The Mysteriously Short-lived Triangle Building of Sparr Heights
One of the most spectacular pieces of architecture to ever grace the valley was the “Triangle Building,” so called because it was in fact triangular shaped. It was built in 1928 in a triangle-shaped lot fronting Verdugo Road in Sparr Heights, bounded on the other two sides by Arlington and Triangle Place. I say it was mysteriously short-lived because, although it was gorgeous, it only existed 11 years.
The neighborhood it arose from was upscale. William Sparr, the largest fruit grower in California, had hundreds of acres of citrus below Montrose, spreading across what is now Sparr Heights and Montecito Heights. As the economy cranked up in the early ’20s, he decided to cash in on the land boom. He subdivided his orchard and laid out streets. Anchored on the south by the Oakmont Country Club, close to the business district of Montrose, and right on the main line of the trolley, his housing scheme couldn’t have been better situated. The housing prices reflected that, selling for $15,000 to upward of $40,000 – a fortune in those days. His lavish real estate office was donated to the community as a recreation center (now the Sparr Heights Community Center) and Fremont Elementary School was built soon after.
In the middle of this affluent neighborhood, the Triangle Building was built in 1928. It was a unique-looking two-story structure in the Roman style of architecture. On all three sides colonnades fronted the first story – high arches at ceiling height supported by columns, outside of a shaded sidewalk fronting retail spaces. The second story was a triangular ballroom, featuring a tiled roof with a cupola at the top, and stepped back from a three-sided balcony. Spectacular views must have been had from that balcony, looking south past the Oakmont golf course and down the Verdugo Canyon to the city beyond, and on the other side, spectacular views of the San Gabriel Mountains.
The Triangle Ballroom seems to have been a happening nightspot in the roaring ’20s. Opening night in 1928 featured Miss Jean Darlen. Darlen was one of the “WAMPAS” girls (Western Assoc. of Motion Picture Advertisers Stars), a stable of up-and-coming starlets. Also on the bill were Margie Wallace and Hot Ash Henry, dancers from New York who had just signed with Fanchon and Marco Enterprises, who put on elaborate Busby Berkley-style stage shows in the Hollywood movie palaces. After the opening, the Triangle Ballroom was the home of the Ell Le’Roy Dance studio. Here you could get ballroom dancing lessons, and character and acrobatic dance instruction from the famous Ell Le’Roy, plus choreography for stage and screen.
After Prohibition ended (and perhaps before?) the Triangle Building was a popular drinking spot. In a shot taken on New Year’s Day 1934, the day after the big flood, we see the Triangle Building rising up out of a wasteland of mud and wrecked cars. Hanging from the balcony is a tacked up banner, advertising in three-foot high letters “BEER” as Prohibition had ended just a couple weeks earlier.
Everything seems to have been going along fine for the Triangle Building until suddenly in 1939 the following article was printed in the local paper: “Start Wrecking Triangle Building. Long an eyesore at the southern entrance to the valley, the Sparr Heights Triangle Building is now being demolished. The owners, a Los Angeles Bank, gave the long vacancy, dilapidated condition and burdensome taxes as the reason for the demolition. There are as yet no prospects of any businesses locating on the site, which will be completely cleared.”
So what happened here? They say in the article “long an eyesore.” It was only 11 years old, and in the photo from 1934 it looks great – strikingly attractive in fact. That a bank ordered the demolition indicates that it had been foreclosed on. But by 1939, the economy was pumping again, particularly here where Lockheed was getting orders for warplanes for Europe. Why tear it down, with no plans to rebuild? Was it just foolishness on the bank’s part, or some mystery we’ll never know the answer to?