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How Did a Solitary Mansion End Up in the Middle of a Los Angeles Oil Field?

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Perched on a peak in the Inglewood Oil Field, scattered among the acres of oil derricks that roll through Baldwin Hills in the middle of Los Angeles, sits a grand old brick mansion. It's hard to see among the trees and the wells and very few people seem to even know it's there. And until recently—even though it's had caretakers and tenants in the past few decades—pretty much nobody knew its story. But a SkyscraperPage forum poster/amateur historian named Mike Davison took an interest in the house in the past few years and has pieced together its background—figuring out who built it, the origins of its suicide rumors, and at least part of its connection to infamous LA Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis. Anna Scott talked to Davison for Press Play yesterday.

The house doesn't have an address, but Davison writes on SkyscraperPage that he did manage to find it on the LA County Assessor's website. It sits on Lot 19 of the Rancho Rincon de Los Bueyes subdivision, which was owned around the turn of the century by various members of a Higuera family. But Davison's big break came from a 1964 memoir of a Palms historian, who mentions "walk[ing] to the big Rand house on a high point of Baldwin Hills." "Rand" was the name he needed. In the early 1910s, Bernardo J. Higuera sold Lot 19 to a Charles Wellington Rand and assessor data suggests the house was built in 1915 or so, when Baldwin Hills was all rolling countryside.

Rand was born Hiram Higgins Rand in Burlington, Iowa in 1888; after his father died, his mother (who traveled frequently and at length, leaving her children at home) moved the family out to Los Angeles, where they lived on Wilshire Boulevard in Westlake, just a few blocks from Otis. The Rands became close with Otis and his Chandler clan (Otis's daughter married Harry Chandler in 1894 and the family was one of LA's most powerful through the early part of the Twentieth Century); Harry's nephew Ralph lived with the Rands at one point and a newspaper story from 1907 mentions a rumor that Mrs. Rand and Otis were engaged. Ralph and Charles Rand partnered in the car business in the 1910s.

In 1917, Rand bought a house on Downtown's Bunker Hill for a woman he'd married in 1911. A few weeks after their elopement, it turned out she hadn't finished divorcing her last husband and their marriage was finally annulled in early 1917. Davison speculates the house was a gift to keep her from causing trouble. Later in the year, on October 3, 26-year-old Rand changed his will to leave his estate to his mother and sister, and on October 5 he was killed in the Baldwin Hills house while "cleaning his gun" in preparation for squirrel hunting.

So the house passed over to Rand's family members. In 1923, his mother sold the estate for $85,000 to an Emma S. Cone, who was married to an Irving H. Cone; they appear to have been independently wealthy, at least in part thanks to an inheritance from Irving's sister, who had been married to a piano manufacturer in Chicago.

The Cones got even richer in 1924, when Standard Oil struck black gold in the Baldwin Hills. Davison writes that "Cone Well No. 1 went into production on February 20, 1925," and by 1930 the couple was living in a $150,000 house in Brentwood with six servants. Irving's occupation was listed as "oil company president."

When Emma Cone died in the 1930s, she left the Baldwin Hills house and the surrounding five acres to her long-time chauffeur, Leonard Anderson, who was "generally accepted and regarded as her son," according to a lawsuit over her estate. But in 1940, the Census found Anderson living in a rented house in Brentwood with his family; living in the middle of an oil field probably would not have been very pleasant.

In the 1940s or so, there was a rumor that Norman Chandler, then the publisher of the LA Times, hid a secret second family in the Baldwin Hills house, although there's no evidence for it. There were caretakers from the '60s through "the mid-1980s at least," but today the house is empty, rented out only for film shoots and controlled by the Cone Fee Trust. Davison still has questions, among them about the architect of the house. He finally got in touch with a rep for the house, who asked "How would you like it if someone wanted to know who built your house?"
· The Baldwin Hills Oil Field House [SkyscraperPage]
· Film House & Oilfield in Stocker/ Inglewood Oil Field [Official site]