MyHistoricLA: Part 1 – MyNeighborhood

How well do you know you neighborhood? Probably pretty well! After all, you’re interested enough in historic properties to be reading this blog!

However, you probably don’t normally go around compiling the same sort of detailed information that a full survey of historic properties needs. The MyHistoricLA program suggests two neighborhood-based activities to help compile this info: the “Neighborhood Walkabout” and the “Community Photo Collection day.”

In both cases, the idea is that neighborhood residents can supply something that outside surveyors often can’t– insider knowledge about the neighborhood or about particular buildings. The easiest thing for surveyors to see, when they go into a new area, is just what the building looks like on the outside. Even with all the research that teams do to serve as the foundation for the visual survey, it’s still all-too-easy to miss something. A building might not look significant at first glance, even if the neighbors know that it played some key role in an important event in history. Properties can also have special significance to the local community, and when that information can be collected and combined with information collected by the surveyors, it can help give the total picture of the historic significance of that property.


One person or many, one day or stretching over many days, covering just a few streets or covering an entire potential district – a good walkabout can be any of these. Whatever the format, however, the goal is the same: to end up with property-specific data that can be transmitted to the Office of Historic Resources for use in SurveyLA. The data will help identify both individual properties that are historically significant, as well as to identify possible historic districts, so keep both in mind when you’re looking at the buildings in your area.

Here are some of the questions to ask yourself when you’re beginning to think about the historical significance of local properties (these are selected from the MyHistoricLA Guide to Public Participation; more information is available there):

  • What is culturally significant about your neighborhood?
  • How has the neighborhood changed over time?
  • What places within your neighborhood are the most meaningful
  • to the people who live there?
  • Which places are associated with important individuals and
  • groups who shaped your community’s history?
  • What important businesses and organizations were located there?
  • What are the most architecturally interesting buildings?
  • Who were the architects, builders, or designers whose works
  • contribute to the character of your neighborhood?
  • What places have served as focal points for neighborhood activity?
  • Which places shaped social and cultural movements in
  • the community?

Generally speaking, a walkabout will be a number of people because, let’s face it, doing something in your community is a lot more fun when your neighbors are involved too! When you have enough people involved that it makes sense to break it down into separate responsibilities, you should have people doing the following:

Neighborhood Coordinator & Coordinating Committee: organizing everything!
This includes recruiting people, publicizing the event, getting the materials needed, assigning tasks and areas to participants, and finding volunteers to input all the data collected into a “MyHistoricLA Neighborhood Data Table,” which is a formatted spreadsheet that should be used to submit the data to the Office of Historic Resources.

Walkabout Teams: Walking around, taking pictures, and collecting data!
Each team should be 3-5 people, including a group leader, a recorder to take notes during the Walkabout, and a photographer.

Equipment/supplies needed:


A Photo Collection Day is a chance to collect copies (or scan originals) of historic photographs from personal collections that illustrate potentially signficant buildings and other resources in the community. Old photos can be a vital resource in seeing how properties have changed over time and determining their historic integrity.

In addition to historic photographs, other resources to collect on a Photo Collection Day include:

  • Newspaper clippings or articles relating to potential historic resources.
  • Real estate brochures (announcements of new planned communities, advertisements, etc.).
  • Materials from previous community events, such as walking tour guides or children’s activity guides that have properties identified by address.
  • Maps (Community Plan maps, historic tract maps, Sanborn insurance maps).
  • Postcards illustrating historic properties or neighborhoods.

Equipment Needed:

  • Scanning equipment and computer.
  • White cotton gloves for handling delicate historic materials.
  • Envelopes or folders for holding collected photographs.
  • Photo Identification Form (page 59 of the MyHistoricLA Guide) to record the source and relevant information about each photograph.
  • Photo Release Form (page 65 of the MyHistoricLA Guide) authorizing use of collected materials to inform the survey effort and be placed on the City’s website.
  • Blank CDs to submit scanned photographs to the Office of Historic Resources.
  • Tables and chairs for equipment and participants.

More detailed information about how to treat historic photographs and how to collect the relevant data are in the MyHistoricLA guide, but the key points to remember are:

  • To be useful fro SurveyLA, there must be a distinguishable image of a specific property (or an overall view of an identifiable neighborhood)
  • All images must illustrate buildings or resources that still exist; that are potentially historic significant; and, most importantly, that are identifiable by address or location!



About Steve Duncan

Urban explorer, photographer, and historian.
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One Response to MyHistoricLA: Part 1 – MyNeighborhood

  1. Mark says:

    Stakeholders should take this approach to documenting community conditions for presentation in land use hearings. Decision-makers often don’t receive enough in the way of documented findings from the community, and the advice here – and materials made accessible through SurveyLA – offer a template. Are you unhappy with a proposed overheight fence? Or a new unsightly addition on a street with mostly original homes? Grab these materials, take to the streets, and snap your own visual survey.

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