519 West Fern Drive LOCAL LANDMARK NO. 57

In March 1927, Arthur Wedell Cleaver, Sr. (1860-1943) and his fourth wife, Kathryn (1878-1942), known as Teenie, received the surprise of their lives when an oil gusher burst forth from a small stubble of land they owned in Long Beach. Overnight, they became millionaires. The two were tight-lipped about the oil bonanza, but it was estimated that they initially received $40,000 to $60,000 a month. The couple had moved to Fullerton in 1920 when Arthur opened the Sanitary Laundry (221-225 West Santa Fe Avenue), quickly becoming one of Southern California’s largest employers.

The successful business provided the Cleavers with a solid middle-class lifestyle, and the couple lived in a modest home at 140 North Berkeley Avenue. With their new fortune, the Cleavers hired Fullerton contractor Philip Nason Schmoker (1893-1975) in 1928 to build them a spectacular $25,000 home on West Fern Drive. Schmoker had just completed an imposing Spanish Colonial Revival mansion for Alex Glen and Alma Wright at 410 Cannon Lane, and the Cleavers wanted an even more impressive Spanish-styled home.

Now a visual landmark in the Golden Hills neighborhood, the 4,200-square-foot home featured a circular reception hall, stained glass, ornate ceramic tiles, maid’s quarters, dressing rooms, and a ballroom in the basement. Arthur’s initials are still etched in the concrete pavement at the bottom of the front steps.

Deeply religious, Schmoker had given lectures on various spiritual topics before turning to the building trade. He is best known for the lovely Spanish Colonial Revival homes he designed and constructed in the Skyline Park Tract (e.g., 403 East Virginia Road; 1301, 1311, 1316, and 1317 Luanne Avenue).

The Cleaver house was completed just after the 1929 Stock Market Crash, and the elaborate residence would be Schmoker’s last major home commission before he permanently closed his contracting business and went to work for a Pasadena architect.

1 reply »

  1. That is a beautiful house.
    Another home that needs landmark status is the Bernal home on E. Ash.
    See Emerson Little’s June 11, 2020 video “Recognizing the History Behind the Bernal House” containing historical photographs and documents from Doss v. Bernal trial, (also see Emerson’s August 2020 video on “Housing Discrimination in Fullerton”), and Roberto Melendez’s recent Sept 18, 2023 article “A Reenactment of the 1943 Historic Trial that Ended Housing Discrimination” on the trial that helped end redlining in Fullerton and elsewhere. All of these are on the Fullerton Observer website.