In Search of Radiating Wings
In helping a friend with a project on historic Los Angeles architecture, I remembered a snippet of a Raymond Chandler story from June 1938 –
“De Spain stopped the car in front of the Physicians and Surgeons Building and looked up at a lighted window on the sixth floor. The building was designed in a series of radiating wings so that all the offices had an outside exposure.”
I’d always been intrigued by these lines. Why were they so specific? What kind of a building has “radiating wings”? Was the description based on a real building? Did the building still exist?
Since the excerpt was from “Bay City Blues”, I assumed Santa Monica would be the place to look for the building, but I just couldn’t find anything - not in “Chandler in Los Angeles” books or maps, on Chandler tours, noir festival lectures, landmark listings, etc., etc.
Finally, I looked at an old Santa Monica Exchange phone directory from April 1936. I found the heading for “Physicians & Surgeons, M.D.”:
-Hmmm. 3 addresses with enough physician listings that they might be for professional buildings of at least six floors: the Bay Cities Building, the Central Tower Building, and an address listed as “710 Wilshire”.
A further internet search for “radiating wings” and “building” brought up a City of Santa Monica Landmark Assessment Report for the Santa Monica Professional Building at 710 Wilshire Boulevard.
Santa Monica Professional Building
710 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica, California
City Landmark Assessment Report
Prepared for: City of Santa Monica Planning Division
Prepared by: PCR Services Corporation, Santa Monica, California
Disappointingly, though, while the report clearly states the unique aspects of the building’s architecture, nowhere does it mention anything about it being a key location in a Chandler story. In fact, none of the Santa Monica local landmarks seem to mention anything about their Chandler / Bay City legacy.
The building is mentioned in the story as housing the office of a Dr. Austrian. The doctor’s character was likely based on the real Santa Monica doctor George Dazey, a doctor said to have supplied movie stars with illicit narcotics. Chandler described Dr. Austrian as, “a guy that runs around all night keeping movie hams from having pink elephants for breakfast.” Dazey’s second wife was the actress Doris Scwuchow (Sukow / Dazey). In 1935, at the age of 31, Doris was found dead of carbon monoxide gas poisoning in their garage. The case was pronounced a suicide at the time, but murder charges were brought against the doctor in 1940. He was found not guilty, but his medical practice was ruined. Interestingly, Dr. Dazey’s actual location was not in the Professional Building. If you look in the directory listings, you’ll see Dazey listed at 327 Wilshire, just a few blocks west.
Here are some of the unique features of the building from the Landmark Assessment Report:
The property consists of a large, six-story commercial building configured in a “Y”-shaped plan atop a first story base. (p. 1)
Erected in 1928 of steel and concrete construction, the six-story Santa Monica Professional Building features an unusual plan embellished by Spanish Colonial Revival style decorative detailing. The overall plan of the 40,638 square foot building is “Y”-shaped with three tall wings radiating from the center of the first story base that is square in plan. Retail uses historically and currently occupy the ground floor while upper stories accommodate numerous professional offices. The upper stories are punctuated by elongated multi-pane steel casement windows. Atop the roof is a recessed penthouse with each of its three radiating wings distinguished by crenellated parapets. (p. 1)
Prior to the widespread post-World War II use of fluorescent lighting and artificial systems for heating and cooling, large commercial buildings that occupied lots greater than 25 by 100 feet in size required that upper stories be configured for access to light and air. While the first two or three floors typically occupied the entire lot, upper stories were often designed in “L,” “I,” “E,” “T,” “H,” or a squared “U,” “O,” or “B” forms. The “L” form, for instance, was often used for narrow corner properties while the “U,” “H,” or “E” for wider corner sites. The subject property’s “Y”-shaped form is especially unusual as a design for the upper floors of a commercial building from the 1920s. (p. 4)
The Santa Monica Professional Building is an excellent example of the Spanish Colonial Revival style with Plateresque influences. It is a prominent structure, rising above its neighbors. Its verticality is extended through the narrowness of the three wings and use of elongated casement windows. In particular, its Plateresque decorative sixth floor, penthouse, and main entrance elements differentiate the building from typical Spanish Colonial Revival style buildings of the period. As such, the Santa Monica Professional Building stands out within the Central Business District. (p. 4)
The building’s deeply recessed primary entrance is situated near the center of the Wilshire Boulevard-facing north elevation and is framed by elaborate Plateresque detailing. Above the entrance, the name “SANTA MONICA PROFESSIONAL BLDG.” in bronze lettering is rendered in a period typeface.(p. 2)
In contrast to the relative plainness of the second through fifth floor elevations, a wide stringcourse, frieze, and spandrels featuring Plateresque decoration in relief highlights fifth floor fenestration. Additionally, the sixth story’s north, west, and east elevations are richly embellished with Plateresque-inspired decorative relief. The end of the building’s south wing is unlike the ends of the other wings in its unembellished façade punctuated by recessed fire escapes and a small ground floor driveway entrance. What was previously the building’s rear, southeast-facing porte cochere entrance has become a raised patio with three entrances flanked by sidelights and transoms with aluminum mullions. (p. 2)
Given its monumental presence situated at the southeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and 7th Street, the building manifests a soaring verticality that belies its six-story height. The building’s unusual “Y”-shaped plan with its articulated wings recessed above a projecting ground floor base give the structure added prominence and stature. (p. 8)
The subject property is uniquely located on the prominent southeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and 7th Street. Wilshire Boulevard, in particular, is a highly traveled thoroughfare in the City’s Central Business District. Due to its siting amongst buildings of substantially lower scale, the Santa Monica Professional Building is visible by pedestrians and automobiles approaching the site from virtually every direction both historically and today. Additionally, the building has been present at this location since its construction in 1928, visually representing the eastern terminus of the Central Business District. Therefore, as an established and familiar visual feature of the City that continues to maintain a strong physical presence at its corner location, the subject property appears eligible for local landmark designation under this criterion. (p. 9)
Sad; No Mention That It’s a Chandler Location
…….Current research did not reveal that the property at 710 Wilshire Boulevard is associated with any historic personages or with important events in local, state, or national history. Therefore, the subject property does not appear eligible for local landmark designation under this criterion. (p. 8)
Professional Building’s Future Is Uncertain
A Related Newly-Identified Chandler Reference from “Bay City Blues”
“I got up and walked down in front of the dark drugstore that flanked the lobby entrance of the building on one side.
He slid around the corner of the building without lights and the car sound died in the moonlit darkness. Across the street a row of enormous eucalyptus trees fringed a set of public tennis courts.”
Chandler is referring to the tennis courts at the Santa Monica Tennis Club (SMTC), a public club at what is now Reed Park, formerly Lincoln Park.
“Tennis on the Westside of Los Angeles since 1928”
A Peek: Film Footage From the 30s
Look at this great film footage from the 30’s – You can clearly see:
· the 6th floor where Dr. Austrian had his office,
· the drugstore that flanks the lobby entrance,
· and even the eucalyptus trees from the public tennis courts across the street:
Starts from 2:57 to 3:19 –6th floor down to ground floor at main entrance – 710 Wilshire Blvd.
Circa 1930, Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
For more information, please contact:
Alician Court Theatre / Fox Fullerton Theatre
Laura Morales de Molla’, actor
Luisa Espinel, singer, dancer, music historian
Pastoral California, WPA mural by Charles Kassler
Raymond Chandler’s Physicians and Surgeons Building
Silvestre Mendez, rumbero, conguero, composer