Ward & Blohme

For a Heritage Conservation class I’m taking I needed to find information on a particular building located at the corner of Alvarado and Seventh Streets in Los Angeles. This building was built for the Owl Drug Company which had many stores throughout the Los Angeles area in the 1920s. One of the first clues I found regarding the building was this building permit.

It gave me two leads: 1) It told me who the architects were and 2) from the date on the building permit I was able to locate this article in Southwest Builder and Contractor.

This is the building I was interested in learning more about. It’s only two stories but it’s a behemoth of a building.

There are certain aspects of the building that are lost from a distance but seen close up the beauty of the building is more apparent.

The building has great three dimensional owls adorning the facade.

A closer view of one.

The building also has two marquees above the entrances that lead to the second floor on Alvarado and Seventh Streets.


They are still there and still intact. On this one you can see the crisp metal underneath because the paint has chipped off near the bottom of the inside column.

The building has four bays on the Alvarado side and five bays on the Seventh Street side. Some of the bays have these beautiful ornate windows.

This is the Seventh Street entrance. In the 1950s the building was owned by Boris and Dora Bilak.

The offices on the second floor look like this.

and this.

I found this to be a nice original detail.

As for the architects I found more information about one than the other and I only found that information because the firm was involved with the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition (PPIE) held in San Francisco in 1915. The one I found the most information about is Clarence Ward.

Architect & Engineer announced that Ward had been tapped for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

That’s him — in the middle on the right. Note: This is just one page of the architects who worked on the fair.

While Bernard Maybeck would design the Palace of Fine Arts, which still stands in San Francisco, this blurb from the book The Story of the Exposition clearly states that Ward’s partner Blohme also worked on the building.

From Architect & Engineer: It sounds like the PPIE eventually required more time than Ward expected.

As someone interested in heritage conservation I found this news brief from Architect & Engineer alarming. What were the landmarks that were torn down?

The building Ward & Blohme designed for the PPIE.

Here it is under construction. This photograph is illuminating because it gives the viewer a sense of the building’s scale.

In a San Francisco Chronicle newspaper article the design of the Machinery Palace was stated to be based on a Roman arch motif similar to the great Roman baths of Hadrian. Three seventy-five foot wide naves were inside the building and they stretched out over nine hundred feet in length. From the floor to the ceiling it was 100 feet high and the building had eight acres of floor space. The four columns in front of the building were six feet in diameter and sixty feet in height.

Edison? It speaks to how well he was thought of in his time.

Here’s an old postcard with an image of the building upon it.

Then there is this. It’s the Netherlands Building at the PPIE in an advertisement for Spanish tile. Under the photograph on the right side it says Ward & Blohme, Architects.

It’s unclear if Ward & Blohme were the architects of this building. The above image is from the publication The Architect (January 1916) but in the book The Story of the Exposition, in the chapter titled The Empire of the Netherlands, it states, “The designs for the building came from The Netherlands, and were by W. Kromhout of Rotterdam. Construction was supervised by Ward & Blohme of San Francisco, and the interior decorations were by Herman Rosse assisted by Hans Ledeboer.” Anything is possible but this building doesn’t look like anything else by Ward & Blohme.

That being said in the June 1914 issue of Architect & Engineer on page 115 was this blurb: “Architects Ward and Blohme have completed plans for the Netherlands building, to be erected on the Panama-Pacific Exposition at a probable cost of $70,000.”

This was also a mystery to me. If you go to the Stanford Memorial Chapel website it states that the architect of the building is Charles A. Coolidge and there is no mention of Ward & Blohme.

I contacted Stanford and the university archivist said, “Ward and Blohme made designs for the renovation following the 1906 earthquake.” They even have blueprints with Ward & Blohme’s moniker upon them so Ward & Blohme did have a hand in the church after the earthquake but Charles A. Coolidge is the architect of record.

American Architect did not feature a lot of west coast architects in its early years. In 1918 though they featured architects Ward & Blohme and many of the fire stations they designed throughout San Francisco.

What’s that thing surrounded by the railing? A foot bath? It can’t be a bidet unless firemen in 1918 were very uninhibited.

In 1911 Ward & Blohme entered a competition for the San Francisco Sub-Treasury Building. They lost.

What is amazing regarding the Sub-Treasury Building competition is that many of the big San Francisco architectural firms entered: Ward & Blohme, Bliss & Faville, Coxhead & Coxhead, John G. Howard, Bakewell & Brown and Lewis P. Hobart yet none of them won. They all lost to somebody from Cleveland named J. Milton Dyer.

From an October 1911 issue of Architect & Engineer.

This was Ward & Blohme’s entry into the 1918 Sacramento state building competition.

Ward & Blohme also lost this competition. The eventual winners were Weeks & Day a very prolific San Francisco architectural firm. Weeks & Day designed the State Theater in downtown Los Angeles.

Ward & Blohme struck out again with the above city hall design.

This was Ward & Blohme’s entry into the San Francisco City Hall competition. Bakewell & Brown won the competition and the magnificent (that’s the only appropriate word for it) building they designed still stands in San Francisco.

This is Clarence Ward’s bio from Men of California 1926.

Clarence Ward’s bio from Who’s Who in California 1928/1929.

This is one of the clubs the firm designed and Ward was a member of the Family Club.

Clarence Ward wrote an article for Architect & Engineer in April 1912 regarding the beautification of cities. In the article Ward’s major suggestions were more gardens and more flower boxes.

I included the City Beautiful essay above because of the “letter to the editor” below from Carl Ward. In it he attempts to correct the first line in his essay which he incorrectly attributed to Longfellow. The correct author of the line Ward quoted is William Cullen Bryant. Bryant was a nineteenth century American poet and the line Ward misattributed was from Bryant’s poem Thanatopsis. It’s the tone of his letter below which is unclear to me. Is Ward angry at the editor(s) for failing to notice the error or is he attempting to let people know that he is aware of the error or both?

Letter to the editor from Clarence Ward.

This bio information about Blohme is from The Art of the Exposition. It’s not much but it’s something.

J. Harry Blohme was an active member of the architectural club in 1911.

Blohme was the Secretary and Treasurer of the San Francisco Society of Architects and on two other committees in 1915-1916.

J. Harry Blohme was a director of the San Francisco chapter of the AIA.

That was all I had found regarding Blohme. He was a ghost.

Then, I went and looked through census records and was able to find more information about him. The following information was found based on the two lines in the Art of the Exposition biography which states “J. Harry Blohme, San Francisco. Born in San Francisco in 1878.”

John Harry Blohme was born December 25, 1878. His parents were John Blohme and Gesine Meyer. Both were born in Germany. I was unable to locate the 1880, 1890 or 1930 census for J. Harry Blohme but I’m guessing it’s because his last name was incorrectly spelled by the census taker. In the 1900 census Blohme was living at 568 12th Street in Oakland, California. He was listed as being 21 and his occupation was “salesman architect.” According to the census he was a boarder in a boarding house but I suspect it was an apartment house. There were forty-five other occupants at this address and one was a family of five (the Knutsens), a family of four (the Lafleurs), a family of three (the Westovers), another family of four (the Mouritzs), a Mr. & Mrs. Smith, a Mr. & Mrs. Warnock, a Mr. & Mrs. Kelly, another family of four (the Blumenthals) along with seventeen other individuals. If it was a boarding house it was a BIG boarding house.

On September 24, 1903 Blohme married Tillie Richter. Tillie appears to have been a nickname. Her real name was Mathilda Dorothy Richter. In 1910 Blohme and his wife were living with her parents and her brothers: Arthur and Walter. The census states they had been married for six years and his age was 35 and her age was 30.

Blohme’s 1918 draft card states the Blohmes were living at 1647 Seventh Avenue in Oakland, California and that he had a medium build, was medium height and had light brown hair and grey eyes. He is listed as an architect with Ward & Blohme and his age is listed as 39.

In the 1920 census Blohme and his wife were still living with her mother and her brother (Walter) but this time the address was given as 1607 Seventh Avenue. His occupation is listed as an architect. His age is listed as 40. Tillie’s age is listed as 35.

The 1940 census says the couple were living at 637 East 17th Street in Oakland, California and had lived at this same address in 1935. They owned this home and the value of the home was $2,500. The census states he did not attend school or college and then in the next line it states he attended college (4th year). The couple lived alone. [The Blohme’s did not have any children.] J. Harry Blohme’s age was listed as 61 and Tillie’s age was listed as 50. Tillie was shaving years off her age at this point.

J. Harry Blohme died on August 15, 1940 in Reno, Nevada.

He’s Hercules. Best poster EVER for a world’s fair. Perham W. Nahl was the artist.



Bakewell, J. Jr. (1912, July). The San Francisco city hall competition. Architect & Engineer, 29(3), 46-78.

Bearwald, T. (Ed.). (1913). Year Book San Francisco Architectural Club. San Francisco: Sunset Publishing House.

Cahill, B.J.S. (1918, October). Sacramento state building competition. The Architect, 16(4), plate 50.

Church floor, The. (1913, October). Architect & Engineer, 34(3), 137.

Clarence Ward resigns. (1911, December). Architect & Engineer, 27(2), 99.

Competition for San Francisco sub-treasury building. (1911, June). Architect & Engineer, 25(2), 39-51.

Machinery building at Panama-Pacific Exposition. (1912, October). Architect & Engineer, 30(3), 113.

Neuhaus, E. (1915). The art of the exposition. San Francisco: Paul Elder and Company.

No intention to slight Mr. Bryant. (1912, June). Architect & Engineer, 29(2), 212.

Roofed with large Spanish tile. (1916, January). The Architect, 11(1), 8.

Store and office building. (1923, March 30). Southwest Builder and Contractor, 61(13), 18.

To break ground New Year’s day. (1912, December 15). San Francisco Chronicle, p. 33.

Todd, F. M. (1921). The story of the exposition. New York: Putnam.

Two of Ward & Blohme’s buildings. (1911, October). Architect & Engineer, 26(3), 68-69.

Various United States Census records along with Blohme’s World War I draft registration card and Blohme and Richter’s marriage license all found via Ancestry.com

Ward, C. R. (1912, April). Suggestions for creating a city beautiful. Architect & Engineer, 28(3), 66-67.

Ward & Blohme. (1918, December 18). American Architect, 114(2243), plates 187-193.

Ward and Blohme. (1914, June). Architect & Engineer, 37(2), 115.

Who’s Who in California 1928/29. (1929). San Francisco: Who’s Who Publishing Company.

Wolfe, W. C. (1926). Men of California. San Francisco: Western Press Reporter.

World’s fair commission. (1911, August). Architect & Engineer, 26(1), 101.

World’s fair notes. (1912, May). Architect & Engineer, 29(1), 101.


Note: I have a book coming out on March 11, 2019 from The History Press titled: The Architects Who Built Southern California. It’s 10 chapters with each chapter devoted to a different architect (or architectural firm) including: Harrison Albright, John Austin, Claud Beelman, Elmer Grey, Hudson & Munsell, A. C. Martin, Meyer & Holler, Julia Morgan, Morgan Walls & Clements and Alfred F. Rosenheim.