by Lynne T. Jewell
Does anyone recall stories from the past about the Riddle Sisters, both of whom were physicians living and working out of their Kingswell Avenue duplex in Los Feliz from 1918 to the late 1940s?
One of their defining characteristics was that they always wore black–in case that triggers any faded memories about neighborhood lore.
The story of the life and times of Addie and Julia Riddle is compelling and complicated. So much so that a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, Dr. Catherine Arnott Smith, has done extensive research on them with plans to turn their intriguing story into a book.
She connected with LFIA after reading about their two-story duplex, a stone’s throw from Walt Disney’s first studio, in LFIA’s Property Survey. A brand-new version of the original survey can be viewed here: “Exploring Los Feliz: Interactive Map & Property Survey”.
Dr. Arnott Smith told LFIA that the Riddle Sisters moved to Los Feliz in 1918 from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where they had practiced medicine for years. She said that the two were extremely active in providing the public with health information in a non-clinical environment at a time when this was not the norm.
The eldest sister, Addie, was a homeopath and sister Julia was a non-alternative practitioner, according to Dr. Arnott Smith. Early in their careers they had practiced together, but Addie seems to have taken on a more domestic role by the time they got to Los Feliz. Julia was the much more political of the sisters and spent a lot more time out of the house and was active in Progressive causes for years.
Not uncommon for female physicians of this era, these women raised adoptive children: first their nieces and nephew, then the three children of one of those nieces. Finally, Addie adopted a baby, Lenore, the daughter of a patient, in 1912. After the family moved to Los Feliz, there would have been four children in the Kingswell residence until the early 1930s. They all eventually attended Hollywood High School. In addition, various brothers and their wives came and went. “I think it might have been a rather crowded duplex,” Dr. Arnott Smith observed.
Julia died in 1949 and Addie in 1951. Both are buried, with their older brother George, in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale. Daughter Lenore continued to live in the house for a number of years after that.
Why did the sisters always wear black? Dr. Arnott Smith’s theory is that they were in mourning for their beloved brother David, also a physician who died in 1899.
As part of her research on the Riddles, the Wisconsin professor hopes to talk to Los Feliz residents who have remembrances—or have heard stories of the siblings over the years. “Any scrap of memory that someone has about them would be most welcome,” said Dr. Arnott Smith.
If anyone has anecdotal stories or memories about the Riddle Sisters, please send us an email.