Los Angeles, CA
When the Los Feliz district was annexed by the City of Los Angeles in 1910, it was already recognized as a choice residential area. Known for its varied landscape of canyons, hills, large oak trees and pools of spring water, the district attracted the leaders of Hollywood because of its isolation, and they began building large homes and estates there as early as 1920. By 1927, when Paul R. Williams designed this 12-room Spanish Colonial Revival-style, two-and-a-half-story home for Bruce and Lula Blackburn at 4791 West Cromwell Avenue, middle and upper-middle class residences began to fill the hilly sections of Los Feliz. (Both Blackburns were born in Missouri and moved to Los Angeles to experience the high life after Bruce experienced success.) Bruce Blackburn’s claim to wealth and fame was not predicated on membership in the entertainment industry, having invented the roll-up window screen (Disappearing Roller Screen Company), he and Lula still aspired to live among the elite. Acting as his own contractor, Blackburn hired Paul R. Williams to design their home. (LFIA Historic Survey. volume 2)
Williams’ design for the Blackburn home included many of the Spanish Colonial Revival details that were characteristic of his interpretation of the style: red clay tile roof, multi-paned fixed and casement windows, art stone, 2-flue fireplace and smooth stucco finish. The abundant use of wrought iron inside and out on window grills and around balconies and an impressive 2-story, paneled, arched entry illustrate Williams’ incorporation of Spanish architectural elements. (Southwest Builder and Contractor. February 18, 1927 and February 25, 1927) The house’s extensive tile work, wood paneling, vaulted and stenciled ceilings, and triple fireplace with a single chimney were typical Williams’ luxurious interior touches. He extended the Blackburn’s indoor/outdoor living space with porches and a courtyard patio with lush landscaping. One of the home’s distinctive exterior features is the two-story turreted tower which called for considerable preliminary excavation by steam shovel during construction. (Southwest Builder and Contractor. January 21, 1927) Bruce Blackburn was a believer in his own product and canisters containing rolled up and stored screens were included on all windows in his home. (Williams was impressed with the product and used the screens in other homes he would design.)
Lula Blackburn and her unmarried daughter Elizabeth were active members of the Los Angeles cultural and social world. Often pictured “at home” in the newspaper Society Pages, they used their residence as an impressive backdrop in their photos. Except for the addition of an elevator, enclosing a balcony and adding a Williams designed bath in 1962, the building remained relatively unchanged. The Blackburn family lived in the house until 1978, when Elizabeth sold it. In 2008, the Blackburn residence was added to the City of Los Angeles’ Historic-Cultural Monument list as building number 913.