House History

21 Chester Place

The mystery behind “The Real Addams Family House”


Construction began on this house in November 1887 for Henry Gregory Newhall and was officially listed in the 1888 “Los Angeles City Directory” off of “Adams Street” in Los Angeles, California, on 2.25-acres that was just east of “St. James Park.” Built in what is today called the West Adams District just southwest of downtown, it was located in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles with most buildings being erected between 1880-1925.

The area started with a Los Angeles land survey conducted in 1853 by a New Hampshire lawyer named Henry Hancock. In between what was briefly designated as boulevards in the beginning (which were just dirt roads back then), were great 35-acre lands that became available for purchase after the land survey. One of the lots that he had purchased for himself in 1855 (that would eventually become the gated community “Chester Place” 44 years later), he sold to New England sea captain Nathan Vail on July 26, 1867; whom then sold the land to retired Arizona Federal Judge named Charles Silent on November 5, 1885.

Los Angeles Herald, Nov 3, 1887

Los Angeles Herald, Nov 3, 1887

Years later after the initial land survey the area was eventually developed over time by railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington and wealthy industrialist Hulett C. Merritt. By November 1887 (with “St. James Park” coming to a completion), plans were already under way to build Henry G. Newhall’s house and construction began next to Charles Silent’s land in the Adams District.

Since the Newhall house was being built somewhat farther back on the land away from the nearest surrounding streets an early “Los Angeles Herald” ad dated November 3, 1887, originally announced that Mr. H. G. Newhall was building his residence out on “Figueroa Street”, but when the Newhall house was completed and listed in the “Los Angeles City Directory” though in 1888, it was officially designated as being on “Adams Street.”

1888 Los Angeles City Directory

1888 Los Angeles City Directory

The zanja system, a series of irrigation canals that brought water from the Los Angeles River to a dam upstream, brought water down “Figueroa Street” and beyond “Adams Street” south to Agricultural Park (as well as an extension ditch that was added that brought water westward along the south side of “Adams Street”), created a fertile area with an abundance in water.

The Streetcar line that ran south on “Main Street”, then west on “Washington Blvd.” to “Figueroa Street”, and then south to Agricultural Park (before returning north back to downtown), also made it convenient to travel to the Adams District. Due in part to these factors, the wealthy flocked to this area during the very late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and many grand homes were erected during that time. The Adams District ended up becoming one of the most desired and wealthiest districts in the city with massive Victorian mansions.

St. James Park Advert, Los Angeles Herald 1888

Los Angeles Herald 1888

St. James Park

St. James Park

With the house being situated quite some distance off of “Adams Street” (and new homes were being built in the immediate area), it caused the house to have multiple addresses throughout the years. In the very beginning between 1888-1890, the “Los Angeles City Directory” listed the house address as “N s Adams bet South Figueroa and Scarff” (which is more like a location instead of an actual address). By 1894 though (with “Adams Street” now divided into west and east), the “Los Angeles City Directory” list the address for the Newhall house as “747 West Adams St.”

1894 Los Angeles City Directory

1894 Map (looking South) showing part of West Adams Area (Newhall house in center colored yellow)

1894 Map (looking south) showing part of West Adams area (Newhall house in center colored yellow) – Drawn & lithographed by B. W. Pierce

On September 22, 1896, Walter Scott Newhall (one of Henry G. Newhall’s brothers), married Nellie Trowbridge Ainsworth. I can only speculate since this is not a known fact, but speculation is that Henry probably gave the house to his brother Walter S. Newhall as a possible wedding gift for the bride and groom (truth is we will probably never know for certain). Nevertheless, from this point on Walter Scott Newhall is listed as the owner of the house at “747 West Adams St.”

1898 Los Angeles City Directory

In 1899, when the gated community “Chester Place” (that runs north to south between “West 23rd Street” and “West Adams Street” with gateways at both entrances), was created and subdivided on Charles Silent’s land, another street was made (running parallel), to connect “Chester Place” to “St. James Park.” The new street ran right in front of the Newhall home and so therefore giving the house (again), a new address of “735 West 25th St.” (although not for long).

1899 Los Angeles City Directory

Chester Place, W. Adams Gates

Map Of Chester Place

An early map of Chester Place and the surrounding area

In 1902, the Doheny’s (Oil tycoon Edward & Estelle Doheny, who had moved into “8 Chester Place” the previous year), started buying up the remaining lots in “Chester Place” to control and ensure their privacy (eventually acquiring all of “Chester Place” from Charles Silent). Between the 1901 and 1902 “Los Angeles City Directories”, the portion of “West 25th St.” that ran right in front of the house, was renamed “Chester Place.” Since the Newhall house and the land that it sat on didn’t belong to the Doheny’s, the house was not actually considered apart of “Chester Place.” However, the street had been renamed starting in 1902 (due to the Doheny’s influence more than likely), and the house address did change to “21 Chester Place” during this time.

1902 Los Angeles City Directory

In March 1902, Walter placed an ad in the “Los Angeles Herald” announcing that the Newhall’s were looking to hire a woman part-time, to help with a family of four at their residence. It seems that during this time, Nellie’s sister Bessie and her son Edwin came to live with Walter and Nellie (the house was certainly large enough), and on October 7, 1903, Bessie got married in an intimate but lavish wedding at “21 Chester Place.” After their honeymoon in San Francisco, the newlyweds Mr. and Mrs. Foxton moved to Riverside, California.

Los Angeles Herald, October 8, 1903

Although the Newhall’s originally wanted to have a family of their own, it looks as if they did not attempt to have anymore children after a stillborn birth, the first year that they were married. Walter by all accounts was a good-natured, hard working family-oriented man that was well liked among his peers. I think it is safe to say as well, that the Newhall’s were also very well known among the city’s most social elite and the house did seem to be loved and cherished in its heyday, by Mr. and Mrs. Newhall. A good reflection of this is seen throughout the years in many “Los Angeles Herald” announcements that the Newhall’s proudly used their house as a social stomping ground for luncheons and dinner parties, usually at Mrs. Newhall’s request.

Los Angeles Herald, July 13, 1906

Los Angeles Herald, July 13, 1906

Reports are that as early as April 1906, Walter did begin to feel ill. Still not feeling well by the end of October, he decided to take some time off work and took Nellie to Europe for a vacation to try and recuperate. After only a week or two in England (with his health worsening), doctors advised the Newhall’s to return home. Unfortunately, Walter did not get better and on Christmas Day 1906, at the age of 46, Walter died at Adler’s Sanitarium in San Francisco (for an intestinal illness). He was buried in the Newhall Family Plot at “Cypress Lawn Memorial” in Colma, California.

According to the “Los Angeles City Directory”, Nellie was still living in the house by 1908, but two years later though, in June 1910, her late husband’s estate was sued for back loans and interest that Walter had acquired in advance; on promissory notes a year before he died. His younger brother George A. Newhall (who was now the president of the company), claimed the amount was justly due; and so therefore Nellie had to fork over $86,025.00 (which is equivalent to nearly $2 million dollars today).

The San Francisco Call, June 25, 1910

Taking that into consideration, I speculate that is why Nellie hired W. M. Garland & Co. to sell “21 Chester Place” (completely furnished), and the house and land went up for sale in 1911. Within just nine months of the Newhall estate being sued, Nellie had remarried becoming Mrs. Charles H. Harlow, sold the house and then moved east with her new husband.

FOR SALE ad “Country Life in America” June 15, 1911

It should be to no one’s surprise, that the house was not on the market for very long. In fact, by the time the ad for the house was featured in “Country life in America” in June, the Newhall property had already been purchased in April by newlyweds Gorham Tufts Jr. and his new millionaire widow bride Jenny Henry Scranton-Roe. They moved into “21 Chester Place” in April 1911, with Gorham’s two younger sons from a previous marriage.

Los Angeles Herald 1911

When Mrs. Roe’s first husband died in December 1909 (Fort Worth, Texas lumber millionaire A. J. Roe), his mass fortune was bequeathed to his wife and three daughters. As the youngest of the three daughters was now off to college, Mrs. Roe (who had long been a worker in the Christian Science Church in Fort Worth), attended a christian science convention in California, where she again met Gorham Tufts Jr. (the two had previously met at a convention in Dallas, Texas).

Mr. Tufts considered himself a traveling “evangelist”, who had traveled far and wide from city to city giving discourses on religion (at Church meetings or conventions), and sharing his experiences as a missionary in India. By 1910, he was living in California, where he had amassed a small group of followers that were listed as “Missionaries” (most of them were women).

After being reacquainted at the convention, the two must have realized that they had a lot in common because after only a short period of time courting, millionaire lumber heiress Jenny H. S. Roe and Gorham Tufts Jr. got married and purchased the Newhall property in April 1911. The following month in May, the Tufts put an advertisement in the paper for an estate sale (that they would be hosting at their new home), to sell the remaining Newhall furniture that came with the purchase of the house.

Los Angeles Daily Times, May 3, 1911

However, the honeymoon did not last long though. Come to find out, Mr. Tufts tried to scam Jenny’s three daughters just a month after they were married, by tricking them into signing papers that would make their half of their late father’s inheritance community property, which could be accessed by the daughters’ remaining biological parent and or the parent’s spouse (which low and behold, would have benefited him directly). Once the girls became aware of the trickery, they called on a slew of lawyers to override and cancel those estate papers (and were successful in their quest in nullifying the paperwork). Mr. Tufts explained to his new wife and stepdaughters (who lived out of state), that it was just a misunderstanding (and all seemed to be forgiven).

By March 1912 though (less than a year after they were married), Mrs. J. H. S. Roe-Tufts had revoked all powers of attorney granted to him and filed for divorce. She also hired a lawyer and sued her husband on charges of embezzlement. Tufts was jailed in Los Angeles, charged with embezzling $100,000.00 from the Roe estate. Around this time, Mrs. Roe-Tufts youngest daughter Miss Mary Roe, left college to travel to Los Angeles to be at her mother’s side for support. During those few months that Mary Roe was living with her mother (during the spring of 1912), she became engaged to and married her college sweetheart at “21 Chester Place.”

Los Angeles Evening Herald, April 10, 1912

During the month of April (with Mr. Tufts still in jail, unable to afford bond), more women began to surface who had been members of his missionary trip to India, which claimed that they had also lost “property, attire, money and jewels as a result of their trust in Mr. Tufts.” A grand jury was then formed to also investigate Tufts financial transactions in connection with his alleged missionary efforts.

The worst was still yet to come though for Mr. Tufts, when his first wife Mrs. Mary Tufts surfaced and declared that she had never abandoned her husband and their children like Gorham had declared, and in fact, he had abandoned her by putting her in a mental institution overseas and returning to the States with two of their boys without her knowledge or consent.

She told the court that after they were married in Chicago in 1895, the missionary couple then went to India with his “followers” in tow and established what she (the first wife), called a “pseudo school of philosophy”, where Tufts had proclaimed himself to be the “Love God.” She stated that while she and her husband had been in India, he had been abusing her and eventually deserted her; returning to Chicago with two of their sons and divorcing her (without her knowledge), with claims that she had deserted him.

Los Angeles Evening Herald, April 13, 1912

She asked the court to release and grant her custody of their two sons and informed the court, that she had already filed with the court in Cook county, Illinois, to have the divorce granted to Mr. Tufts revoked (under grounds that it was obtained by misrepresentation); so that she could divorce him instead (which the court did eventually do for her)!

When Mrs. Mary Tufts finally got to see her two sons during juvenile court (in the presence of probation officers), she wept as she embraced her boys for the first time in six years. Her sons told the judge that they were startled when they saw her, because they had been told that their mother had died. The two Mrs. Tufts (wife number one and wife number two), agreed to help each other in their legal battles against their husband.

Dallas Morning News, July 21, 1912

In July 1912, Gorham Tufts Jr. was found guilty of fraudulently obtaining money from his second wife Jenny and was sentenced to three years in San Quentin prison. The sentence was imposed after Mr. Tufts pleaded for probation. As the months followed after the trial, more women continued to surface claiming that he took advantage of them financially.

In October, Mrs. Jenny H. S. Roe-Tufts petitioned the Los Angeles Superior Court for permission to drop the last name Tufts; declaring that it would be harmful to her for the management of her affairs, reciting her recent suit against Tufts on a charge of embezzling a part of her large estate. She also alleges humiliation through use of the name. Sure enough, the following year in the “Los Angeles City Directory” for 1913, it does show that she had dropped the name Tufts.

1913 Los Angeles City Directory

On March 2, 1914 (after a successful appeal), Gorham Tufts Jr. was released from prison. When asked where he planned on going now that he was a free man, he stated that he was immediately heading to New York in hope of a reconciliation with his second wife, Mrs. Jenny H. S. Roe (who had recently relocated to the east coast). Believe it or not, they were still married because when the court revoked Mr. Tufts first divorce (at Mary Tufts request), so that she (his first wife), could divorce him, it left Jenny and Gorham’s marriage in limbo until the first divorce was eventually finalized. Once the divorce to his first wife was finally finalized, neither Jenny or Gorham moved forward with their divorce proceedings because (during the latter part of 1913), Jenny now believed that her husband had been set up.

A newspaper article dated April 2, 1914 (one month after Gorham’s release from prison), revealed that the two had reconciled and Mrs. Jenny H. S. Roe-Tufts proclaimed that she would give her husband a half-interest in her California and Texas estates. As the year progressed, Mr. and Mrs. Tufts claimed to the newspapers that they had been set up all along by trusted associates who were out to frame and ruin Mr. Tufts good name; and in the process, try and extract as much money from Mrs. Tufts as possible. She proclaimed that she would spend the rest of her fortune (if need be), to clear and restore her husbands name. They continued to make the headlines for a few more years before disappearing from the public eye.

Chicago Examiner, April 2, 1914

When the newly reconciled Tufts sold “21 Chester Place” in 1914 (shortly after the “Los Angeles Herald” article in April), they sold the house and land to none other than Estelle Doheny herself. Estelle then had a set of gates placed on the street to enclose the house (as well as two houses across the street from the Newhall home), within “Chester Place.” The Newhall house was then officially included as part of the gated community (although most people in the neighborhood probably already assumed it was). It then became a rent house as Estelle had done with the other houses that she had acquired in the immediate area. Estelle obviously did not waste much time because by 1915, the house did have its first rental occupants.

In most cases with rental homes you would assume that there would be a lot of different occupants throughout a fifty two year rental history, but that was not the case with “21 Chester Place” though. Between 1915 and 1967, only two sets of renters got the great privilege of calling “21 Chester Place” home.

1915 Los Angeles City Directory – First year in directory that shows that James H. and Lillian Adams are living in the house (first set of renters)

In the “Los Angeles City Directory” for 1915, it does show that a James H. Adams (abbreviated as Jas H Adams), was occupying “21 Chester Place.” He and his wife Lillian must have loved the house because the directory shows that they lived there for at least 17 years; like the Newhall’s, they were also social butterflies. They gave dinner parties and hosted banquets, making the gossip columns in the papers quite frequently for years while living in the house.

In February 1915, the “Los Angeles Herald” announced the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Adams’ son Morgan Adams and his new bride Aileen. The article stated that after their honeymoon, they would return home to their many friends after March 1st at “21 Chester Place” (obviously set on living with his parents still, even in marriage).

Morgan (like his parents), was in the papers quite frequently, although he was much more outdoorsy. In March 1915, he made the papers when his yacht caught fire off Catalina Island, carrying not only he and his wife, but family and friends as well. The article states that no sooner had the party escaped in small boats, flames burst through the engine room ports. They drifted in the ocean for half an hour before being rescued by H. Von Stein in his launch, Sallie S (thankfully, no one was hurt during the ordeal).

Los Angeles Evening Herald, March 22, 1915

In May 1915, Morgan made the papers again with his love for sailing; this time he broke the sailing yacht record with his yacht Nixie. The article states that Morgan Adams of “21 Chester Place” has established a new record for a sailing trip down the coast, when making the trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles harbor on a sailing yacht in just forty-nine hours (with the company of four friends no less).

Morgan and his wife separated and divorced in 1921 and then the following year in 1922, Morgan’s father James H. Adams died. Lillian and Morgan continued to live in the house for another decade at least, both living a much quieter life. Unfortunately, at this time, there is not a “City Directory” for every year, so the last year that I can confirm that Lillian or Morgan still lived in the house is in 1932.

1932 Los Angeles City Directory – Last year in directory that shows that Lillian Adams was living in the house (first set of renters)

The same probably could be said for the second and last set of renters as well, regarding their possible fondness towards the house. In the 1936 “Los Angeles City Directory”, a couple named Paul and Helen Grafe are listed as living in the house. They lived at “21 Chester Place” for at least 31 years until the city forced them out of the house.

1936 Los Angeles City Directory – First year in directory that shows that Paul and Helen Grafe are living in the house (second set of renters)

They lived there during the transition from neighborhood to campus in the early sixties when the college took over, as well as during the time when Hollywood came knocking to use the house in a Motion Picture. Then just a few months later, television producers came knocking on the door to use the house for a TV sitcom called “The Addams Family.”

21 Chester Place 1959

“21 Chester Place” was only used in “The Addams Family” 1964-66 TV show’s first episode (Season 1/Episode 1), for exterior footage of the house in the opening scene. You can also see the houses porte-cochère in the background behind Gomez when he is filing the gates during the show intro (that is played before each episode). The house was also used in publicity photos for the show with John Astin (Gomez), standing in front of the house in different spots and poses. However, the third floor and roof was not quite the look that they had imagined, so instead of trying to buy the house and fix to their liking or constructing an actual full-scale front or shell of a home on a studio lot, they opted to use a matte painting of this house which could be altered for different scenes. They hired an established optical effects studio called the Howard Anderson Company to do this.

21 Chester Place

21 Chester Place 1964 (with studio props added for filming)

Sometime in 1964, they took a picture of “21 Chester Place” (with the studio props added), and then blew up the picture to a 30×40 inch black and white portrait. An artist named Louis McManus brushed color oil paint over the photograph to add details and style to the house to make it exactly what they wanted. Using the technique with the matte painting placed over In-Motion stock footage of the Newhall house also gave them the ability to create an illusion of activity in front of “The Addams Family” home. After using the house in the first episode (filming stock footage of the house), and taking the look of the house in general, they used the matte painting of the house for the rest of the shows course. The house was also briefly used exterior-wise in the 1964 Motion Picture “Seven Days in May” and in one episode of the 60’s TV sitcom “Hazel.”

Newhall House to Addams House Transformation

Newhall House to Addams House Transformation (other than the 3rd floor that was added, only a few small details were changed of the original likeness)

This is it though, this is the real house that became “The Addams Family” home (exterior-wise), in the 60’s TV sitcom. Unfortunately, this house is no longer standing. The show didn’t need the house after they had taken all the footage they wanted from it, so it was not purchased and moved to a studio lot off of the land that was now owned by “Mount St. Mary’s College Doheny Campus” (who weren’t even using the house).

When the previous land owner of “Chester Place” Estelle Doheny died in 1958, she willed the land to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles; whom then gave the land to “Mount St. Mary’s College”, and in 1962 they opened up their satellite campus there and incorporated most of the historic homes within student housing and teaching. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), the campus let the current renters stay that were living in the house (which were Paul and Helen Grafe), and decided not to use the house for housing or teaching, so they continued to live there within the campus at “21 Chester Place” as they had since the 1930’s.

Debbi Morris and Patrick Greene stand in front of 21 Chester Place (1966) (“Images of America” Don Sloper)

Debbi Morris and Patrick Greene stand in front of 21 Chester Place on Morris’s Graduation Day for a photo op, at ‘Doheny’s Mount St. Mary’s College’ in 1966 (“Images of America” Don Sloper)

The Newhall house survived for some time, even as the campus began to grow over the years. The house was still there in 1964 for “The Addams Family” Producers to discover and use the house, but as soon as it seemed the coast was clear the house that had once graced “Adams St.”,”West 25th St.” and then “21 Chester Place“, was put on the chopping block in 1967 when “Mount St. Mary’s College, Doheny Campus” (that owned the land that the house sat on), was propositioned by the L.A.U.S.D. to let that side of the street go to make room for a high school. It was the only house on that side of the street that is now called “St. James Park West” and the campus wasn’t using the house (although renters were still living in the home), so I guess they thought it was expendable. Obviously, no one spoke up and tried to save this famous and historic house and so therefore it was demolished sometime between 1967-1972.

1967 Los Angeles City Directory – Last year in directory that shows that Paul and Helen Grafe are living in the house (second set of renters)

On June 9, 1967, the “Department of Building and Safety” issued a demolition permit for the house and the occupants were notified to vacate by a certain date. I have yet to find documentation verifying the actual demolition date, but according to the “Los Angeles City Directory” the house was still occupied in 1967. Unfortunately, aerial photos at this time only prove that the house was definitely gone by 1972, so at this time when the house was actually demolished is only speculation (although I speculate that it was demolished in 1968). Now where the house once stood is a Track and Field for the Frank D. Lanterman High School.

From Don Sloper’s book called Los Angeles’s Chester Place “Images of America”

There is a “driveway approach” on that side of the street still, but it is not the original one for “21 Chester Place.” Unfortunately, the original “driveway approach” for the house was filled in and a new one (about 10-15 yards west from the original), was made for access to the Track and Field for the school. Sadly, the only thing left from the time the house stood there on that side of the street inside the gates is the street itself (which has been repaved), portions of the sidewalk and the six-globe street lamp (installed close to the original driveway in 1903), which can be seen in some of the photographs of the house.