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Pomona Court and Apartments

314 and 320 Pomona Avenue

1927 photo of exterior of Pomona Court
Pomona Court exterior in 1927

The Pomona Court and Apartments were placed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 14, 2018. The properties are also designated Fullerton Local Landmarks.

The Pomona Court and Apartments were nominated for both local and national recognition for their historic association with two town pioneers: Charles C. Chapman and Edward K. Benchley, Fullerton's first two mayors. The property is also associated with the Fullerton Improvement Company (1904-1945), a real estate and building firm devoted to the construction of buildings that enhanced the financial, social, and cultural networks of Fullerton. Founded by Charles C. Chapman, the Fullerton Improvement Company was one of the most important building companies in the city's early history, taking on projects that other businessmen, firms, and government officials were unwilling or financially unable to tackle. The company's board of directors would comprise some of the most important individuals in Fullerton's early history. The Pomona Court and Apartments – excellent representative examples of low-density multi-family housing constructed in the 1920s – mark the only time the company invested in a housing development.

1927 photo of Pomonoa Apartments
Pomona Apartments in 1927

Constructed in 1922, the Pomona Court is the oldest extant bungalow court in the city. An outstanding example of a bungalow court, it is the only Craftsman-style court in Fullerton. The housing units on the property are also the only bungalow court and fourplex designed by local master architect Frank K. Benchley, one of Fullerton's early prominent architects, responsible for a number of significant and recognizable buildings, including the California Hotel (now Villa del Sol) ; the Muckenthaler Cultural Center; and the former Masonic Temple, now the Spring Field Banquet Center. Four of the buildings Benchley designed – three in Fullerton and one in Portland, Oregon – are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A number of Benchley designed buildings, including the E. K. Benchley House (604 North Harbor Blvd.) and the Shepardson House (155 Hillcrest Drive), are also designated Fullerton Local Landmarks.

Pomona Bungalow Court

 

Pomona Court exterior
Pomona Court exterior now

 

Facing west, the ten unit bungalow court at 314 North Pomona Avenue sits on the south side of a flat 130- by 150-foot lot. A cement walkway on the north side of the bungalow court separates it from the adjacent apartment house; a similar walkway and concrete wall on the north side sets the court apart from a neighboring Craftsman bungalow (310 North Pomona Avenue, ca. 1918), converted into a dental clinic.

Constructed in 1922, the Pomona Court is the oldest extant bungalow court in Fullerton and one of the best examples of the U-shaped bungalow court form. An extremely attractive example of a bungalow court, it is the only Craftsman-style court in the city, and it is a particularly late version of the type that flourished prior to World War I. The court is unified by material, scale, setback, design, and landscape setting, which combine to create a sense of refinement and graciousness.

The Pomona Court is composed of two identical rows of four attached one-story bungalows and a rear two-story duplex arranged around a central courtyard. The south bungalow units are numbered one through four; the north side, seven through ten; and the duplex, five and six. A central cement walkway leads to the rear two-story duplex, which serves as the terminus, resulting in a U-shaped configuration and creating a sense of enclosure. The walkway connects to each bungalow entrance and runs around each side of the rear two-story duplex, exiting at the rear alley and an eight-stall parking garage. The walkway defines planter beds along the primary façades of the bungalows and duplex. The court is landscaped with a variety of shrubbery and flowering plants – boxwood, roses, bougainvillea, Boston ferns, spider plants, etc. – with two mature Melaleuca trees anchoring each side of the rear duplex. Entrance to the court commences at the sidewalk, with passage through a semi-detached pergola of exposed beams supported by ten Doric-style unfluted columns. The pergola, which serves as a screen between the street and the residences, unifies the overall visual impression of the housing complex.

The eight attached bungalows are essentially identical in their exterior appearance. Of wood-frame construction, individual units consist of simple stucco boxes that feature defined porches, low-pitched gable roofs with wide exposed roof eaves, tapered wood columns supported by concrete bases – all typical features of Craftsman bungalow architecture. Accessed by two concrete steps, the individual raised porches enhance the appeal and accessibility of the courtyard by integrating exterior and interior spaces. Entrance into each bungalow is through wood-frame, clear ten-light doors and wooden screen doors. Two matching double-hung windows are positioned on each side of the doorways. The existing doors and casement and double-hung windows on all sides of the structure retain the original wood frames and plaster sills. Each of the eight bungalow's primary façades overlooks the courtyard. The rear two-story duplex mirrors the Craftsman-era features of the bungalows, with similarly styled porches, columns, roofs, doors, sills and windows.

 

The eight one-bedroom, one-bathroom bungalows (550-square-feet) are identical in layout. Each is an "efficiency" unit consisting of a living/dining room, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom. The living spaces orient toward the courtyard, while services, such as the kitchen and bathroom, line the rear and sides of the buildings. Residents enter into the living room with an alcove at the rear. A small hallway to the left of the living room fans out to a kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom, which includes a walk-in closet with built-in shelves and a wooden chest of drawers. French doors in the living room also lead to the bedroom. Bungalows four, five, seven, eight, nine, and ten have exit doors off service porches that lead to enclosed patios added in 1987. The rear wood and clear ten-light doors match the front doors. Constructed before air-conditioning, the bungalows are well lit by the careful positioning of double-hung and casement windows, which allow breezes to move throughout the rooms.

Slightly larger than the bungalows, the two duplex units at the rear of the court (750-square-feet) – also one-bedroom, one-bathroom – have a similar interior layout. Occupants enter into a small sitting room containing a small closet, which leads into a living room, which, in turn, moves into the kitchen, bathroom, breakfast nook, and service porch. The service porch is now used to house a refrigerator. A door off the living room provides access to a small storage closet. Wooden stairs (15 steps) off the kitchen lead up to the second story bedroom and a walk-in closet with a built-in chest of drawers. Casement windows line the walls of the bedroom. The interiors of all ten units retain a number of historic elements: fir wood floors, plastered walls and ceilings, built-in cabinetry in the kitchens and bathrooms, claw-foot bathtubs, kitchen tile countertops and back splash, farmhouse sinks, floor tiles, and original window and door hardware. Most of the changes to the interiors are concentrated in bungalows two, three, and four.

Over the last 94 years, there have been only minor modifications to the exterior and character-defining features of the interiors. The property has upgraded building systems throughout, including mechanical, electrical, and plumbing, in order to meet current code requirements. In 1987, when the current owner purchased the property, tenants were parking on unauthorized spots on the property, including a vacant strip of land between the bungalow court and apartments. To stop that practice, enclosed patios were added off the rear exits of bungalow court units four, five, seven, eight, nine, and ten, and a narrow cement walkway was installed between the two housing complexes. Rear doors were removed from units that had no exterior outdoor patios added. In a few of the bungalows, primarily units two, three, and four, minor changes were made to some of the interiors: wood floors have been replaced, along with claw-foot bathtubs, lighting fixtures, and ceramic floor tiles, and the French doors leading into the bedrooms have been removed to provide more wall space. The minor changes to the exterior and interiors are reversible and do not compromise the exceptionally high degree of integrity of the bungalow court. The original Craftsman-styled detailing is unobscured, and the court plan is still intact. Overall, the Pomona Court is in good condition. The bungalow court, however, does need maintenance work, such as painting, new roofs, and restoration of the wood pergola, which the owner plans to undertake.

 

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Pomona Apartments

Pomona Court exterior
Pomona Apartments exterior now

Constructed in 1923, the fourplex Pomona Apartments sit on the north side of the 130- by 150-foot lot, on the immediate southeast corner of Pomona and Whiting Avenues. The apartment that faces Pomona Avenue has the address 320 North Pomona Avenue; the three units with entrances facing Whiting Avenue (the north side) are listed as 200, 202, and 204 East Whiting Avenue. A narrow cement walkway on the south side of the building separates it from the adjacent bungalow court and leads to a four-stall rear garage and laundry room. The building is painted cream with tan trim, matching the color scheme of the bungalow court. A public sidewalk curves around the front and side of the apartment house, with mature magnolia and bronze loquat trees (later city additions) lining the streets. Shallow planter beds containing various shrubs and plants are positioned in front (the west elevation) of the apartment house.

The Pomona Apartments were built at a time when Fullerton residents greatly preferred single-family homes over multi-family dwellings. Unlike nearby cities, such as Anaheim and Santa Ana, which had dozens of apartments, often with multiple units, Fullerton only had a handful of apartment buildings constructed before World War II. The boxlike structures, usually with four to eight units, were designed to look like houses, appearing very much like a private residence in size and scale. For this reason, the Pomona Apartments from the street look like a two-story home with a central front entrance, and a second-story balcony.
Each floor features two, 1,200-square-foot apartments. Each runs the width of the building and is a mirror image of the other. Of wood-frame and stucco construction, the apartment house retains nearly all of its original features characteristic of the Spanish Colonial Revival style. Although the Spanish Colonial Revival architectural elements are apparent, it is a somewhat simplified version of the style. Historic exterior features include a low pitched, stepped pantile roof, smooth stucco walls, plaster window sills, arched entryways, and the use of decorative iron work on balcony railings, air vent grilles, and a gate. A narrow, square-shaped chimney on the northeast corner is topped with red barrel tile, as is a wood shed roof on the north side covering the two upstairs entrances.

The two tenants on the ground floor enter their apartment through 15-light wooden-frame doors on the west and north sides of the building. The two tenants on the upper level enter through matching doors on the north side, with separate stairs leading to each apartment. The four separate entrances provide a sense of privacy in what is essentially communal space. To amplify interior space, each of the apartments has a separate private outdoor space. The ground floor units have patios; the upstairs units have individual balconies. The balconies feature ogee-shaped arches and wrought-iron railings. Fenestration consists of wood multi-light casement and double-hung windows which occupy original openings with original wood surrounds. The apartment on the west (front) façade features a set picture window with five-light double-hung windows positioned on each side. All of the windows are double-hung, with the exception of bathroom and kitchen casement windows. As a cost-saving measure, fewer architectural details were provided on the south side – the least visible – of the structure. Unlike the multi-light windows on the other sides of the fourplex, all the windows are single pane. Similarly, the two exterior doors on the ground floor level are made of plain, solid wood, and the stoops are made of wood, not concrete.

A driveway at the rear of the property provides access to a four-stall parking garage. A small laundry room, added in 1987, is attached to the garage. Occupants of both the bungalow court and apartment house have use of the laundry room, but the apartments, unlike the bungalows, also have washer and dryer hook-ups.

 

 

fireplace with Batchelder Tile
Batchelder Tile fireplace

 

Each two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment is identical in layout and design. The only exception is that the lower and upper apartments facing Pomona Avenue feature Batchelder-tiled fireplaces in the living rooms. The fireplaces, mantles, and hearths are tiled with glazed cinnamon-colored square tile using Batchelder Design 262.1 Tile panels (18 inches x 6 inches) centered above the fireboxes feature two facing peacocks surrounded by vines (Tile No. 589), common Ernest Batchelder motifs. 2 Entrance through the front door of each unit leads directly into the living room, which, in turn, opens into a dining room on the right, followed by a compact kitchen with a breakfast nook and service porch. The kitchen cabinets, which retain original hardware, are painted wood. The counters, which are original, are tiled. A small hallway off the living room, with a built-in linen cabinet, leads to separate bedrooms on both sides. A bathroom is positioned between the two bedrooms, each of which includes a small closet. Every room in the apartment has at least one window providing natural light. The walls and ceilings are painted plaster; the oak wood floors are uncarpeted. Historic interior features include oak hardwood flooring; plaster walls and ceilings; high wood baseboards and crown molding; wood window and door surrounds; single-panel wood doors with original hardware; wooden built-ins and cabinetry; and original tile kitchen countertops and back splash and farmhouse sinks.

Nearly all of the apartment house's exterior details, including doors, windows, and trim have been retained. The only change, made in 1987, was the removal of stairs on the south side of the structure, along with two plain wooden doors on the upper level which provided delivery access for blocks of ice. The two bottom doors remain, with one covered by an aluminum screen door, a later addition. The interiors retain their original layouts and details integral to the structure, and all retain character-defining features. Some of the ceiling lights have been replaced by fans; hardware has been painted; and the breakfast nooks, which had built-in seating and a table, have been removed and replaced with portable small tables and chairs. The minor changes are reversible and do not compromise the exceptionally high degree of integrity of the apartment house. Overall, the Pomona Apartments are in good condition, but some maintenance work, such as exterior painting, is needed. kitchen cabinets, which retain original hardware, are painted wood. The counters, which are original, are tiled. A small hallway off the living room, with a built-in linen cabinet, leads to separate bedrooms on both sides. A bathroom is positioned between the two bedrooms, each of which includes a small closet. Every room in the apartment has at least one window providing natural light. The walls and ceilings are painted plaster; the oak wood floors are uncarpeted. Historic interior features include oak hardwood flooring; plaster walls and ceilings; high wood baseboards and crown molding; wood window and door surrounds; single-panel wood doors with original hardware; wooden built-ins and cabinetry; and original tile kitchen countertops and back splash and farmhouse sinks.

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Historical Background

photos of Edward K. Bencley & Charles C. Chapman
Edward K. Benchley (l.) & Charles C. Chapman (r.)

On April 10, 1919, Edward K. Benchley, president of the Fullerton Improvement Company, announced in the Fullerton News Tribune that the realty company would be constructing an apartment house and bungalow court on the southeast corner of Whiting and Pomona Avenues. Although the reverse would take place, the apartment house was to be constructed first, with the bungalow court to quickly follow on the immediate corner. Fullerton's other bungalow courts were situated on single rectangular lots, and the Pomona Court and Apartments marked the only time that an apartment house and bungalow court were constructed on the same parcel. (The parcel is and always has been under single ownership.) Multi-family rental units were rare in Fullerton, and the uniqueness of the project merited a significant amount of coverage in local newspapers. The development was hailed as an example of good, affordable housing design and construction, "modern in every particular," and, when completed, the units were expected to be the "most complete and attractive to be found anywhere in southern California."

Expected to cost $40,000, the project entailed purchasing lots from Edith E. Campbell and Guy C. and Ethel Walton, the relocation of three dwellings, land clearance, and the construction of the apartments and bungalow court. The board of directors of the Fullerton Improvement Company made trips to Riverside, Long Beach, and other cities "with the view of getting ideas regarding the very latest styles of modern bungalows." Edward K. Benchley's youngest son, Frank K. Benchley, who lived directly opposite the site, was selected to design the bungalow court and apartment house, one of a number of projects he would complete for the Fullerton Improvement Company from 1917 to 1924.

When the housing project was announced in 1919, Fullerton's population had doubled in three years to 6,000, and residents had become concerned with "indiscriminate building" and a lack of "architectural harmony" within the city. In early 1919, the Board of Trustees of Fullerton Union High School hired notable architect Carleton Monroe Winslow (1876-1946) to design classrooms for the campus. A leading proponent of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, Winslow had shot to fame as the chief architect of the 1915 San Diego Panama-California Exposition. At the request of the City Planning Committee of the highly influential Fullerton Board of Trade (later the Fullerton Chamber of Commerce), Winslow gave a series of talks, with color slides, espousing the Spanish Colonial Revival style of architecture. With much fanfare from the Fullerton News, the Orange County Daily Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times, the Fullerton Board of Trade established, on July 19, 1919, Spanish Colonial Revival as the "uniform style for all public buildings" within the city, making Fullerton the first city in California to establish an architectural policy. At the July 19, 1919 meeting, held in the Biology Building of Fullerton Union High School, various groups pledged that all future buildings would be designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, with Edward K. Benchley promising that the Fullerton Improvement Company's new apartment house would be designed in the same style. Architect Frank K. Benchley was then instructed to design the two-story structure in the new Spanish Colonial Revival style. Benchley, however, who had been constructing Craftsman bungalows around town (e. g., 128 West Brookdale Place, 134 West Malvern Avenue, etc.), made a different decision in the design the Pomona Court, using the Craftsman style reminiscent of architectural designs current around 1914/15 in Fullerton.

The Fullerton Improvement Company concentrated solely on constructing much needed buildings around town. After World War I, Fullerton, like many cities in the nation, was suffering from a severe housing crisis, and the hope was that the new units would alleviate some of the pent-up demand for homes. It was estimated that the city's housing shortage resulted in an annual loss of 400 to 500 families to nearby cities. For a number of reasons, the construction of the Pomona Court and Apartments would be delayed for three years. At the time of the project's announcement, architect Frank K. Benchley – attempting to restart his career after military service – was already working on a number of projects. Edward K. Benchley was under pressure to build more office space, and the Southern California Edison Company, which was threatening to move and establish a district office in Anaheim, wanted larger quarters as well. The Fullerton Improvement Company lacked the funds to complete multiple projects at the same time, and Edward K. Benchley made the decision to delay the housing units in favor of more office space, instructing his son to develop plans for a two-story brick building on North Spadra Road (now Harbor Boulevard), which was expected to provide space for sixteen offices.

 

Fullerton Improvement Co. stock offering
Stock Offering document from Fullerton Improvement Co.

In August 1919, the Fullerton News began publishing a series of articles and editorials on the front page of the newspaper exhorting residents to do something about the housing shortage: "The Three Great Needs of Fullerton are Houses, Houses, Houses"; "Eighty Men Last Night Talked City Growth but Forgot Houses"; "Tie the Ford Outside and Rent the Garage to a Good Family, " etc. On September 10, 1919, at the monthly meeting of the Fullerton Board of Trade, attorney Emerson J. Marks stood up, telling fellow members that it was time "to put up or shut up" about the housing problem and to stop all boosterism unless more homes were constructed. Members in attendance immediately put forth $10,500 to start subscriptions to a stock company that would fund the Fullerton Improvement Company's housing projects on North Pomona Avenue. Notices and announcements went out, meetings were held, and $21,500 was raised for the Pomona Court and Apartments. Confident that the housing units would be built, Edward K. Benchley began clearing the land to make way for the new units. However, a number of subscribers balked at becoming landlords, and members of the newly formed Fullerton Home Builders voted to build single-family homes instead of rental units. To raise needed money, the Fullerton Improvement Company then offered $30,000 worth of its stock to attract new shareholders in June 1921.

IThe Pomona Court was eventually constructed in 1922, opening in August, with rents starting at $50 a month. The Pomona Apartments were completed in 1923. The first occupant of the Pomona Apartments was Edward K. Benchley, who passed away at 320 North Pomona Avenue of pneumonia on July 31, 1924. In 1941, the bungalow court and apartments were sold to Karl E. Hollingsworth (745 North Euclid Avenue), a former secretary-manager of the Benchley Fruit Company, who held on to them until 1985. The bungalow court and apartments appear to have had only four owners, a contributing factor in the property's preservation.

Impressed with the new modern housing, the Fullerton Chamber of Commerce featured the court and apartment house in its promotional brochure, Fullerton: Where, What and Why (1927), mailed out across the nation. In 1982, the Pomona Court was included in David Gebhard and Robert Winter's classic A Guide to Architecture in Los Angeles and Southern California. In 1988, the Pomona Court (as the Elm Wood Apartments) was the setting for the film Purple People Eater, starring Neil Patrick Harris, Shelley Winters, and Ned Beatty.

 

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Fullerton Improvement Company (1904-1945)

On January 17, 1900, Placentia and Fullerton property owners met and formed an Improvement Club to enhance Placentia Avenue, the road connecting the two towns. Charles C. Chapman (1853-1944), who would become Fullerton's first mayor in 1904, was elected president, and William McFadden (1842-1902), the second white settler to arrive in Placentia in 1870, and the first Superintendent of Schools in Orange County, served as secretary. Several thousands of dollars were spent "in macadamizing the road and in setting out plants and other ornamental and shade trees on each side of the avenue its full length of about three miles."

Chapman hoped that the Improvement Club would continue to address other community needs, but the organization was short-lived. A strong supporter of the use of private funds for public good, Chapman formed the Fullerton Improvement Company as a replacement for the club. Incorporated on November 12, 1904, nine months after the city incorporated, the Fullerton Improvement Company would stay in business until June 4,1945.  Chapman would remain the realty company's one constant, serving on the board of directors until his death in April 1944. Fullerton's second mayor, Edward K. Benchley, would serve as a founding member, and in the early decades of the firm, the two men would alternately serve as president of the company. Both men would have a distinct and lasting impact on the community and also Orange County. Other Fullerton movers and shakers would later join the board of directors, including two more mayors: Richard S. Gregory (1876-1958) and James R. Carhart (1876-1956).  All of the men who served on the board of directors were prominent citizens who were established and financially well-off, but they were also risk takers, dedicated "to making Fullerton a greater city."

While the Fullerton Improvement Company hoped to break even, the goal was never to make a profit. As Charles C. Chapman was to note in his autobiography: "My motive in doing all this was not so much seeking investments for I could have found others more profitable, but actually to help the city. The financial returns have not been generous. But I have the satisfaction of believing that the money and effort were not all wasted."  Company officials were also sensitive to economic downturns and would adjust rents to assist merchants. In April 1925, when Fullerton was experiencing a slight economic decline, company officers reduced rents sixteen to twenty percent, noting that the firm recognized "that the welfare of a community depends directly upon the general prosperity of its citizens and regards as a very short-sighted policy that of the landlord who takes excessive toll of a merchant in times of depression."  The Fullerton Improvement Company would become one of the most important building companies in the city's early history, tackling projects that other businessmen, firms, and government officials were unwilling or financially unable to tackle. The board of directors was aware that they were building a city, and the firm's buildings helped to create a sense of local identity and belonging and encouraged strong social networks.

The company's first project was the construction of the Farmers and Merchants Bank of Fullerton (122 North Harbor Blvd.), which also included planned space for the Fullerton Post Office and the Fullerton News, a local newspaper founded by Charles C. Chapman in 1902. The bank building, designed and constructed by Los Angeles contractor Arthur S. Heineman, would serve as the headquarters and meeting place for the Fullerton Improvement Company for the next forty years.  In 1916, when Edward K. Benchley was president, the company increased its capital stock and embarked on a building spurt that would last until his death in 1924. During this significant period – the most prolific in the firm's history – most of the building projects would be concentrated on Harbor Boulevard (then Spadra Road), the city's major thoroughfare. Edward K. Benchley would decide what building would be constructed; his son, Frank K. Benchley, would furnish the architectural plans; and Charles C. Chapman would supply the "major amount of capital to carry them out." On occasion, businesses or organizations needing office or meeting space would approach Edward K. Benchley directly, but he also picked up building ideas at Fullerton Board of Trade meetings or just by general engagement in the financial, social, and economic activities of Fullerton.



During these early formative years, the city of Fullerton had no planning or development department, and the Fullerton Improvement Company filled the gap by providing a number of civic improvements. As needs presented themselves, the firm tried to provide buildings, offices, and meeting spaces that were desired or needed in the rapidly growing town. When Fullerton residents clamored for a formal moving picture theater to watch silent films, the Fullerton Improvement Company built the Rialto Theater (219 North Harbor Blvd.) in 1917. A severe shortage of medical offices led to construction of the Fullerton Improvement Building (219½ North Harbor Blvd.), which provided medical facilities for dentists, physicians, and specialists. A growing desire for a downtown market led to the opening of the Fullerton Groceteria (221 North Harbor Blvd.), the city first self-service market. Lacking adequate space for government services, the Fullerton City Council requested specially designed quarters, and the city's administration and fire department leased space (223 North Harbor Blvd.) from the company until a permanent building was constructed. When the Fullerton Club, a booster and social club for top businessmen, outgrew its meeting space, the company built a separate clubhouse for the group, complete with a dancehall, billiards room, and reading room. Other local groups and organizations would also use the Fullerton Club building for meetings, dances, and other activities. The company also leased office space to a number of notable associations and companies, including the Fullerton Board of Trade and the Fullerton Community Hotel Company, a subscription firm that constructed the nearby California Hotel (302 North Harbor Blvd.), now Villa del Sol.

An "absolute necessity for homes" led the Fullerton Improvement Company to build the Pomona Court and Apartments, the only time the firm invested in a housing project. The two housing projects demonstrated the company's willingness to provide low-density multi-family housing in a town that greatly preferred single-family homes and reflected an alternative effort to meet housing demands during a prolonged post-World War I slowdown in house construction. Edward K. Benchley was aware that the fourteen rental units provided by the North Pomona Avenue project were not enough to solve Fullerton's housing problem, but he hoped that the new bungalow court and apartment house would encourage others builders and investors to follow suit. An article in the April 10, 1919 issue of the Fullerton News Tribune echoed Benchley's views: "E. K. Benchley, president of the company, says that the demand for apartments and houses is so great that his company feels it necessary to do all in its power to relieve the situation, and he hopes that others who are in the city who are in a position to do all they can to relieve the situation and thereby build up the city. " Over the decades, the company's buildings would be razed or modified, and the bungalow court and apartment house remain the most historically intact of the firm's structures.

After Edward K. Benchley's death in 1924, Frank K. Benchley continued with a number of planned undertakings; the firm's buildings were maintained, but the Fullerton Improvement Company was never as active again. In 1926, Frank K. Benchley moved to Los Angeles. Charles C. Chapman took over again as president, invested in other projects, but the 1929 Depression and World War II stopped city growth, and after Chapman's death in 1944, the company was dissolved in 1945.

 

 

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Architect Frank Benchley and Builder Herbert Daniel (Dan) Coon

The Pomona Court and Apartments were designed by local master architect Frank K. Benchley, the most important architect in Fullerton's history. The builder of the bungalow court is unknown, but the contractor for the Pomona Apartments was Herbert Daniel (known as Dan) Coon, who arrived to Fullerton in 1919. Benchley and Coon worked together on projects both before and after the housing units, and at one point, had adjacent offices on the second floor of the E. K. Benchley Building in downtown Fullerton. Both men were also members of the Business Methods Committee of the newly formed Fullerton Kiwanis Club in 1921. The bungalow court and apartment house were commissioned by the Fullerton Improvement Company in an attempt to alleviate a severe housing shortage in the city after World War I.

He was one of only a few licensed architects in Orange County, and the only active one in Fullerton. He worked in a variety of architectural styles, designing an astonishing number of building types, including businesses, apartment houses, fraternal lodges, hotels, a movie theater, a groceteria, a fire station, a hospital ward, a grammar school, a jail, a citrus packing plant, a clubhouse, and both modest and expansive homes. In his early work, Benchley worked largely within the traditional confines of the styles popular in the era, primarily Colonial Revival and Arts and Crafts, but toward the end of his architectural career he embraced styles more associated with Southern California, including Spanish Colonial Revival and Pueblo Revival. He could quickly draw up plans for utilitarian brick buildings, but would also spent months on more elaborate designs. Benchley had a work crew, but often worked with local and Los Angeles building contractors, including James F. Kobler, Chris McNeill, Frank Hudson, Evan J. Herbert, Herbert D. Coon, and the Ridenhour Brothers. His more notable works in Fullerton include the Fullerton Masonic Temple, Villa del Sol (the California Hotel) and the Muckenthaler Cultural Center.

The Pomona Apartments were designed and constructed by Herbert D. Coon in 1923. Perhaps because of the itinerant nature of his carpentry and building work, Coon lived in a number of places besides Fullerton throughout the state of California, including Pasadena, Santa Maria, Tracy, Carmel, Marina, Felton, Burlingame, Ben Lomond, and Yellowstone National Park.

Coon was born in Soquel, California, on December 23, 1887, the youngest of six children (and the only male) born to Herbert William Coon (1848-1924) and Julia Etta Stewart Coon (1859-1934). Born in Ohio, Herbert W. Coon came to California in 1870, when he married Julia Stewart. Dan Coon spent the first seventeen years of his life in Ben Lomond, attended schools in Santa Cruz, and completed his high school education in North Chicago, Illinois. He served an apprenticeship with Oakland contractor Frank Irvine, then worked with his father, a lumberman, on the family timber claim, Coon Heights, in Ben Lomond. The two men "cut madrone wood and hauled it with a four-horse team" to Powder Mill Flats, made "barrel staves" for the Cowell Lime Works kiln, and "furnished bark" for the Ansley K. Salz Tannery.  In 1904, the Coon Family moved to Los Angeles where Dan Coon met Sylvia Hanes (1886-1973), a native of Darke County, Ohio, and the couple would wed on November 25, 1908.


Starting in 1906, Coon worked on the construction of the Carnegie Brick and Pottery Company factory near Tracy, a plant set up by industrialist Andrew Carnegie to manufacture bricks for his donated libraries. In 1908, he was employed by the Stone Canyon Coal in Monterey County. He relocated to Pasadena in 1910, where he "engaged in the construction of high-class residences in the Orange Grove Avenue and Oak Park Section, the first residence section of the city. " He then spent two years (1913-1915) in Yellowstone National Park, where he helped to construct an extension to Old Faithful Inn for the Great Northern Railroad. In 1917, Coon returned to Pasadena (2009 North Marengo Avenue, 2028 Summit Avenue) where he built homes for leading real estate firms, worked briefly in Fullerton, then after registering for the military draft, worked in the San Pedro Shipyards for two years, doing his bit for World War I.

In April 1919, Coon returned to Fullerton, announcing that as a newcomer he was dedicated to helping the town in its "efforts to build a real city. " By 1921, he had set up offices (306½ and 310½ North Harbor Blvd.) and was advertising weekly in the Fullerton News Tribune. He concentrated on building bungalows and duplexes, including residences at 238 East Whiting Avenue, 240 Jacaranda Place, 538 and 542 West Wilshire Avenue, and 541-543 West Amerige Avenue. He worked with a few local developers – Willis Maple, Reeve & Mulrien, and William E. Westland – constructing "spec" homes on vacant lots around Fullerton. In May 1923, Coon won the contract to construct a $30,000 four-room addition to the Ford Grammar School.

Prior to constructing the Pomona Apartments, Coon built a fourplex in 1919, which was used as his personal residence, at 233-235 West Wilshire Avenue, followed by an identical fourplex on the adjacent lot at 237-239 West Wilshire in 1923. The two matching buildings were known locally as the Coon Apartments. In 1921, Coon also designed and built the George Treher Apartments (619 W. Third Street) in Long Beach, which bear an architectural resemblance to the Pomona Apartments. Edward K. Benchley was obviously pleased with the Pomona Apartments, because shortly before the residences opened, he awarded a contract to Coon to build a $30,000 packing house for the Anaheim Valencia Growers' Association (805 E. Center Street, razed).102 The packing house would be Coon's last project with Frank Benchley.

In 1923, Coon left Fullerton for Northern California, and in 1938, returned to his hometown of Ben Lomond where he lived with his wife on Glen Arbor Road. He continued in construction work until 1946, when he moved into the business of developing springs and erecting water tanks. Coon died in Wender, Arizona, in 1969. Sylvia Coon, who survived him by a few years, passed away in 1973, in Los Angeles.

Additional information on the bungalow court and apartments, Charles C. Chapman, Edward K. Benchley, and Frank Benchley are available at the Local History Room of the Fullerton Public Library.

 

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References

"Apartment and Bungalow Court." Fullerton News Tribune April 10, 1919. Announcements were also published in the Santa Ana Register, Los Angeles Times, and Southwest Builder and Contractor: "Fullerton Company to Build Bungalow Court, Apartments." Santa Ana Register April 14, 1919; "Fullerton Homes." Los Angeles Times April 27, 1919, p. VI3; "Fullerton." Southwest Builder and Contractor May 2, 1919, p. 18. As the project lagged, other announcements were made: "Residences: Fullerton." Southwest Builder and Contractor April 23, 1920, p. 21; "Bungalow Court Soon." Fullerton News Tribune May 11, 1920.

Chapman, Charles C. Charles C. Chapman: The Career of a Creative Californian, 1853-1944. Ed. Donald Pflueger. Los Angeles: Anderson, Ritchie & Simon, 1976.

"Clearing Ground for New Bungalow Court." Santa Ana Register May 15, 1920.

"Court of 14 Bungalows; Fullerton Improvement Association to Start Work at Once." Fullerton News Tribune April 14, 1920

"Fullerton." Southwest Builder and Contractor April 23, 1920, p. 21; "Bungalow Court Soon." Fullerton News Tribune May 11, 1920

Fullerton Chamber of Commerce. "Modern Apartment and Courts Hold the Approval of Many of Our Families." In Fullerton: Where, What and Why. Fullerton: Fullerton Chamber of Commerce, 1927: 30. Includes black and white photographs of both the bungalow court and apartment house.


"Fullerton Improvement Company [Advertisement]." Fullerton News Tribune June 22, 1921.

Fullerton Improvement Company, Articles of Incorporation, November 12, 1904. The articles and other records are on file in the California State Archives, Sacramento, California. The first members of the Board of Directors were: Charles C. Chapman, Edward K. Benchley, John C. Braly, William McEndree, and Pierre Nicholas. Also: "San Bernardino, Orange and Riverside Counties: Santa Ana Briefs." Los Angeles Times November 18, 1904, p.A10. The capital stock for the company was $30,000, of which $9,350 was subscribed.

Marsden, Raleigh A. "Choosing an Architecture for a Town." California Southland December 1919-January 1920, p. 7-8.

"Spanish Style Architecture for City: Fullerton's Chance for National Fame is Knocking at the Door." Fullerton News July 22, 1919, p. 1; "Plan City Beautiful: Uniform Style of Architecture is Object of Planning Committee; City Trustees Will Heartily Co-operate with Board of Trade." Orange County Daily Tribune July 16, 1919, p. 1; "Uniform Style Architecture is Planned; Fullerton Bodies Discuss Project of Uniform Public Buildings." Santa Ana Register July 17, 1919, p. 17; "City Beauty is Now Regarded as a Definite Commercial Asset." Fullerton News July 17, 1919, p. 1; "Fullerton to Advance; Spanish Colonial Uniform Style of Architecture Adopted." Orange County Daily Tribune July 19, 1919, p. 1; "Vision Comes to Fullerton." Los Angeles Times July 27, 1919, p. II8.

 

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