGE POSTCARD advertised the Kress Co.

What I found most significant about the story of George R. Kress and his eponymous company is that, by today’s standards, Kress should be counted among the earliest members of our city’s preservation community. His extraordinary engineering skill, coupled with an economy that, at the time, made it feasible to sell your land for development and move your house and restore it at another location, allowed for the preservation of buildings and houses of exceptional quality and craftsmanship which otherwise would have been lost to progress. This legacy endures nearly a century later in the many preserved homes of the now vanished Wilshire District that were grafted by Kress onto the budding suburb of Windsor Square.

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Category: Real Estate

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