Charlotte La Bonte Lipson, daughter of Larchmont’s founding builder Julius La Bonte, passed away at her home in Studio City on Thursday, just one day after her 100th birthday. According to sources close to Mrs. Lipson, she died peacefully in her home, surrounded by people who cared for her. There will be a private service for friends and family.
Charlotte La Bonte Lipson was born on June 28, 1917 in Traverse City, Michigan, the only child of Julius and Pauline (Leitelt) La Bonte, who moved to Los Angeles in 1920. Mr. and Mrs. La Bonte used to winter in Los Angeles and decided to settle here full time after selling the successful family business, Leitelt Iron Works and Foundry, the previous year. Charlotte grew up at 340 S. Arden Boulevard and later moved to 316 N. Rossmore Avenue.
Memories of her childhood are recounted in the book “Larchmont,” a pictorial history of the street:
“It was a huge house, built by the Stanton Lumber heirs, recalled…Charlotte La Bonte Lipson in an interview with the Larchmont Chronicle in November 1991.
“When he arrived in Los Angeles, my father wanted something to do. He walked all around this area and met with a number of city planners and decided that commercial real estate was the way to go,” explained Lipson.
With access provided by the street car line that was extended to run north on Larchmont from Third Street up Melrose to the Hollywood Mineral Hot Springs, La Bonte bought up lots along the boulevard.
In September 1921, The Los Angeles Times reported that Julius La Bonte and Charles Ramson purchased seven lots on Larchmont Blvd. to create a business district of 30 stores between First Street and Beverly Blvd. He is credited with building 70 percent of the structures on the street as well as having the vision to create the first neighborhood shopping street in the city of Los Angeles that catered to the adjacent new neighborhoods of Larchmont Heights, now known as Larchmont Village, New Windsor Square, known simply as Windsor Square, and Hancock Park.
According to the Times, every store was leased before the buildings were finished. Street lights fitted to the railway power poles makes this “one of the best illuminated sections of the city.”
“My father always had a very clear idea of what Larchmont Blvd should be,” La Bonte’s daughter Charlotte Lipson recalled. “He always saw it as a service street for the carriage trade of Windsor Square and Hancock Park. It was the first neighborhood shopping center in Los Angeles.”
“J.J. La Bonte was the one who put the money together with the dream,” Lipson said. “except for one building at 124 N Larchmont, which he built as an investment for his family, he financed the other buildings by selling their mortgages to his contacts in Michigan. His main contractor was Clarence Bean.”
Lipson recalled, “my father stipulated that his buildings be constructed of brick because that was the material he was familiar with in the Midwest. He planned for a theatre, bank, grocery store, drug store, bakery, dry cleaners and a candy store, and always looked for continuity in the business of his tenants. He knew customers would come back to the same locations.”
Luckily, La Bonte got out of the stock market six months before it crashed. But when the government closed all the savings and loans during the Depression, and the real estate bubble burst, he was forced to sell all his properties except the one he owned outright at 124 1/2 – 148, on the east side of the street, which Mrs. Lipson inherited when her father died in 1968. (Her mother, Pauline, died in 1951.)
“My father when to the office every day of his life,” Lipson told the Larchmont Chronicle in an article on the 70th anniversary of Larchmont Village. “He knew every tenant, and was very approachable, very available to everyone. He had lunch with his friends every day at the Wilshire Country Club. He was a dapper man — he walked with a cane, not because he needed it, but because it looked so elegant, and always wore a soft-brimmed felt hat or a Panama.”
“He never had a son, so I was trained to follow in his footsteps,” she continued. “He always protected my mother, but he pushed me to be prepared for the world that he knew was coming: my mother never learned to drive because a lady didn’t do that in those days, but I had my license at 14.”
Charlotte La Bonte attended Westlake School for Girls and the University of Southern California. In 1962, she married Jack Lipson, a plumbing contractor who rented office space from her father and did much of the work on her father’s buildings.
“I had known him all my life — his office was in the La Bonte building,” she told the Chronicle. The couple never had any children.
Over the years, Lipson remained committed to maintaining the last remaining building her father built on Larchmont. In 1982, she chose to save the building, renovate it and bring it up to seismic code, at great expense, rather than tearing it down. “I didn’t have the heart to demolish it,” she told the Larchmont Chronicle in November 1991, “I owed it to Larchmont not to.”
Lipson was also committed to the shopkeepers who were her tenants on Larchmont, often offering much lower than market rate rents in order to preserve the small businesses that were so important to her father’s vision of Larchmont. She reportedly turned down several offers to sell over the years.
According to those closest to her, Charlotte Lipson was a very private person. In her later years, she declined to be interviewed and preferred to communicate primarily through her attorney and trusted friend Eric Nelson. When the community honored her father with a plaque in 2012, Mrs. Lipson did not attend the festivities. Occasionally, she would stop in to visit her tenants, even climbing the stairs to visit those in the upstairs offices, recalled Judy Horton, a garden designer whose office is upstairs at 136 1/2 N Larchmont.
Nelson told the Buzz that he met Mrs. Lipson in 1969 when he was leasing office space on La Brea from another attorney, having been unable to find space on Larchmont where he’d always wanted to locate. It turned out Mrs. Lipson was a client of Nelson’s landlord, a sole practitioner. Upon his passing, Lipson became a client of Mr. Nelson, who had grown up in the area and shared Mrs. Lipson’s affection for Larchmont.
“Charlotte Lipson was a local treasure,” Bert Deixler, co-owner of Chevalier’s Books told the Buzz yesterday. “It is because of her and her friend Filis Winthrop that our community has a bookstore. Rather than try to extract the highest possible market rent, she insisted the community interest in maintaining the local feel of Larchmont trumped her interest in driving a hard bargain. It was Chevalier’s good fortune to have had our landlord be a great communitarian. She’ll be missed!”