Designed in 1927 by architect Charles S. Cobb in the Italian-Renaissance style, the 4-story plus basement apartment house opened in 1928 as the Hacienda Park.
In April 1935, the fashionable address became the scene of a crime when dress designer Paul Ivar Wharton was shot in his apartment during a “dinner party.” Another man, Henry E. Bolte, was shot at another location around the same time. Police charged a young sailor. William McCauley Howard, whose own death was proclaimed a suicide, with both murders, blaming debt as the motive, but the facts of the case were vague.
By 1938, 8439 Sunset had been renamed the Coronet Apartments. This building, which still stands, is often referred today as the “House of Francis,” a brothel operated by Hollywood madam Lee Francis. It is one of her few known addresses. That’s because Francis was arrested here on morals charges in January 1940, for the first time in her long “career.” She occupied apartment 204 under the name Ruth Marion. According to Francis in her book, Ladies on Call (published in 1965), she had retired from the madam business after trying and failing to open a nightclub on the Strip at 8588 Sunset and was working at a small club as a hostess while living here. Her arrest, she said, was a frame-up. She’d simply arranged for some girls who also worked at the club to have an innocent date with a customer, no prostitution involved. That was her story, but the women pleaded guilty and Francis was ultimately convicted of pandering. Her story of being out of the madaming racket was a lie. In the semi-fictionalized version of her “as told to” memoir drafted in 1939 before her arrest and published in 1942 as Call House Madam, Francis- or “Beverly Davis” as she’s called in the book- tells of resuming the running of new houses of prostitution well after the failed nightclub venture.
Top image: 8439 today as the Piazza del Sol. Los Angeles Conservancy photo.