In 1932, Charles and Florence Letss Quinn—Mrs. Arthur Letts Sr. had become Mrs. Charles H. Quinn by that time—purchased a four-acre parcel from the Janss Investment Company along the south side of Sunset Boulevard opposite Carolwood Drive.
For Florence Martha Letts Quinn, the location, in addition to backing up to the Los Angeles Country Club, had three very personal reasons in its favor: Her three children, who lived nearby. Daughter Gladys and her husband, Edwin Janss, owned the adjacent estate on Sunset Boulevard. Son Arthur Jr. lived on nearby Charing Cross Road (see page 194), within sight of her home across the golf course. Her other daughter, Edna Letts McNaghten, and her husband, Malcolm, were completing their South Mapleton Drive estate (see page 234) a few properties south of Arthur Jr.’s home. Mother could literally keep an eye on her three grown children, and she could visit her grandchildren at any time.
Charles and Florence Quinn insisted on nothing but the best for their estate, which later became known as Owlwood. First, they purchased one of the finest remaining estate sites in Holmby Hills.
Second, they hired architect Robert Farquhar to design their Italian Renaissance–style mansion. Other Southern California architects—for example the highly talented Gordon B. Kaufmann, Wallace Neff, and Paul R. Williams—were more prolific than Farquhar. But they never surpassed the understated dignity and opulence of Farquhar’s buildings, or possessed his high-level social connections, always a plus in getting the prime commissions. Farquhar had designed 1000 North Crescent Drive in Beverly Hills, the lavish William Andrews Clark Memorial Library next to Clark’s own mansion in the West Adams District, and the elite (and ever-so-restricted) California Club in downtown Los Angeles.
The Quinns gave Farquhar a $150,000 construction budget for the mansion, a huge sum in Depression-era dollars. Farquhar’s attention to every detail at the Quinn mansion can be seen in his architectural drawings. The quality of the materials selected for the mansion’s interior—fine marble and rare woods—demonstrates the clients’ concern for uncompromising quality.
On November 13, 1932, the Los Angeles Times published an article, “C. H. Quinn Will Build Huge Home: Year’s Largest Residence Costing $150,000, Seen as Permit Issued.” The article was only two paragraphs long, and it did not include an architectural rendering of the grand Italian Renaissance–style mansion, but the sheer audacity of the Quinns getting the largest residential building permit of the year during the Depression kicked up controversy.
By 1932, the boom years of the 1920s were a fond memory. Thousands of Angelenos were jobless, and many had lost their savings when local banks failed (and government insurance of depositors’ money was nonexistent). Some wealthy homebuilders, who still had money, forced construction workers and skilled artisans to work one day at full pay, and then work one day for free.