By David J. Barboza
One of the greatest things about delving into the history of Los Angeles is finding out about amazing places that were hiding right under your nose. After four years at UCLA, I thought I knew a lot about the blocks of apartment buildings in the western part of Westwood (north of Wilshire Boulevard and east of Veteran Avenue). After all, it’s hard to forget the first place you ever lived on your own. As it turns out, those hilly, windy streets are like a net that has swept up some great Modern architecture that I was only vaguely aware of, especially by master architects Richard J. Neutra and John Lautner (fun fact: Lautner designed the Sheets-Goldstein house, which appeared in the cult classic, The Big Lebowski).
SurveyLA expects to start survey work in Westwood in Fall 2013, so for this post I’ll be drawing on sources like Gebhard and Winter, which when teamed up with Google Maps Street View, can give you a pretty good tour of anything visible from a public street. A pink-stuccoed apartment building I used to live in didn’t make the Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles, but here are some buildings that did:
Neutra’s Kelton and Elkay Apartments
644-48 & 638-42 Kelton Ave. respectively
The Kelton Apartments were finished the same year the United States entered World War II (1941) and have been designated by the City of Los Angeles as Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) #365. Gebhard and Winter note that each unit has its own outdoor terrace. By contrast, Neutra’s Elkay apartments (1949, HCM #368) one lot to the north, are “more woodsy and less committed to the image of the machine.”
Neutra’s Strathmore Apartments
11005-09 Strathmore Dr.
Like the two other Neutras mentioned, these apartments have also been recognized as an HCM (#351). Finished in 1937, they are an early example of a bungalow court with Modern style featuring an abundance of light, air and greenery.
Lautner’s Sheets (L’Horizon) Apartments
10919 Strathmore Dr.
Gebhard and Winter describe this 1949 building located along a popular route to campus as “expressionist” and “futuristic Modern.” They note that each of the eight units is completely separated from the others and equipped with individual outdoor spaces.
Neutra’s Landfair Apartments
10940-54 Ophir Dr.
Back to Neutra, this building is an excellent example of International Style architecture. In fact, Gebhard and Winter call it “one of Neutra’s most International Style designs of the decade of the 1930s.” The 1936 building has been recognized with a designation as HCM #320.
When SurveyLA heads out into the field in Westwood, it won’t just be examining the area described above. It will also be delving into the southern, commercial part of Westwood (the Village), the eastern residential portion, and some areas south of Wilshire as well. A map of the Westwood Community Plan Area is available at this link.
The UCLA campus itself raises some interesting issues. There are quite a few notable buildings there, many of them in the campus’ original Italian Romanesque Revival style (e.g. Royce Hall). The campus also clearly has made an important mark on the history of education and academic research in Los Angeles. However, from a legal perspective, the City of Los Angeles has little control over land use on land owned by the State of California. This is because municipalities like Los Angeles derive their land use authority from state law. If there are on-campus buildings that have not already been designated (at the Cailfornia or National Register levels) and which can be viewed from a public right of way, SurveyLA will examine them. Since SurveyLA is a planning tool designed to help people make thoughtful decisions about historic resources, its potential on-campus findings could be useful to UCLA’s land planning.
At any rate, it is amazing what historical treasures might be right around the corner from where you live. The more we all pull together and chip in our pieces of knowledge the more accurately SurveyLA will be able document our collective past and help us to move forward in a way that gives due consideration to our important historical places. Why not tip us off to some LA history today?