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Who Was John H. Jones?

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, August 19, 2008, at 12:00AM
John H. Jones Building Eric Richardson [Flickr]

Easy to miss, this inscription sits on the Main street side of the corner occupied by Pharmaka.

Located in the heart of Gallery Row and the Historic Core, nearly everyone Downtown has likely stood on the corner of 5th and Main at one time or another. Likely very few have noticed the inscription chiseled on the corner pillar of the Rosslyn Lofts, beneath the windows for Pharmaka. The writing proclaims this the "John H. Jones Building."

But who was John H. Jones? A 1922 article in the LA Times called his tale "one of the most interesting stories in all the annals of Los Angeles."

John H. Jones was born in Chester, Mass. He came to Los Angeles in 1854, the same year that he was married back east to Miss Caroline Otis.

Jones was good with horses, and on arriving in Los Angeles he found work with Don Abel Stearns, a prominent early citizen. The 1922 Times piece recounts that in 1868, Stearns owed Jones a back pay of $500 or $600. Stearns was low on cash, and asked if Jones would accept some real estate instead.

The land which the Don intended to "palm off" on him lay away out on the outskirts of the little Pueblo -- Fifth and Spring streets. Although Jones could see no future ahead for the property, he finally consented to take it, and the Don thereupon deeded to his hired man the three pieces of property -- two at Fifth and Spring and one at Fifth and Main streets.

In 1922 the land from that deal was worth $3,000,000.

But getting rich off a lucky real estate turn wasn't Jones' only contribution to Los Angeles. When Jones died in 1902 at the age of 69, his obituary recalled his many accomplishments.

Jones served at one time as a Councilman, and was on the directorate of several local banks. He was one of the first depositors in the Farmers and Merchants Bank, the first financial institution in this city. He was instrumental in forming the first fire department here, known as Park Hose Company, and was one of the builders of the first street railway.

Jones' widow continued his legacy of community involvement. When Caroline Jones died in 1909, she donated $100,000 to USC, creating scholarships for deserving poor students, and $50,000 to the Southwest Museum.

As for 5th and Main, when Jones passed away in 1902 the corner was home to the Beaumont Cafe. The eatery was located in what had been the Jones' home until 1897, when the couple moved to 258 E. Adams.

It wasn't until 1905 that the Jones estate leased the three parcels Stearns had given him to local businessmen for development. The group included R.A. Rowan, whose name now adorns the structure at the corner of 5th and Spring.

In 1912 the Hart brothers, George and Dwight, opened the New Rosslyn Hotel. The structure, on the northwest corner of 5th and Main, added 430 rooms to the existing hotel located across 5th street just north on Main street (as John notes in the comments, the Annex across 5th was added in 1923).

While the Hart brothers owned the hotel, Jones' estate continued to own the land. Its unclear when it was eventually sold. The 1905 lease was for fifty years, and the 1922 article indicated the estate's ownership. When William E. Tooley and Robert S. McKee bought the Rosslyn in 1945, the Times noted that the purchase did not include the land.

Speaking of that 1945 purchase, the seller then was one Conrad N. Hilton, head of the Hilton Hotel Co. Hilton had bought the hotel in November of 1942, for "considerably more than $1,000,000." He sold it in June of 1945 for only $1,000,000. Why the quick sale? Perhaps it had something to do with Mrs. Conrad N. Hilton's April announcement that she was suing for divorce and asking for a settlement of $10,000,000.

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