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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