SurveyLA Data Released for Westchester and Playa del Rey

This week, SurveyLA released data regarding historic resources within the Westchester/Playa del Rey Community Planning Area. Interested in learning more about the development of the area? Check out the data! Want to go look at historic resources around your community? CHECK OUT THE DATA!

Also, if you would like to see this data as a map, click the following link: SurveyLA Map of Westchester/Playa del Rey

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Looking Back, Looking Forward

By David J. Barboza


I’d like to take some time in this post to reflect on where SurveyLA has been and where it’s going. Before SurveyLA, only about 15% of the City of Los Angeles had ever had a historic resources survey done. The J. Paul Getty Trust and the City of Los Angeles came together to change that. The goal was simple: to create a baseline of information so that historic preservation decisions could be made proactively instead of reactively. When all the stakeholders know what resources are out there up front, land use decisions become better informed and more efficient, and the community has a better chance of protecting those places that foster a sense of place and connect us with the past. As Ken Bernstein, manager of the Office of Historic Resources put it:

“A historic resources survey serves as a basic building block of any local historic preservation program: a city can take steps to protect its significant historic resources only if it knows what it has. More than four decades after the city of Los Angeles’s first historic preservation ordinance called for a citywide survey, however, the city had never launched a comprehensive effort to identify its historic resources, nor had it developed the well-integrated municipal historic preservation program worthy of Los Angeles’s remarkable architectural legacy and diverse cultural heritage.”

Los Angeles Historic Resources Survey Report, 2008

Since its inception, SurveyLA has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments. Community workshops were held all across the City to educate the public about the project and tap into valuable grass roots knowledge of historic places. A historic context statement has been developed and is being continuously fleshed out and refined. Survey findings for 12 community plan areas have been released, each of which represents a mammoth effort typically encompassing tens of thousands of parcels. A social media program has been put in place to engage the public and demonstrate that historic preservation is not just about professionals examining properties in the field or studying dusty esoteric documents, but also a collaborative effort that is strengthened by an engaged public.

Perhaps just as exciting is what SurveyLA has ahead of it. We can look forward to working with the Getty Conservation Institute to develop a customized open-source Geographic Information System based on Arches that will bring together an unprecedented amount of Los Angeles’ historic resources information on the web in a searchable, mappable format. We can look forward to SurveyLA findings in 23 more community plan areas. We can look forward to many community plan updates that incorporate a level of historic resources information that was never before available. We can look forward to a City that is more aware of its heritage than ever.

Another exciting change on the horizon is a new Social Media Coordinator for SurveyLA (who I have every confidence will do an excellent job). As I step into new professional responsibilities elsewhere, I look back on my time with SurveyLA with a tremendous sense of pride and gratitude for the chance to have participated in such an amazing project working alongside many wonderful people at the Office of Historic Resources, Historic Resources Group and all of SurveyLA’s consultant teams. I would also like to thank everyone who has contributed posts to this blog (read to the beginning!), everyone who ever left a comment, submitted a historic place suggestion or attended one of our workshops.

Since there will be a changing of the guard, this is an excellent time to leave a comment giving your feedback on our social media program. What are we doing well? What could we do better? Is there a new platform we should be taking advantage of? Of course we ALWAYS love to hear your historic place suggestions over at There’s a lot more historic resources survey work to do and it’s a team effort!

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Creating the SurveyLA Mosaic

By David J. Barboza

A map of the Wilshire Center and Koreatown Recovery Redevelopment Area survey area, roughly bounded by Hoover St. (east) 12th St. (south), Wilton Pl. (west) and 5th St. (north) with northerly extensions along Vermont Ave. and Western Ave.

A map of the Wilshire Center and Koreatown Recovery Redevelopment Area survey area, roughly bounded by Hoover St. (east) 12th St. (south), Wilton Pl. (west) and 5th St. (north) with northerly extensions along Vermont Ave. and Western Ave.

A mosaic is a good metaphor for thinking about how SurveyLA works. Just as a literal mosaic is a whole work of art created from a multitude of tiny pieces, SurveyLA, aims to give an overview of historic resources across the entire City of Los Angeles by putting together dozens of different components united by a common methodology. I have written about some of these parts extensively in this blog, such as the individual surveys of Community Plan Areas that are the core of what SurveyLA is doing. However, there are other pieces as well. One of the most important is historic resources surveys that were done on behalf of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA/LA). According to the SurveyLA Field Survey Results Master Report, SurveyLA field surveys do not include “Community Redevelopment Area Surveys completed within the timeframe of SurveyLA surveys” (p. 7).

Traditional redevelopment agencies (RDAs) in California have been phased out in recent years. In the aftermath of the Great Recession the State opted to dissolve them in order to help address its budget deficits. The RDAs used to make investments in certain areas aimed at reducing “blight” (as defined in section 33030 et seq. of the CA Health and Safety Code) and kept a portion of property tax revenue that was generated in excess of a baseline amount in order to fund more redevelopment. RDAs commissioned historic resources surveys in redevelopment areas in order to reduce the likelihood that redevelopment would negatively impact historic resources and thus run afoul of laws like the California Environmental Quality Act. Since many of these surveys were done since the inception of SurveyLA, the areas they cover are not being re-surveyed by SurveyLA.

We have recently started posting CRA surveys on our website. There are five posted so far and more to come. One of these, the Wilshire Center and Koreatown Recovery Redevelopment Area Survey is very interesting for me as a former resident of the neighborhood. This survey area falls within the much larger Wilshire Community Plan Area that SurveyLA will be examining as part of Group 7, minus the area shown on the map above.

The CRA’s Wilshire Center survey states explicitly that was it conducted according to SurveyLA’s Multiple Property Documentation methodology. The report describes its methods and evaluation criteria, gives a historical overview of the survey area, and lays out a historic context statement which is “organized to correspond to the SurveyLA Historic Context Statement,” with some modifications, as it existed around 2009. The report then proceeds to a summary of results and a very detailed catalog of every historic resource surveyed. This last element takes up 879 pages and is composed of specialized forms designed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation for the purpose of describing historic resources (hence the shorthand “DPR forms”). Here’s an example of what a DPR form looks like:

This DPR form describes a building that was surveyed.

This DPR form describes a building that was surveyed.

The “NRHP Status Code” field in the upper right refers to the California Historic Resources Status Codes (which in turn are adapted from the National Register of Historic Places Codes). The particular code in this case, 3CS, means that this building “appears eligible for the California Register through survey evaluation.” In addition to the photo and basic location information, the completed form includes a detailed building description, including architectural style. Although they’re a bit esoteric, flipping through the DPR forms can be a pretty fun way to get a visual sense of the built environment in an area and is also a great opportunity to match architectural style terms up with photographs.

The CRA surveys are definitely worth checking out. As you do, perhaps you will be inspired to share suggestions for historic places in your neighborhood with SurveyLA. There’s still a lot of survey work to do and your input is a great help!

SurveyLA Historic Context Statement Narratives: Can you Help?

Switching gears a bit, SurveyLA’s Historic Context Statement (HCS) is an evolving document that plays a critical role in SurveyLA’s efforts. We have a HCS outline and resource guide available online if you’d like to learn more. One challenge in a historic resources survey this large is making sure the outline is fleshed out with narratives that help survey teams properly evaluate the resources they encounter in the field. We have some narratives now (although not online at this point), but more are needed. If you have experience in historical research and writing and would be willing to volunteer your time to write an HCS narrative we’d like to hear from you. Just as the surveys themselves are a mosaic united by an overall structure and vision, so are the HCS narratives. By pulling together we can ensure that Los Angeles’ historic resources get the documentation they deserve.

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Help SurveyLA Document Los Angeles’ Water History

By David J. Barboza

An interesting book on Los Angeles' water history.

An interesting book on Los Angeles’ water history.

Water is the lifeblood of any city and Los Angeles is certainly no exception. The history of water in the City is multifaceted, complex and well-studied. Water not only helped Los Angeles to grow by annexations and consolidations but it has affected the physical landscape in the form of aqueducts, pumping stations, power infrastructure, channelized rivers and much more, not just in Los Angeles, but across the southwestern United States. Only 12% of the City’s current water supply is local (i.e. from local groundwater or recycled water). The rest comes from three principal sources: the Colorado River, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the Eastern Sierra via the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

I’m currently reading William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles, a biography by the subject’s granddaughter, Catherine Mulholland. William Mulholland (1855-1935), immigrated from Ireland as a young man and found his way to Los Angeles. He started his water career as a well digger and rose to the top of the City’s then privately owned water company, teaching himself engineering on the job. By 1902 voters had approved the sale of bonds to buy out the company and establish municipal ownership of the City’s water supply with Mulholland as the first superintendent of what is now known as the Department of Water and Power. In an era when the entire supply was local and dirt streets had to be sprinkled with water to keep the dust down, this was a momentous event.

Mulholland was always trying to keep ahead of growing population and water demand. He was an early advocate for water meters so that people would pay according to how much they used and thus have an incentive to conserve. He also eyed the Owens River in California’s Eastern Sierra region. The problem of securing an adequate water supply for a relatively small population may seem quaint to us now that City of Los Angeles now numbers about 3.86 million people, but the growth rate of the City in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries was astounding. In 1890 the population was about 50,000. By 1900 it had more than doubled to about 102,000 and by 1910 it more than tripled to about 319,000 according to historical Census counts compiled by the California Department of Finance. Mullholland saw the trend and moved to act along with former L.A. Mayor (and Mulholland co-worker) Fred Eaton and J.B. Lippincott of the federal Reclamation Service. Eaton worked covertly on the City’s behalf to secure the options on the necessary land and in a key 1905 vote, the people of Los Angeles overwhelmingly approved $1.5 million in borrowing to get the Los Angeles Aqueduct started. In 1907 voters approved $23 million in additional bonds to complete the project. Adjusted for inflation, that $24.5 million in borrowing authority is equivalent to over half a billion 2013 dollars. Completed in 1913, the Los Angeles Aqueduct stretched 223 miles (359 km) to bring water and hydroelectric power to the burgeoning metropolis. There’s more to tell obviously, but that’s about where I am in the book.

The Department of Water and Power (DWP) headquarters was declared Historic-Cultural Monument #1022 for its association with the growth of Los Angeles, its contribution to the Civic Center and its Corporate International style architecture. Source: OHR October 2012 Newsletter.

The Department of Water and Power (DWP) John Ferraro Building was declared Historic-Cultural Monument #1022 for its association with the growth of Los Angeles, its contribution to the Civic Center and its Corporate International style architecture. Source: OHR October 2012 Newsletter.

So how does this story fit in with SurveyLA? One of our historic contexts is “Public and Private Institutional Development” and a theme under that context is “Municipal Water and Power.” This means that survey teams are on the lookout for property types like distributing and receiving stations, office and administrative buildings associated with water and power, power plants, reservoirs, dams, service yards and substations. The period of significance for this theme is 1916-1980, meaning that we expect that most existing properties that shed light on municipal water and power will be from this time period. SurveyLA doesn’t document things outside of the City of Los Angeles, so most of the LA Aqueduct would be out of bounds, but there are tons of places that reflect the history of water in the City. Why not head over to and tell us about your favorites? We’ll be glad you did!

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SurveyLA’s Findings in North Hollywood and Valley Village

By David J. Barboza

Traditional Ranch architecture applied to a small apartment complex that disguises the two story portion by siting it farther back. The buildings were designed by Maxwell Starkman and developed by Bob Symonds (the developer of Valley Plaza).

Traditional Ranch architecture applied to a small apartment complex that disguises the two story portion by siting it farther back. The buildings were designed by Maxwell Starkman and developed by Bob Symonds (the developer of Valley Plaza).

When I first saw North Hollywood, I was coming out of a subway portal that was only finished in the year 2000. Surveying that spot today, almost everything you see is newly built. An electronic billboard nearby even makes it feel futuristic. There is one important exception however: an old rail station, no longer in use, hints at the past. When the Southern Pacific Railroad reached the San Fernando Valley (SFV) in 1874, it was a game changer. Connection to a national transportation network meant that the world established by Spanish missionaries and the Tongva would be profoundly transformed. Grain farming and livestock grazing began to give way to suburbs and shopping centers as the North Hollywood and Valley Village we know today continued the process of reinventing itself.

Like many parts of the SFV, North Hollywood and Valley Village were largely built up in the quarter century following World War II, but there are important exceptions. SurveyLA’s report for the North Hollywood – Valley Village Community Plan Area has a map showing the decade of construction of the area’s buildings:

NH-VV Development Decade Map

The North Hollywood subway station, at Lankershim and Chandler Boulevards is in the same place as the historic core of the town of Toluca. Founded by Isaac Lankershim Jr. and his brother-in-law I.N. Van Nuys, Toluca was the result of Lankershim’s inheritance of his father’s ranch lands. The duo, whose last names are instantly recognizable to anyone who has done much navigating of the streets of the SFV, clustered their town around the Southern Pacific rail station and modest wood framed houses began to dominate the landscape.

By 1896, the town had renamed itself Lankershim, and was on the cusp of major changes. The 1910s saw the introduction of Pacific Electric Streetcar service that connected the survey area to Hollywood and Downtown Los Angeles. 1913 saw the completion of the Owens Valley Aqueduct, ensuring the growing City of Los Angeles an adequate water supply for decades to come. Around the same time, the Los Angeles Suburban Homes Company bought up much of Van Nuys’ land and pushed an aggressive program of suburban development. The study area was annexed to the City of Los Angeles in three separate actions from 1915 to 1923. Hoping to benefit from the association with Tinseltown, Lankershim re-dubbed itself again in 1927 as North Hollywood.

The association with the film industry was deeper than the new name. The first film studio in the SFV was established just south of the survey area in the Cahuenga Pass and many film industry workers settled in North Hollywood and Valley Village as a result. A Jewish population started to call the area home as well, setting up Adat Ariel, the first Jewish congregation in the SFV, in 1938.

More big changes kept happening before WWII. As three airports opened nearby, aerospace jobs came to the survey area which also meant workers moving in. Some housing was built specifically for these workers as was the case with the Paul R. Williams designed Rancho Vega garden apartment complex. A large flood in 1938 led to efforts to channelize local waterways, including the Tujunga Wash.

Whites-only racial covenants were common in most SFV housing until the 1970s, but the study area was one of the more diverse places because the older housing stock associated with Toluca/Lankershim was perceived as less desirable. This is especially true east of Vineland and south of Magnolia. People of Mexican, African-American and Japanese descent moved in. The area was also a bit of a hot spot for lesbians as the piano bars and lounges they frequented did not experience the same level of police raids as other spots closer to Downtown.

After World War II the survey area’s population boomed, mirroring the SFV trend. Planning efforts to preserve some belts of agricultural land couldn’t gain any traction as developers rushed to satisfy the explosive demand for housing. The result is a landscape of single-family neighborhoods with multi-family buildings along major streets, early examples of neighborhood and regional automobile-oriented shopping centers, and industrial clusters near infrastructure like railroad tracks.

The report notes that “a large amount of pre-loaded data [was] contributed to the City by community through MyHistoricLA”. Much of it focused on housing that exemplified widespread patterns of development in the area or the entertainment industry. We really appreciate your historic place suggestions and more are always welcome! Below are some highlights from the report. Click a picture to go into slideshow mode and see my full captions. Enjoy!

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SurveyLA’s Findings in Encino and Tarzana

By David J. Barboza

The Fleetwood Center is such a great example of Programmatic architecture that SurveyLA documented it even though it's post-1980!

The Fleetwood Center is such a great example of Programmatic architecture that SurveyLA documented it even though it’s post-1980!

The eastward trek across the southern San Fernando Valley continues! Last time I took a look at SurveyLA’s findings for Canoga Park – Winnetka – Woodland Hills – West Hills, and this time I’ll be delving into the Encino – Tarzana Community Plan Area. Long before strip malls designed to look like Cadillacs were ever built, the area was part of Mission San Fernando. In fact, present day Ventura Blvd. roughly follows the path of El Camino Real, the famous mission-linking road used by the Spanish missionaries. By the mid-19th Century much of the mission lands had been divided into ranchos and the survey area was part of Rancho El Encino. Los Encinos State Historic Park still remains, giving the public a rare glimpse into the rancho era. It is one of only a handful of historic resources in the area that have been officially designated to date.

The agricultural character of Encino and Tarzana wasn’t seriously challenged until after World War II. However, there was an earlier wave of development that runs from the early 1910s, when developers were eager to capitalize on the completion of the Owens Valley Aqueduct (1913) and the annexation of the area to the City of Los Angeles (1915). Like other parts of the south San Fernando Valley, the Los Angeles Suburban Homes Company was an important early developer and had links to the Los Angeles Times. Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis sold off some of his land to a man who also knew a thing or two about publishing: Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of characters like Tarzan and John Carter. Showing a knack for product placement, Burroughs became a developer and named his community Tarzana. Burrough’s books have also made their way into films, as recently as 2012. The 1920s saw a number of road projects that made the area more marketable for residential use including the construction of the Sepulveda tunnel and the paving of Ventura Blvd. (it always floors me how recently some of these streets were first paved). The following map shows the decade of development for parcels in the Survey area.

With a few exceptions, Encino and Tarzana are largely creatures of the late 40s to the 60s.

With a few exceptions, Encino and Tarzana are largely creatures of the late 1940s to the 60s.

The film industry has definitely made its mark in the survey area. From 1929 to 1953 the RKO Studio Ranch churned out films, including some classics like It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Many movie stars made their homes in the hills of Encino and Tarzana during their most productive periods (e.g. Clark Gable and John Wayne).

While RKO was making movies, the Army Corps of Engineers was trying to prevent floods, especially after a bad one hit the San Fernando Valley in 1938. They went about this by channelizing the Los Angeles River, building Sepulveda Basin and Sepulveda Dam. This was critical to the area’s urbanization as people could now build right to the river’s edge without much fear of flood. In the event of extreme rains the Sepulveda Basin can flood with relatively little harm and it serves as a recreation area and wildlife reserve at other times. It is currently the second largest park in the City of Los Angeles.

Sepulveda Basin - 1951-84

After WWII, as GIs put down their arms and built up their families, the population of the area grew at a tremendous rate. In the early 1960s the 405 and the 101 freeways served as additional inducements to suburban development. Much of the residential architecture is Ranch or Mid-Century Modern in style. Famous architects are responsible for some of it, especially in the hilly southern areas. They include Ray Kappe, Richard Dorman, Richard and Dion Neutra, Daniel Saxon Palmer and Edward Fickett among others.

Sadly, racially restrictive covenants operated to prohibit the sale of property to non-whites  in most of the San Fernando Valley until the 1970s. However, according to demographic analysis in the City’s 1998 Community Plan for the Encino-Tarzana area, ethnic diversity has increased a bit since then (p. 12).

Here’s a sampling of some of my favorite finds from the report (click to enlarge). Be sure to check out the report for yourself. It’s really a treasure trove. Also, if you have any comments on the report or historic place suggestions we’d love to hear from you.

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SurveyLA’s Findings in Canoga Park, Winnetka, Woodland Hills & West Hills

By David J. Barboza

A Mid-Century Modern church in Canoga Park.

A Mid-Century Modern church in Canoga Park.

You might not think a poultry farming colony, space rockets, water politics and ranch houses have anything in common, but the southwest corner of the San Fernando Valley is proof that they do. SurveyLA has released a report of its findings for the Canoga Park – Winnetka – Woodland Hills – West Hills Community Plan Area. Before I type out any more place names, how about a map to get oriented?

This map is color-coded to show the decade when parcels were developed (mostly in the 1950s and 60s).

This map is color-coded to show the decade when parcels were developed (mostly in the 1950s and 60s).

In the mid-19th century, this area was part of the Leonis Ranch. Miguel Leonis’ adobe is still around and is Los Angeles’ very first Historic-Cultural Monument, designated way back in 1962 when development in the area was booming. Since the Leonis Adobe already has a historic designation, SurveyLA didn’t re-survey it. As is the case with several other places in Los Angeles, the community names we recognize today weren’t always in use. Canoga Park grew out of a community called Owensmouth that sprang up in the 1910s. Winnetka got its start as the Weeks Poultry Colony, a short lived (1923-34) community of one-acre lots designed for residence and agriculture. Before Woodland Hills was Woodland Hills, it was the town of Girard, a development of “mountain cabins” a country club and prolific tree plantings that are still around today.

By the time 1900 rolled around the survey area was sparsely populated and dry (except when floods made it too wet). Although it hardly seemed promising as a residential community in those days, things began to change when the Harry Chandler and his syndicate bought most of the San Fernando Valley in 1909. Their Los Angeles Suburban Homes Company wasn’t shy about getting infrastructure to their new land. The Pacific Electric streetcar system reached Owensmouth by 1912 and the LA Aqueduct started bringing in water from the Owens Valley in 1913. By the 1930s the Army Corps of Engineers had begun taming the river and its floods with concrete, but the Depression and World War II prevented the area from being widely urbanized until after 1945.

Although city planners made some attempts to conserve sections of the San Fernando Valley’s agricultural land in the 1940s, a variety of factors undermined those plans. Housing demand, pent up during the Depression and exploding with the postwar baby boom, was through the roof and as land values rose, the property taxes became too high for most agriculture to survive. The completion of the 405 and 101 freeways in the 1960s further facilitated suburban commuting. These weren’t just bedroom communities however. Significant job growth occurred as well, with notable employment centers in the aerospace and defense industries.

Late to the urbanization game was Harry Warner’s ranch. When the movie mogul finally gave up his land to less pastoral pursuits in the 1970s, the development of Warner Center began. Its tall office buildings stand in stark contrast to the development patterns of most of the survey area. Warner Center’s development history runs into the 1980s (and beyond) and as a result was not studied in its entirety by SurveyLA.

I’ve added pictures of some of my favorite finds below. Clicking on a photo will enlarge it and start slideshow mode. Check out how architectural historians distinguish between sub-types of Ranch houses (I’ve included three examples below). Although Ranch houses are ubiquitous in many places, not all examples of this quintessentially suburban style have escaped alteration or rise to an extraordinary level of artistic merit. Your historic place suggestions help fuel SurveyLA. Please keep them coming!

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A SurveyLA Field Day in Pacific Palisades

By David J. Barboza

Robby searching for the right shot.

Robby searching for the right shot on the curvy, leafy streets of Rustic Canyon. The photos in this post were taken by the author unless otherwise noted.

With so many SurveyLA reports coming out these days, one might be tempted to think the project is wrapping up. The truth is, fieldwork is ongoing. In fact, we’re only in “Group 5” (of 9), which is our shorthand for Bel Air, Beverly Crest, Westchester, Playa del Rey, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades. I recently had the pleasure of tagging along with Kari Fowler and Robby Aranguren of Historic Resources Group, one of the consulting firms doing the fieldwork for SurveyLA (and an employer of mine, in the interest of full disclosure).

Hopefully this post helps to de-mystify SurveyLA and also highlights the important role that you play in feeding us information about historic places that matter to you. Fieldwork is where the rubber meets the road, where, after much preparation, specially trained people have to make decisions about what places to document in detail as being significant for their architecture or socio-cultural connections, and how to categorize and describe those places.

After we met up in Brentwood, it was quickly decided that in the interests of avoiding epic construction-related traffic on Sunset on the way home, we should caravan over to a neighborhood in Pacific Palisades called Rustic Canyon, where we would be spending most of the day. Here’s a map of the area:

A map of Rustic Canyon and vicinity. We started towards the north, where Sunset meets Brooktree.

A map of Rustic Canyon and vicinity. We started towards the north, where Sunset meets Brooktree. Source: Google Maps.

Right off the bat one of the most typical problems we would face that day struck: view-blocking fences and foliage. How do you document something you can’t see or can’t see very well? As it turn’s out, there’s a survey code for that, QQQ, which means more research is required. Survey teams do what they can from the public-right-of-way and using aerial imagery, but sometimes, a complete architectural description just isn’t possible.

Visibility was not always at an ideal level for survey work.

Visibility was not always at an ideal level for survey work.

The day was mostly focused on places that are remarkable for their architecture and we ran into the work of two architects in particular: Marshall Lewis and Ray Kappe. Marshall Lewis was first, with the David Fisher House. The team settled on Late Modern as the style for this unorthodox piece of residential architecture.

The David Fischer House, a 1970s design by Marshall Lewis.

The David Fischer House, a 1970s design by Marshall Lewis.

Places that are documented as individual resources for architecture get a detailed architectural description that, in addition to overall style category, covers construction materials for the building’s structural system as well as its surfaces, entry areas, doors, roof type and materials (which was fun on the example above), fenestration (i.e. the types and arrangement of openings in the building), landscaping and more. It is said that the Eskimo have 50 words for snow, and that seems like an apt metaphor for the richness of vocabulary architectural historians bring to bear describing each facet of a building’s design. Quite interesting to hear!

Soon after, we came across our first Raymond “Ray” Kappe designed house of the day, the Katzenstein Residence (1974). It is a late and expressionistic example of the Mid-Century Modern style.

The Katzenstein Residence (1974) by Ray Kappe.

The Katzenstein Residence (1974) by Ray Kappe.

The team wasn’t doing detailed analysis of every building they came across. An earlier recon phase of fieldwork had resulted in a list of properties that would be examined in more detail later. Informing all of this is research and historic place suggestions from a variety of sources. One of those sources is Gebhard and Winter’s Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles. Chapter 3 (Pacific Palisades, South) in the 2003 edition of that book has background information on a few of the houses we documented, including the nearby Harrison House.

Ray Kappe struck again just up Brooktree Road with the Howard Gates Residence, a post-and-beam Mid-Century Modern design perched at the top of a steep hill. Looking at it through branches it came off as a giant tree house.

The Howard Gates Residence (1961) by Ray Kappe

The Howard Gates Residence (1961) by Ray Kappe

Speaking of Kappe, did you know that his own house is in the area? We passed by it but didn’t document it because it’s already designated as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #623. It shows off Kappe’s style while gracefully navigating a difficult site.

The Kappe Residence (1967), by, you guessed it, Ray Kappe. Photo: Office of Historic Resources.

The Kappe Residence (1967), by, you guessed it, Ray Kappe. Photo: Office of Historic Resources.

Although the streets of Rustic Canyon generally lack sidewalks, you do see people walking around. Purely by chance, we’re pretty sure we saw John Densmore, who is probably best known for being a drummer for The Doors. That’s not making it into SurveyLA of course, but one issue that does come up is how to handle places that are associated with major historical figures, including entertainment industry types. It came up for us later that day as we followed up on leads about the James Whale house. Whale directed the 1931 film version of Frankenstein based on Mary W. Shelly’s 1818 novel. Whale met a tragic and macabre end himself, committing suicide by drowning in his pool. The team checked out two houses but ultimately concluded more research was needed to determine if Whale lived in one of them during his most productive years.

On a lighter note, lunch was great. We headed over to a charming little commercial part of Pacific Palisades around Sunset and Swarthmore for a bathroom break (which can be a tricky part of survey logistics) and some delicious Mexican food. Surveying this neck of the woods wasn’t on the day’s agenda though. Here’s the streetscape:

Looking south at Sunset and Swarthmore. Image: Google Maps Street View.

Looking south at Sunset and Swarthmore. Image: Google Maps Street View.

The David Hyun House (1960) was definitely a highlight. David Hyun was the first architect of Korean descent in the United States. Hyun’s father was active in the movement for Korean independence under Japanese occupation in the early 20th century. Hyun designed the Japanese Village Plaza, an interesting outdoor mall with nods to east Asian architecture near 1st and Central in Little Tokyo. For his own house, Hyun chose a Modern post-and-beam design with a pergola-like roof structure. The large front windows expose an interesting spiral staircase. Also notable is the way the plan of the house makes way for mature trees that were apparently on the site when it was built.

The house David Hyun designed for himself (1960).

The house David Hyun designed for himself (1960).

Towards the end of the day we ran into more Marshal Lewis houses. The photo below shows one of them. If the houses we saw that day are any indication, Lewis is definitely a fan of “non-traditional” roof forms. This Late Modern design had many different roof pitches and directions of pitch as well as an un-shingled section of roof at one corner which exposed the structural system of rafters and purlins below.

A Late Modern Marshall Lewis house (1974)

A Late Modern Marshall Lewis house (1974)

The last house of the day was also a treat. The Alfred Neuman Residence was built by Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. (a.k.a. Lloyd Wright). This 1950 gem is perched atop a hill on over 2.5 acres and had been owned by Dianne Keaton. As befits a day when many of the buildings were hard to see, this one was as well, but you can see more of it here.

The Alfred Newman Residence by Lloyd Wright (1950)

The Alfred Newman Residence by Lloyd Wright (1950)

Thanks to Kari and Robby for showing me around. It was a great day, and I look forward to reading about the findings for the Brentwood-Pacific Palisades Community Plan Area. In the meantime, it’s certainly not too late to tell us about your favorite historic LA places. The information ends up in the field and makes SurveyLA more effective. It’s a team effort!

Kari recording the team's observations in SurveyLA's FiGSS Geographic Information System.

Kari recording the team’s observations in SurveyLA’s FiGSS Geographic Information System.

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SurveyLA’s Findings in Palms, Mar Vista and Del Rey

By David J. Barboza

A remarkable Craftsman house with Queen Anne influences in Mar Vista.

A remarkable Craftsman house with Queen Anne influences in Mar Vista.

SurveyLA’s findings keep rolling in! This post takes a look at the report for the Palms – Mar Vista – Del Rey Community Plan Area. Here’s a map to get oriented. Since I last wrote a post for this blog we’ve also released four new reports for what we call Group 4, a set of areas in the south San Fernando Valley from North Hollywood to West Hills. This is pretty exciting for us since these are our first findings from the San Fernando Valley, and I’ll be taking a look at them in upcoming posts. All of this is up on our Survey Findings webpage. Please remember, we want to hear from you to get historic place suggestions and feedback on the reports. We’ve still only released 13 of 35 reports that SurveyLA will eventually produce, so there’s much more to come.

Getting back to Palms – Mar Vista – Del Rey, our report is posted online in four parts: the Historic Resources Survey Report, a detailed section on Individual Resources, a section on Non-Parcel Resources (i.e. notable stuff that isn’t located inside of a parcel) and a section on Historic Districts, Planning Districts and Multi-Property Resources.

Palms, Mar Vista and Del Rey were mainly agricultural during the eras of Spanish and Mexican sovereignty. The catalyst for urbanization was, as in so many other parts of Los Angeles, the arrival of transportation infrastructure. In this case, the 1875 arrival of the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad (later part of the Southern Pacific system). Palms took off by selling itself as a “half-way” point between Downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica. Pacific Electric streetcars came too in the early years of the 20th Century. By 1915, Palms was annexed into the City of Los Angeles.

Farther west, Mar Vista saw its first residential subdivisions in 1904. There were four main tracts, which were collectively known as Ocean Park Heights. Large areas stayed agricultural well into the mid 20th century. A huge boom of residential subdivisons happened in the early 1920s and by 1927 local voters seeking improved municipal services decided to support annexation into the City of Los Angeles.

South of Palms and Mar Vista, Del Rey took off after Al Barnes’ Wild Animal Circus and Zoo relocated there from Venice around 1920. Barnes’ clout in the area irked some local residents, who managed to reduce it by incorporating the area as a city in 1926. Mere months after incorporating, newborn Barnes City attempted to consolidate into the City of Los Angeles. However, the attempt was thwarted for years by litigation. By 1928, Barnes had decided to move his operation to the San Gabriel Valley. Barnes City was consolidated into the City of Los Angeles in 1930. Few traces of the circus and zoo remain today.

Other factors driving the area’s development were the industries that took root nearby. After 1924, oil drilling was a major presence. Hughes and Douglas opened aircraft manufacturing plans nearby in the 1930s. By World War II, workers were pouring in for defense jobs, and after the war, returning GIs provided the demand for a new wave of residential and commercial development. The Federal Housing Administration played a role too, as developments such as Westside Village (a planning district identified in SurveyLA’s findings) built modest, affordable houses to conform to FHA lending standards. Other post-WWII developments included an expansion in the aircraft industry, the completion of the nearby sections of the 405 freeway (by the early 1960s) and the growth of employment opportunities at MGM studios.

I’ve picked out some of my favorite finds from the report below. You can click on a photo to start a slideshow. Special thanks to user “Christopher M1” for the great information on Palm Place (The Oval). Our survey teams had that with them in the field and described the area as a planning district. You can also read more about the Pico Boulevard Chili Bowl on

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SurveyLA’s West LA Findings

By David J. Barboza

The Century Plaza Hotel was designed by Minoru Yamasaki in the New Formalist style. It's guests have included celebrities and presidents. Yamasaki designed the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the twin triangular towers in Century City.

The Century Plaza Hotel was designed by Minoru Yamasaki in the New Formalist style. It’s guests have included celebrities and presidents. Yamasaki designed the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the twin triangular towers in Century City.

We’ve published quite a few new reports of SurveyLA findings lately. In the last three posts I wrote about SurveyLA’s harbor area findings. We’ve also just posted two reports for the West Side, one for the West Los Angeles Community Plan Area (CPA) and the other for the Palms – Mar Vista – Del Rey CPA. Taking a step back, nine reports have been posted so far. I don’t want to convey the impression that SurveyLA is wrapping up, far from it. So far, we’ve posted less than one third of all the reports that SurveyLA will eventually produce. Your taking a look at the reports helps us out in two key ways. First, if you think we missed something you can let us know. Second, it’s a great way to get a sense of what SurveyLA is up to and the kinds of things we’re trying to document. With this understanding in mind, you can share your thoughts on historic places in the City of Los Angeles we should pay close attention to going forward. You can check on SurveyLA’s schedule for your neighborhood on our website.

When I say “West Los Angeles” here, I’m referring to the specific area shown on this map. Many parts of what is thought of as the “West Side” are located in other CPAs and have been or will be covered in other reports. Separate cities like Santa Monica and Beverly Hills won’t be covered by SurveyLA at all.

The report for West Los Angeles starts out with a historical overview that sets the stage for talking about the historic places survey teams found. The Tongva people were the first human inhabitants of West Los Angeles. The Kuruvunga spring, which once provided water for a Tongva village still exists on the site of University High School and is a California Historical Landmark (“Serra Springs”). Many of the place and street names familiar today come from Spanish and Mexican land grants in the area (e.g. Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas & Rancho La Ballona).

The first residential subdivision in West Los Angeles happened in the 1890s, but even before that, in 1888, Congress established the “Old Solder’s Home” (now the VA West Los Angeles Medical Center) just north of the CPA boundary. This development, combined with interurban rail service along what is now Santa Monica Boulevard (beginning in 1896) were the impulse to create the City of Sawtelle in the western part of the CPA. In the early days, Sawtelle was largely agricultural and attracted residents who worked at the Old Solders Home. By 1910, agriculture was starting to be eclipsed by urbanization and Japanese Americans gravitated to the area, leaving a legacy of businesses and front-yard landscaping that can be seen in some places to this day. In 1922 the City of Sawtelle was consolidated into the City of Los Angeles.

In the 1920s the increasing popularity of automobiles was reflected in a boom of low-density suburban residential development, particularly in hilly areas. The changes show up in the infrastructure: Pico Boulevard was a dirt road until 1926! The proximity of country clubs, Fox Studios (1928) and the Westwood campus of UCLA (1929), were strong draws for middle and upper-middle income people. Jewish Americans were drawn to the area, in part because they faced housing discrimination in some other parts of the city. Hillcrest Country Club was founded by this population and there are also many long-standing Jewish businesses, particularly along Pico Boulevard.

By the time World War II was over, most of the land in the CPA had already been developed, but there are some key places where post-1945 development made its mark. California Country Club Estates, a middle-class subdivision with connections to the entertainment industry is one example. Another is Century City, an edge city developed starting in the 1960s. The original plans for the area were drawn up by Welton Beckett & Associates and many of the high-rise office and residential towers were designed by noted architects such as Beckett, Minoru Yamasaki, I.M. Pei and Albert C. Martin & Associates.

Here are some of my favorite finds. Clicking on a photo will enlarge it and start a slideshow.

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