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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SurveyLA’s Harbor Gateway Findings

By David J. Barboza

The Harbor Gateway Community Plan Area (CPA).

The Harbor Gateway Community Plan Area (CPA).

This post on Harbor Gateway is the last of three on SurveyLA’s recently released harbor area findings. Here’s a link to the report and appendices. If you know of something you think we should have covered, we’d be interested to hear about it. To understand the Harbor Gateway, it’s really important to take a look at the map. This long, narrow piece of land that roughly parallels the Harbor Freeway was known as the Shoestring Strip in 1907 when the voters of Los Angeles decided to annex it in a municipal election. The stakes were high. San Pedro, Wilmington and Santa Monica were considered the most likely sites for the region’s major port when Congress authorized funds to build a breakwater for a port in 1890. The City of Los Angeles was keenly interested in the wealth a port could bring, and the Shoestring Strip was the key to avoid being landlocked to the south. The newly incorporated City of Wilmington vehemently protested the annexation fearing that it would prevent its own westward expansion. Wilmington ultimately failed in a legal challenge to the annexation before the California Supreme Court. San Pedro, Wilmington and Harbor City were consolidated into the City of Los Angeles in 1909 and San Pedro became the nucleus of the modern Port of Los Angeles, which along with its adjacent rival, the Port of Long Beach, is today the largest seaport complex in the United States.

Like Harbor City just to the south, Harbor Gateway was sparsely populated and largely agricultural before World War II. During and after the war however, the population increased rapidly and the built environment shifted to one of detached houses, duplexes, commercial strips and industrial sites. Japanese Americans, Hispanics and African Americans all became a major presence, making the area quite diverse. Harbor Gateway is often confused with the adjacent cities of Torrance and Gardena to the west. The name Harbor Gateway was officially adopted in 1985 in part as a way to attempt to give the area a more cohesive sense of identity. The name also encapsulates astonishingly well the story of why the neighborhood is a part of the City of Los Angeles.

Harbor Gateway is much smaller than San Pedro or Wilmington-Harbor City Community Plan Areas in terms of the number of parcels. It has only 8,580 compared with over 17,000 for each of the other two. The findings for Harbor Gateway were also more limited. Interestingly, no place in the Harbor Gateway Community Plan Area currently has a historic designation. Here are some of my favorite findings from the report (click the photos to enlarge them).

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SurveyLA’s Findings for Wilmington and Harbor City

By David J. Barboza

The Don Hotel was one of several Wilmington hotels that were popular stopovers for travelers to and from Catalina.

The Don Hotel was one of several Wilmington hotels that were popular stopovers for travelers to and from Catalina.

SurveyLA has recently released three reports of its findings for Los Angeles’ harbor communities. This time I’ll be taking a look at the Historic Resources Survey Report for Wilmington and Harbor City (click here for a map). If you think we missed something in the report or appendices, please let us know. Keep in mind that SurveyLA is saving industrially zoned land for last. Since industrial land is an important part of the history of Wilmington and Harbor City, there could be more survey findings later.

Wilmington and Harbor City would not have been recognizable names locally in 1784. That year the Spanish crown granted the area as part of Rancho San Pedro. In 1854 the land was acquired by Americans. One of the early notables was Phineas Banning, who had a wharf built in present-day Wilmington by 1858. That same year the town of “New San Pedro” was founded, but Banning had enough clout to have the name changed to Wilmington in 1863, after his hometown of Wilmington Deleware. The 1860s were an important period for Wilmington. In 1862, it became the terminus for a state-of-the-art piece of communications infrastructure: a transcontinental telegraph line. Local landowners donated a 60 acre site to the Union Army during the Civil War. Fort Drum became the Union’s headquarters for California and Arizona. A few surviving pieces of Fort Drum have been designated as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monuments (e.g. the Drum Barracks and Officer’s Quarters, HCM #21). After the Civil War, the Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad opened. This north-south route ending in Wilmington was the first Railroad in Southern California.

Although Wilmington seemed destined to host the region’s major port, San Pedro would soon eclipse it economically. Beginning in the 1880s the Southern Pacific Railroad gained control of the Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad and extended it south to San Pedro. San Pedro was also selected to host the port of Los Angeles (although the modern port now sprawls across both communities). These developments are reflected in Wilminton’s attempts to exist as an independent city. It incorporated as such in 1871 but had to reverse course in 1887 in the midst of waning economic fortunes. It fended off a consolidation attempt by the City of Long Beach in 1905, incorporated as a city again in 1907 and was consolidated into the City of Los Angeles in 1909, the same year as San Pedro, and the same year the Port of Los Angeles opened. The 1920s saw a population boom as Wilmington served as a popular departure point to Catalina Island and oil wells brought new jobs. In 1932 the Wilmington Oil Field was discovered. This field is the third largest in the continental U.S. and is being pumped to this day. Wilmington has also made its mark on the history of organized labor. It participated in the port strike of 1934, which ended favorably for the dockworkers. By the 1950s, Wilmington was home to some key union facilities.

Harbor City was largely agricultural in the 19th century. Light residential and commercial development began in the early 20th century. When the City of Los Angeles annexed the Shoestring Strip (now known as Harbor Gateway) in 1906, Harbor City served as a kind of backup area for Los Angeles’ port development plans in case the consolidations of San Pedro and Wilmington failed (which they didn’t). Most development in Harbor City dates from after World War II. A notable feature is the Harbor Regional Park, located on former marshland which the City began developing in the 1950s. This park is among Los Angeles’ larger parks not located on mountainous terrain and contains a golf course and the campus of Los Angeles Harbor College.

As far as the survey findings are concerned, I’ve added some of my favorites below. Clicking on an image will enlarge it and start a slideshow.

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SurveyLA’s San Pedro Findings

By David J. Barboza

This Queen Anne / Carpenter Gothic house was built by the operator of the first harbor ferry service in San Pedro.

This Queen Anne / Carpenter Gothic house was built by the operator of the first harbor ferry service in San Pedro.

We’ve recently had the pleasure of releasing three new reports of SurveyLA findings for Los Angeles’ harbor communities: San Pedro, Harbor Gateway and Wilmington/Harbor City. The reports and their appendices are a great way to learn about the history and architecture of these neighborhoods, so hopefully you get a chance to check them out. If you think there is something we neglected to cover in the reports please let us know. You’ll find a quick overview of all three reports the latest newsletter from the Office of Historic Resources. In this post, I’ll be taking a look at the findings for San Pedro.

Before delving into individual historic places and districts, SurveyLA reports always start off with a historical overview of the neighborhood to help put the findings in context. From rancho origins, San Pedro was platted (divided into urban-scale lots) in 1882, at the beginning of the population boom of the 1880s and just one year after the Southern Pacific created the first inter-regional railroad connection to Los Angeles. San Pedro incorporated as a city in 1888. Major economic drivers in the area have included the military reservation (re-named Fort MacArthur in 1914) and the Port of Los Angeles. San Pedro was consolidated into the City of Los Angeles in 1909, the same year the Port was completed. San Pedro has a wide range of land uses and property types including detached houses, bungalow courts, apartment buildings, streetcar-era commercial structures, automobile oriented commercial buildings, industrial properties, institutional development and several parks. George Huntington Peck, Jr., one of San Pedro’s pioneering developers, made major land donations to the City of Los Angeles in the 1920s and 30s that form the basis of four of the neighborhood’s parks, including the one that bears his name. The first half of the 20th century saw waves of immigration that increased the area’s diversity. Some of the larger groups were Italians, Yugoslavians, Serb-Croatians, Scandanavians, Greeks, and Japanese. During World War II the population boomed yet again as the massive need for shipbuilding labor attracted many people. After the war, automobile-oriented development increased to the west of the historical core area along Gaffey St. and Pacific Ave. near the east waterfront.

As for the survey findings, I’ve picked out some of my favorites and shared them below. You can click on an image to enlarge it and switch to slideshow format. Enjoy!

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MyHistoricLA.org Turns One

By David J. Barboza

A slightly edited WWI era recruitment poster urging you to participate at MyHistoricLA.org

A slightly edited WWI era recruitment poster urging you to participate at MyHistoricLA.org!

It’s hard to believe, but MyHistoricLA.org is just about one year old. Developed as a collaboration between SurveyLA and MindMixer, the site is a way for people to share ideas for overlooked historic places in the City of Los Angeles. Through text, links, pictures and video, people have already shared over 200 suggestions for such places. That information doesn’t just sit on the internet. It goes directly out into the field with survey teams so that they have the fullest possible story on every place you suggest as they document our historic resources. At the end of the day, the goal is to ensure that SurveyLA is an effective planning tool that empowers people to make thoughtful decisions about Los Angeles’ historic resources.

MyHistoricLA.org is true social media: two way online communication. You can be social on it by commenting on other historic place suggestions or “seconding” ideas you like. This not only helps to refine ideas, but also allows for increased awareness of our past and community building as people share their passion for places that are special to them. Although SurveyLA can’t use every idea submitted (usually because the place is outside the City of Los Angeles or already has a historic designation), we appreciate the effort that goes into every entry on the site.

Here’s a flavor of how it works.

Jaime P's entry for Escalon Drive in Encino.

Jamie P’s entry for Escalon Drive in Encino.

The screenshot above shows an entry for a series of houses along Escalon Drive in Encino. This is a great entry not just because it meets the basic tests of being in the City of LA and not already having historic designations, but also because it includes three photographs and a short but clear explanation of why the area may be historically significant. To top it all off this entry sparked a lively discussion in the comments section and got a comment from a member of a field survey team: “Thank you for your submission! The survey field team is starting work in Encino now and loved seeing this neighborhood yesterday. If you have any additional information we hope that you will post it here.”

The "What is your favorite food-related historical place in Los Angeles?" question.

The “What is your favorite food-related historical place in Los Angeles?” question.

MyHistoricLA.org has 11 questions (and counting) to help jump start your thinking about Los Angeles’ historic resources. Our most popular is the catch-all “What is your favorite historical place in Los Angeles?”, but the second most popular is the “What is your favorite food-related historical place in Los Angeles?” question (pictured above). Rachel B’s suggestion for Antonio’s Mexican Restaurant even got picked up in a KPCC news piece.

Two participation prizes are available in the MyHistoricLA.org Rewards Store.

Two participation prizes are available in the MyHistoricLA.org Rewards Store.

We’re so happy when you make historic place suggestions that we’ve even devised some prizes. All you have to do to claim a prize is get enough participation points and check out our Rewards Store. Also, if you have an idea for a prize we could offer (keeping in mind our budget for this is pretty limited) or if you have a prize to donate, please let us know by leaving a comment.

At the end of the day, all of the fancy technology in the world can’t live up to its potential without your help. In a city as vast as Los Angeles, no single person knows everything there is to know about our historic resources. Thanks so much for sharing the historic places that are important to you, and we look forward to hearing about more of them!

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Introducing A People’s Guide to Los Angeles

By David J. Barboza

I’ve recently started to read A People’s Guide to Los Angeles. It’s not your typical tourist guidebook. Instead it:

“creates a dramatically different perspective on our region: one that centers on the analysis of power and inequality. It shares the perspectives and histories of those who have been systematically excluded from most representations of the city’s history: the working class and the poor, indigenous peoples, people of color, women, immigrants, gays and lesbians, environmental justice activists, political radicals, and other marginalized groups” (A People’s Guide to Los Angeles, p. 6).

The title of the book refers to a movement in history writing that was popularized by Howard Zinn (e.g. A People’s History of the United States), that is, a critical examination of the past from the perspectives of marginalized groups. By taking this approach, A People’s Guide to Los Angeles intentionally tries to bring an unorthodox (some might say provocative) perspective to the question of what is historically significant in Los Angeles. To get a sense of how the book reads, it’s best to consider a few examples.

Musicians Union Hall (Local 47)
817 Vine St, Los Angeles, CA 90038

Musicians Union Hall Local 47. Photo: Google Maps.

Musicians Union Hall Local 47. Photo: Google Maps.

This hall houses the first musician’s union in the United States to become racially integrated from segregated origins. Established in 1897, Local 47’s integration was not achieved until 1953, thanks to the efforts of noted jazzman Buddy Collette (among others) and only after intense financial negotiations. Before integration a separate “Negro” musician’s union struggled to achieve the same pay and access to gigs as its white counterpart. The joining of the two unions is an important early civil rights victory in Los Angeles.

California Eagle Building
4071-75 S. Central Ave., Los Angeles 90011

The California Eagle Building. Photo: Google Maps.

The California Eagle Building. Photo: Google Maps.

This building housed the California Eagle, an early black-owned newspaper, which was published from 1879 to 1964. The paper was founded by John Neimore, who had escaped slavery before moving west. In 1921 Charlotta Bass  bought the paper and changed its name to the California Eagle (it was originally called The Owl). The paper built a reputation for challenging racial discrimination, the mistreatment of workers and police abuses. The Eagle remained woman-owned until just before its closure.

Morris Kight House
1822 W. 4th St., Los Angeles, CA 90057

The Morris Kight House. Photo: Google Maps.

The Morris Kight House. Photo: Google Maps.

From 1969 to 1972 the Los Angeles branch of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was headquartered at this house, formerly the residence of Morris Kight. Kight an activist active in the gay rights and antiwar movements. The GLF, in addition to fighting against anti-gay discrimination, also forged alliances with other struggles, such as those for women’s rights and racial equality. Kight and the GLF helped to found the gay pride parade now known as L.A. Pride, which commemorates the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, as well as the organization now known as the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.

That’s just a taste of course. None of the examples listed above have historic designations, so they’re just the kind of places that SurveyLA wants to know about. If you know of any places that help to illustrate the social history of Los Angeles, please let us know!

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Planning with SurveyLA in Southeast LA

By David J. Barboza

The cover of the Southeast LA Draft Community Plan, available at this link.

The cover of the Southeast LA Draft Community Plan, available at this link. A map of the Southeast LA Community Plan Area is available here.

How much of what land uses should go where? How should we get around town? What should we do to preserve and benefit from our history? These are some of the key questions that the community of Southeast Los Angeles is grappling with as it prepares a new Community Plan, a draft of which was just released. According to the Plan’s website, the Draft Plan will “shape the future of your community for the next 20 years, guiding future growth, protecting neighborhood character, creating new economic opportunity, and enhancing the quality of life for all who live, work visit and invest in this area.”

SurveyLA has been a key source of information for the Draft Plan. SurveyLA’s field work in Southeast LA was scheduled early enough so that it would be ready in time to inform the Draft Plan. We released our Southeast LA findings in March 2012 and the Draft Plan was released in December 2012.

SurveyLA’s impact on the Draft Plan can be seen in two key areas: the “Community Background” section (beginning on page 2-1) and the “Historic Resources” section (beginning on page 3-44). The Community Background section gives a narrative historical overview of the area that bears a strong resemblance to the narrative in SurveyLA’s Southeast LA Historic Resources Survey Report. Both documents discuss the importance of streetcars and Downtown Los Angeles in the area’s early development, the rise of the African American community in the early 20th century (in part due to restrictive racial covenants that barred them from other neighborhoods), the consolidation of the former City of Watts into Los Angeles and the economic decline of Central Avenue after World War II. The Plan also discusses the history of Native Americans (Tongva) in the area prior to Spanish colonization, the Mexican Period and the transition to U.S. rule. Additionally, the Plan takes up the economic and land use impacts of the loss of industrial jobs and how relatively recent waves of immigration from Mexico and Central America have created a Latino majority in the area.

In the Draft Plan’s Historic Resources section, SurveyLA’s impact is even more clearly felt. The Draft Plan starts by making a case for historic preservation, noting that it ensures “continuity of neighborhood identity and pride within the community” and that “communities throughout the nation have used preservation as a successful tool to promote revitalization and economic development.” As for SurveyLA itself, it “has identified many potential resources including individual properties, non-parcel resources and planning districts.” In particular, the plan notes two areas that are “under active consideration” to become Historic Preservation Overlay Zones (HPOZs, City-created historic districts). Unlike South Los Angeles, just to the west, Southeast Los Angeles currently has no HPOZs.

The Draft Plan doesn’t stop with a hat tip to SurveyLA, it also includes several goals and policies to advance respectful treatment of historic resources. These include:

  • Protecting existing landmarks from demolition or substantial alteration
  • Identifying and officially designating new landmarks and historic districts
  • Promoting historic preservation incentive programs
  • New zoning for areas that don’t quite make the cut as historic districts but still have features worth preserving
  • Ensuring that new construction is aesthetically compatible with historic buildings
  • Programs to increase awareness of historic resources

The Southeast LA Draft Community Plan is part of an ongoing process that the public is encouraged to participate in. Future steps include presenting a Draft Environmental Impact Report, holding an open house and public hearing, and presenting the results to the City Planning Commission and City Council for approval. Other neighborhoods in Los Angeles are benefiting from SurveyLA’s work as they update their community plans. To find out more, visit the Department of City Planning’s website and click on “New Community Plans.”

Did we miss anything when we surveyed Southeast LA? Do you have a tip on a historic place in another LA neighborhood? If so, please let us know!

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MyHistoricLA: Westwood

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:

Photo: Google Maps Street View

Kelton Apartments, HCM #365
Photo: Google Maps Street View

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.”

Strathmore Apartments HCM #Photo: Google Maps Street View

Strathmore Apartments HCM #351
Photo: Google Maps Street View

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.

Sheets Apartments, HCM #Photo: Google Maps Street View

Sheets Apartments, HCM #367
Photo: Google Maps Street View

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.

Landfair Apartments, HCM #320. Photo: City of Los Angeles

Landfair Apartments, HCM #320
Photo: City of Los Angeles

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?

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Gebhard and Winter

By David J. Barboza

SurveyLA pulls together historic resources information from many sources before sending teams out to the field. One of the most important of those sources is you (the public), so if you have any historic place suggestions we’d love to hear about them! There are also published works we mine for information, and if any of these can be called the mother lode, it’s probably David Gebhard and Robert Winter’s Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles (the most recent edition of which came out in 2003). To economize on syllables we often just refer to it as “Gebhard and Winter.”

Gebhard and Winter are a great source for a few reasons. Firstly, the broad geographic range of information provided. Unlike SurveyLA, which is only studying the City of Los Angeles, Gebhard and Winter attempt of cover all of Los Angeles County. But happily for us, quite a bit of the book is dedicated to historic resources within neighborhoods across the City of Angels. Secondly, the bulk of the book is laid out in chapters for the various neighborhoods complete with addresses and maps. It seems really basic, but sometimes we don’t have clear location information, and it’s hard to evaluate historic resources if we don’t know where they are. Thirdly, the authors have done quite a bit of background research. Each chapter starts with a quick history of the neighborhood itself, helping place discoveries in context. The building’s architect is often listed as well, which is information one usually has to find on old building permits unless it is a well-known place. Due to time constraints, we can’t do this level of research on every parcel in the City. Finally, Gebhard and Winter are often fun to read because of their snarky commentary, although the book can come off as esoteric because of its heavy reliance on architectural jargon.

Here are a couple of examples of entries from the chapter on Brentwood, one of the Community Plan Areas we’re currently surveying. The entries come in a standardized format:

Building Name (Year Built)
Architect
Location
Description

World Savings Center Building, 1982
Maxwell Starkman and Associates
Northwest Corner of Wilshire and San Vicente Boulevards
A tall, late example of Corporate International Style Modern of no great distinction, but it is so big that you will wonder about it.”

Lawson/Weston House, 1993
Eric Owen Moss
167 S. Westgate
A real stunner made of concrete, but more Postmodern than Brutalist. A prow juts out into the sea breeze. Very cool!”

A couple of closing points are in order here. While Gebhard and Winter are a great source of information, they certainly didn’t (and probably didn’t intend to) cover everything that might be architecturally significant in Los Angeles. In other words, there’s still more work to be done. Another point is that SurveyLA is concerned with more than just architecture. We’re also trying to get at places that shed light on history more broadly: politics, gender, ethnicity, class, and culture. Some of these places may not even be buildings or landscapes shaped by architecture at all. That’s one reason why we’re so eager to hear your historic place suggestions. To document the places that have shaped the history of Los Angeles, we’re going to need all the input we can get.

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Historic Finds Along the Los Angeles River

By David J. Barboza

Northeast Los Angeles was once home to a several wholesale bakeries including the dutch-style Van de Kamp’s Bakery (Historic-Cultural Monument #569).

Two SurveyLA reports have come out recently on the Survey Findings portion of our main website. One describes the work survey teams have done in West Adams, Baldwin Hills and Leimert Park. You can get a taste of the findings by reading the cover story in the latest Office of Historic Resources e-newsletter. The other report is for the so-called Northeast Los Angeles River Revitalization Area (let’s call it “NELARRA”).

This map is available on page 5 of historic resources survey report.

The story behind this survey is a bit strange. NELARRA actually isn’t a Community Plan Area like West Adams – Baldwin Hills – Leimert. It’s a former redevelopment area. Before 2011, when California’s budget woes led to legislation that is phasing out redevelopment agencies, RDAs contracted for historic resource surveys in order to figure out how to best harmonize their redevelopment plans with the need to preserve historic places. The NELARRA report was actually done for Los Angeles’ former RDA by Historic Resources Group and Galvin Preservation Associates. Since the surveys were conducted with SurveyLA methodology, it was decided that the results would be incorporated into SurveyLA, so that the same work wouldn’t have to be done twice in Northeast LA.

About half of the historic resources survey report is dedicated to a narrative history of the area from pre-European times to the late twentieth century. In it you can trace the ownership of land from Native Americans to Spanish and Mexican ranchos to American subdivisions. Some of Los Angeles’ oldest neighborhoods are in this area, with surviving buildings dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of the buildings survey teams highlighted were Victorian Vernacular Cottages and small Craftsman homes.

This Victorian vernacular cottage with Queen Anne influences was built in 1895, making it one of the earliest surviving buildings in the area.

This Craftsman duplex was built in 1912.

Railroads made their mark on the area early on. Survey teams found surviving streetcar-oriented commercial buildings from the Red Car days. The Taylor Yard was an important force in the area’s development as well. This facility was a major Southern Pacific full-service rail yard for decades, employing about 5,000 people at its peak in the 1950s. The property has since been subdivided and is no longer being used entirely by railroads. Only a single structure remains from this pivotal place in Los Angeles’ industrial development: the Taylor Yard signal tower.

This Mediterranean Revival building from 1929 was built to serve customers arriving by streetcar.

The Taylor Yard signal tower, moved from its original location, is probably the last surviving structure from the massive Southern Pacific railroad yard.

Another of NELARRA’s claims to fame is Lawry’s California Center. The company behind the well-known seasoning salt and a chain of restaurants was based here until 1998, when the Mediterranean-Revival campus became home to the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens.

Lawry’s California Center (1953/60), designed in the Mediterranian Revival style by the firm of Buff, Straub and Hensman with Arthur Lavagnino.

I’ve really only scratched the surface of the report’s findings, so if you want the whole story you’ll have to head over to check it out for yourself. Please don’t forget that SurveyLA teams really benefit when you tip us off to historic places in your neighborhood. Whether you know about a place in Northeast LA or somewhere else in Los Angeles, we hope to hear more of your historic place suggestions as we release more reports in the coming months.

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