Morgan, Walls & Clements: KEHE (KFI) Radio Building, 1936

141 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles

photos 123

Los article

This masterpiece, with its streamline interior and exterior, rounded brick corner, elegant proportions, and spired entrance, has been demolished by the Los Angeles Unified School District to make way for an elementary school playground, in a scandalous and reprehensible act of destruction. “In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made School Boards.” (Mark Twain)

LAUSD, which has since demolished the Ambassador Hotel (Myron Hunt), this time didn’t send the Los Angeles Conservancy a copy of the Environmental Impact Report (“its analysis of the historic building [i.e., this one] was, astonishingly, prepared by an archaeologist1 rather than an historic resources consultant”2). The Conservancy by its own account was then “at an unusual loss as to what to do.” 3

A knowledgeable source believes, “it's no accident that the EIR was not completed or delivered as required,” but there is apparently no requirement that the Conservancy be given notice. “Having the buildings demolished is precisely what somebody wanted.” Equally unpalatable is the proposition that the District and the vast oversight body that governs these matters (including the State Office of Historic Preservation and the State Department of Education) had no idea of the building’s worth at all.4

It was built in 1936 to house the studios and offices of KEHE Radio at 780 AM with 5,000 watts of power (day) and 1,000 watts (night). KEHE was owned and operated by Hearst Radio, Inc., and is said to have been the voice of Hearst’s newspaper the Los Angeles Evening Herald Express, hence the call letters. Jack Webb “got a radio job filing transcriptions for nothing a day at KEHE (now KECA) in Los Angeles, and acted as aide to an early-morning disc jockey.”5  Harry Bartell remembers it as “the Blue Network outlet in Los Angeles” (though he probably means KECA).6

KEHE was a typical independent station of the day with music, news, sports, drama and comedy programs, etc.

In 1939, KFI (640 AM, 50,000 watts) owner Earle C. Anthony bought the station and folded KECA (1430 AM, named from his initials) into KEHE, moving the operations of both from above his Packard dealership at 10th & Hope to the studios at 141 N. Vermont.7

KFI was part of the NBC Red Network and KECA the NBC Blue Network.

Bartell recalls taking “another trolley to Vermont Avenue and First Street where the combined facilities of KFI and KEHE [KECA] were located.”

In 1944, because of an FCC rule against multiple ownership, Anthony sold KECA to the Blue Network (which soon became ABC), and KECA moved out of the KFI Building on Vermont (it became KABC 790 AM, and later KABC-TV Channel 7).

In 1975, KFI moved out to its current location on Ardmore.

Interiors representing a recording studio in Lady Sings the Blues (the 1972 biography of jazz singer Billie Holiday) were filmed in Studio A.8

The lobby was in the form of a rotunda. Around it near the ceiling were verses of King David’s in umber letters six inches high on the cream panel:


The studios were named A for Auditorium, B (Blue), C (Coral), D (Diamond) and E (Emerald, home of Lohman & Barkley’s morning show), after colors Anthony admired in Hawaii, which is said to have been his passion (he wrote a popular song called “Coral Isle”).

Early KFI engineers used Morse Code to communicate with each other between the various studio control rooms—anyway, the code for "go ahead” was used by engineers in their studio booths to tell the engineer in the control room that a show was ready to go on the air.

Two separate buildings were demolished in 2002.  South of the main building stood KFI Television Studios (1948), the first home of KFI-TV (Channel 9, site of TV’s first cooking show, later KHJ-TV and now KCAL), and south of that was an auditorium of unknown purpose. 

It’s reported that Jack Benny favored these studios over the NBC studios in Hollywood, and that his program often originated here.10

The building was declared eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. The plans are reported as missing and found.11 The architect is said to have been Stiles O. Clements.12

Octavius Morgan and J.A. Walls founded the firm in 1888. “In the early 1900s, Morgan was reported to have done fully one-third of all the architectural work in the city. The annual building budget for the city when he first started was $600,000, a figure that grew to $12,000,000 by 1913 when he continued to do ten percent of the work.”13

Morgan, Walls & Clements built many Los Angeles landmarks such as Adamson House (Malibu), Globe Theater, Belasco Theater, Paramount Theater, Mayan Theater, El Capitan Theater, Wiltern Theater (Pellissier Building), Chapman Park Shopping Center, Goodyear Tire Co., Gotfredson Truck Corp., Farmers and Merchants' Bank, Security Pacific National Bank (Santa Monica), Atlantic Richfield Building (demolished), etc.

The window units are missing in the above photograph; they were removed by the District, save for this corner. The wrought iron is an accretion, like the chain-link fence and banners and signs and rubbish and graffiti.


stabat mater


Lord at thy right hand how mighty

is the failure of him who goes

to the heaven of heavens where the last crow

clicks his droughty maw

in the high season of sorrow and yet

how slumbersome the other hand crying out

upon thee with the wicked in some ghastly place


fathers of great houses said no

we will have the closest to home

what was after came down to dicers

in the street dicing for his raiment

wherewith he was clad



1 The firm of Archeological Associates (Riverside County) which saw “no reason precluding destruction of the radio station.” See the Environmental Impact Report, Appendix C, pp. 190-199.
2 Los Angeles Conservancy
Preservation Issues.
3 “District staff has made clear from the outset their general disdain for our inquiries and their skepticism that anything could be done. As for your question about the Conservancy's possible actions, we're at an unusual loss as to what to do. Since the EIR has already been certified by the District, they can basically go on their merry way, if they so desire. Litigation is not even an option for us because more than 30 days has passed since the certification (the fact that we weren't notified of this unfortunately doesn't reopen the process!).” Ken Bernstein, Director of Preservation Issues, email, July 30, 2002

4 It is not clear that the State Office of Historic Preservation even received a copy of the Environmental Impact Report, which in any event contains no comments from the OHP, despite the fact that it is listed as a reviewing agency for a project affecting a work of historical significance identified as such in the report. See the Environmental Impact Report , pp. 170 and 172.

5 Coronet Magazine, September, 1953
6 Harry Bartell, “On Recording”,
Struts and Frets.
7 Anthony brought the first neon signs to America from Paris for this dealership in 1923.
The cost is usually given as $24,000. They were purchased from the inventor, Georges Claude, and are described as orange on blue (see picture below). He commissioned designs from Greene & Greene for his showroom and home.
8 Barry Mishkind, "Earle C. Anthony Drives KFI to Fame".
9 “Over the door of the splendid new studio of KFI on the roof of the Packard building, hangs a framed verse from the Psalms of David, ‘Their line is gone out through all the earth and their words to the end of the world.’” Radio Doings magazine, February 10, 1923.
10 Various of these informative details were provided by Lois Culver, Jim Hilliker and Stanley M. Kelton.
11 Los Angeles Independent, July 10, 2002. Not in the Morgan, Walls & Clements collection at the Huntington Library, nor the Architecture & Design Collection of the University Art Museum at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
12 Like Richard Neutra, Clements also designed schools for LAUSD. At his 1955 induction into Lambda Alpha International, he was cited “in recognition of his professional contributions to the architectural development of Los Angeles as exemplified by the Pershing Square Garage, important office buildings and shopping centers, and in recognition of his work in connection with state public works and metropolitan planning.”
"Octavius Morgan: The Board's First President", California Architects, Winter, 2001, p.1.