Westwood Gardens’ Merchant Builders
“Merchant builders” (also called operative builders) thrived by mass producing housing meant to mitigate the housing shortage as people moved to metropolitan Los Angeles to feed industry’s need for labor during and after World War II.
Paul W. Trousdale
Paul Whitney Trousdale, Jr. (1914-1990). Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he moved to a farm outside Gallatin, Tennessee, in 1915. His father’s death when he was a child sent him shuttling among relatives in New York, Tennessee, and Los Angeles, where he graduated Los Angeles High School in 1932. During his freshman year at the University of Southern California, Trousdale sold cars, clothes and automobile spotlights. The following summer, he loaded freight elevators, receiving $5,000 in workman’s compensation for a crushed foot, which he spent on an around-the-world tour. Despite not returning to USC, Trousdale was a loyal alumnus and donor, serving on the board of trustees; USC’s University Avenue was renamed Trousdale Parkway in 1984.
In 1935, Mr. Trousdale returned from his world tour, eloped, and spent a year as an ad-man for Beech-nut chewing gum. Next, he took a $125-a-month job as a local contractor’s timekeeper, quitting to form his own contracting business with a $10,000 bank loan, the first of many.
In 1943, it was reported that Trousdale oversaw construction of Avalon Village at Avalon and Sepulveda boulevards, directly north of Wilmington (later incorporated as the city of Carson). Homes were available only to “persons engaged in plants producing war materials . . . or an employee of a branch of the United States Government engaged in war activity, or a member of any branch of the armed forces.” The houses were especially affordable under an FHA program allowing “war workers to buy homes without requiring the outlay of cash for the lot, the homes being erected on FHA leased ground, the purchaser having an option to purchase the lot at any time within 51 years.” (Homes Soon Available In Avalon Village, Long Beach Independent, May 21, 1943.)
Trousdale incorporated his Trousdale Construction Company on February 28, 1945, around the time he began working to end his Housing Construction Company partnership.
In 1946, the scale of Trousdale’s bank loans brought a visit from Bank of America head, Amadeo Giannini. At the time, Trousdale had already borrowed $30 million and was asking for an additional $50 million, which would fund the Rancho Vista development in Baldwin Hills. The two discussed lumber costs, concrete mixture, and the price of nails. The legendary banker approved the loans. (Steven M. Price,Trousdale Estates: Midcentury to Modern in Beverly Hills (Regan Arts, 2017).) Around this time, Trousdale calculated he was completing two houses per day, seven days a week, and hundreds of houses were under construction.
Time Magazine reported on Trousdale’s enterprise:
What Time Magazine characterized as “fat profits,” and what Trousdale called “capital gains,” ended up being the focus of a tax suit culminating in a decision by the United States Court of Appeals. In 1955, the court called it a “subterfuge or sham” when the Trousdales’ 1945 tax return categorized income from the dissolution of Housing Construction Company as capital gains. (Trousdale v. Commissioner (9th Cir. 1955) 219 F.2d 563, 564.)
As the Time Magazine story was hitting newsstands, the local press was reporting that the United States government was going after Trousdale for overcharging at the 80-acre Avalon Village where Western Defense Housing Co. was the general contractor and Avalon Village Co. was the owner-operator of 500 single family and 500 double family rental units. (Veterans Here Get ‘Avalon’ Homes Priority, Pasadena Independent, Apr. 5, 1946.) Trousdale was named when the Office of Price Administration (responsible for controlling rents during World War II) alleged that he and others were gouging renters at Avalon Village:
In 1947, Mr. Trousdale began attaching part of his name to his 3-bedroom, 2-bath housing developments: Westdale Village (National Blvd. & Sawtelle Blvd.; tract 14319) and Valley Westdale, (Woodman Ave. & Riverside Dr.). (Trousdale home increase on resale put at $3200 average, Daily News, Aug. 21, 1948.)
He used his entire surname on the project for which he may be best known. Trousdale Estates was his residential development on the former Doheny Ranch, which he bought in 1954. The City of Beverly Hills annexed the area in 1955 as the “Trousdale Estates Annexation.” Nearby, he built California’s first cooperative apartment building, the 22-story Beverly Towers, at 9220 Sunset Boulevard. (Paul Trousdale, Developer and Innovator, Dies, L. A. Times, Apr. 12, 1990.)
Trousdale Construction also built Los Angeles’ Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza (1947) (immediately north of the company’s Rancho Vista), Las Vegas’ Sands Hotel (1952), and Inglewood’s Forum (1967). (Steven M. Price, Trousdale Estates: Midcentury to Modern in Beverly Hills (Regan Arts, 2017).)
In 1969, Lear Siegler, Inc., a multinational corporation, acquired Trousdale Construction Co.; Mr. Trousdale remained involved in the business.
Paul Trousdale was buried at San Diego’s El Camino Memorial Park. He had built that, too.
Hyatt Robert Von Dehn
Hyatt Robert Von Dehn (1906-1973) was born in Buffalo, New York. (He would drop the “Von” and go by the less German-sounding “Dehn” during the Second World War years.) “He was a graduate engineer of Randolph-Macon College in Virginia and New York University.” (GinnySimms.com.) He “was a former assistant vice president of Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co. of New York and former president of the Cherry Valley Land and Water Co. He built 7,000 units of defense housing in Los Angeles during the war.” (VonDehn, Founded Hyatt House Chain, The Times Record, July 31, 1973.)
Von Dehn’s second marriage was to film and radio star Virginia “Ginny” Simms (1913-1994) in July 1945.
Maynard L. Parker (1900–1976) photographed the Dehn/Simms residence for many magazines, including Pictorial California‘s 1945 special Holiday Issue. The home was designed by Paul R. Williams (1894-1980) and decorated by Barker Brothers‘ Zann Earl. (Barker Bros. did other work for Von Dehn or Trousdale’s companies; e.g., decorating a Sepulveda Gardens model home and Avalon Village.)
Von Dehn involved Ginny Simms in his veterans’ housing development business, which aligned with her interests. Indeed, she supported those who served.
Soon after their marriage, Ginny Simms was
On December 5, 1943, the Long Beach Independent reported that, “Title to 125 homesites at the Northwest corner of Clark avenue and South street, in the Mayfair district, has been acquired from the Montana Land Co. for $66,000 by the Fourth Defense Housing company, for immediate war housing development.” (Real Estate News, Long Beach Independent, Dec. 5, 1943.) The area, in what would later be incorporated as Lakewood, was immediately east of Lakewood Gardens. In 1946, Montana Land company owned/subdivided the land for 1946’s Lakewood Gardens development, Tract 11600.
Hyatt Von Dehn may be best remembered for giving his name to the Hyatt House hotel chain, which started near Los Angeles International Airport in 1954. Von Dehn had met Jack Dyer Crouch (1915-1989) at Crouch’s “Jack’s on the Strip,” a short-lived restaurant at 8801 Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. (By the early 1960s, that site hosted an Earl “Madman” Muntz (1914-1987) Stereo-Pak shop installing early car stereos, and by 1971 it held a Tower Records store.) Von Dehn invested in Crouch’s airport motel concept.
In 1957, entrepreneur Jay Pritzker (1922-1999) dined at the Hyatt House’s coffee shop, Fat Eddie’s, while waiting for a flight. The shop was busy and the hotel full. Seeing the potential for a chain of airport hotels to serve the growing number of business travelers, Pritzker asked to meet the owner and wrote Dehn a $2.2 million offer on a Fat Eddie’s napkin. (Jay Pritzker, Billionaire Who Founded the Hyatt Hotel Chain, Is Dead at 76, New York Times, Jan. 24, 1999.) “Von Dehn was eager to get out of the hotel business after a few years, so he sold his share in the hotel to Jay Pritzker. Jay’s younger brother Donald Pritzer, under Jack Crouch’s mentorship, took over day-to-day operations of the company and acquired motels and hotels.”
William Arthur Godshall
William Arthur Godshall (1896-1946) came to Los Angeles from Everett, Washington. He graduated for Los Angeles High School and the University of California. Godshall was well situated for supplying materials for housing construction: he was a director and vice-president of Blue Diamond Corporation, which “manufacture[d], produced and distributed cement, plaster, rock and sand, stucco, reinforcing steel, and other basic building materials throughout Southern California.” (Walker’s Manual of Pacific Coast Securities (1944), pp. 364-366.) Practically all of the company’s activities involved war-effort construction.
Mr. Godshall headed Mayfair Housing Corp., which built several hundred dwellings in Long Beach and the Harbor Heights Corp., which built in Wilmington. Mayfair Housing also built wartime housing in (today’s) Lakewood, California, area – possibly the Lakewood Gardens development – along with Trousdale and Von Dehn. In 1944, it was reported that “One hundred more lots in the South street–Lakewood boulevard district have been sold for $66,000 for single-family war housing development. The Mayfair Housing corporation was the buyer. The property was sold by the Montana Land company, a Von Dehn corporation. (Real Estate, Long Beach Independent, March 26, 1944.)
The Harbor Heights corporation was set to build defense housing even before the United States entered World War II. On December 1, 1941, a San Pedro, California, newspaper reported that “The Harbor Heights Corp. within 10 days will start construction of the first of 450 to 500 four-room and five-room dwellings east of the federal Harbor Hills housing development . . ..” “Building materials priorities have been promised for the dwellings, tabbed as a defense housing project . . ..” (500 Homes Slated For Harbor Hills, News-Pilot, Dec. 1, 1941.)
The paper reported that Harbor Heights’ president was “Thomas Ince.” Presumably, that was Thomas H. Ince, Jr. (1912-1970). The presumption is based on Godshall’s use of movie pioneer Thomas H. Ince’s family as straw-people in a tax dodge:
Overland Housing’s 640 homes Westwood Gardens were completed before Godshall died, at 50, in October 1946. (W. A. Godshall, Builder, Dies, L. A. Times, Oct. 28, 1946.)
Mass Producing Houses
As described in Tract Housing in California, 1945-1973: A Context for National Register Evaluation, (pp. 58-60),