4526 Wilshire Boulevard
Built in 1923
H.H. Whiteley, Architect
Tucked between two 1960’s modernist buildings lies a gem of a former era. The main residence at 4526 Wilshire Boulevard, was built in 1923 by H.H. Whitely a significant master architect and builder, for the family of W.I. Gilbert, a celebrity lawyer. The Mediterranean Revival style became popular in the early 1920’s with mansions on Wilshire Boulevard and is again visible one hundred years later in the Mansionizing of small homes throughout Southern California. The Pallazzo at 4526 Wilshire reflects the owner’s desire for a comfortable home and the elegance of a Mediteranian classical villa reflecting their professional and social status in a burgeoning 1920’s post war population boom in Los Angeles. H.H. Whiteley was influenced by the social, economic, and cultural trends of the early 20th century and his client, W.I. Gilbert, who played a prominent part in the lives of important historic personages. The 1920’s was one of the most important periods in the development of Los Angeles.
Harry Hayden Whiteley was born in Bakersfield, California, in 1890 and served in both World Wars. His architectural career included his years in Los Angeles and San Diego, and after WWII he found continued success in Las Vegas. By the time he graduated with a degree in Engineering in 1924 from USC he had already designed many impressive residences and some commercial buildings from Long Beach to Los Feliz. His designs are known for their blend of Spanish and Italian revival style elegant interiors which were popular with affluent clients. In Las Vegas he transitioned to the modernist style, building restaurants, jails, hospitals, churches, hotels, an amusement part, and the 1958 Clark County Convention Center
The original permit to H.H. Whiteley, architect and contractor, for Lot 26 of the Fremont Place Tract on land bought by William I. Gilbert, attorney, lists wife Lucy Gilbert, as owner. The Gilberts were perhaps lured to move west (in 1910 Wilshire Blvd. was still considered in the sticks), by developers publicizing plans to build impressive in-town estates on the boulevard for wealthy tycoons.
William Isaac Gilbert’s father was an attorney in Oklahoma. William followed in his father’s profession and became a favored attorney in Hollywood. W.I. Gilbert initially was in partnership with former California Governor Henry Gage but in 1918 he opened his own office. Some of his famous clients were Mildred Harris Chaplin who divorced Charlie Chaplin in 1919, Rudolph Valentino in 1922 , Aimee Semple McPherson in 1926, Clara Bow, Prince David Mdivani, Frank Mayo, Virginia Bruce, Maurice Costello, Mrs. J. Paul Getty (Helen Ann Rork Getty), Alexander Pantages, James Cagney, Paul Kelly, Kay Francis, and many more in addition to being Chief counsel for the Southern Pacific Railroad. On his way westward he married Lucy Witt in Dallas on Dec. 10 1898, and they had two children, Jeanne and William Isaac Junior. Like his grandfather and father, Junior also became an attorney and eventually a partner in his father’s law office where he added more celebrities such as Carole Lombard and Clark Gable.
Until his unexpected death from pneumonia November 28, 1940, W.I. Gilbert resided at 4526 Wilshire Blvd. in the elegant home designed and built for him in 1923 by architect Harry Hayden Whitlely. Lucy Gilbert and their daughter Jeanne and her son, Donald Rackerby continued to live there until the end of WWII. The home was sold to an oral surgeon, Berto Agave Olson and thus a second family began a residency of two decades before the next sale and commercialization and rezoning the property in the 1970’s.
After the Olsons moved, Dorothy Desbrow Bell took charge of the property. It was used as a party event site, then the Jocelyn Ryan Modeling Studios maintained offices there, and for several years the Self-Help Institute sheltered there. It was not until the fall of 1978 that a new owner Hank DiRoma filed requests to officially change the usuage of the three buildings. In 1978, the owner, BCD Properties (a business arrangement by Mr. Baker, Mr. Camusi, and Mr. DiRoma) began making changes including installing and removing partitions, designating the main dwelling to “office,” making the two story garage a “dwelling” by enlarging the first story of the former garage and connecting it with the floor above, and the smallest structure-a single story garage, became a “recreation and office space”. They added parking in front, fire doors, and a disabled access. Mr. John Baker hired architect Scott Macgillivray to add new partitions on the first and second floors and enhance the front of the main building with a raised patio and grand entrance flanked with rounded ballestrades in keeping with the original Italian revival style of the 1920’s. Although the property has been repurposed to a business, the original interior rooms are clearly recognizable and the elegant main curved stairway has the original spiraled wrought iron supports. The high ceilings add to the spacious feeling of the rooms and original fireplace can be seen in the library. The present owners have preserved the original distinctive stucco ornamentation especially the decorative molded masonry surrounding the front door. They have added classic fenestration and architectural details such as window balconies and molding along the roof in keeping with Italian revival style of the 1920’s.