Sunday, June 14, 2009

Victorian Los Angeles - Part Two

We're continuing our story about Victorian Los Angeles, starting with a photo of this incredible house, the Hale House, rescued and restored by the Cultural Heritage Foundation. It's located at Heritage Square Museum, at 3800 Homer Street in Montecito Heights, north of downtown Los Angeles.

When Los Angeles decided to start preserving its past, it was spurred by the loss of a unique historical neighborhood in the center of downtown. Bunker Hill had been the residential neighborhood of the wealthiest and most elite founding fathers of Los Angeles - and then it became a dilapidated slum of aging Victorian rooming houses and tenements.

The Bunker Hill Redevelopment Project, begun in 1955 and still continuing to this day, cleared aging structures and replaced them with buildings to house government, corporate, and institutional pride.

Only a few people protested, and tried to rescue some of the historic structures. Finally, the City's department of Parks and Recreation donated land for relocating these structure to the Cultural Heritage Foundation.

Two structures, the Salt Box - built approximately 1880, and The Castle, a fantastic example of elaborate Queen Anne excess, were saved from the bulldozers and moved there, awaiting funds for their restoration.

Sadly, while awaiting restoration, both structures burned to the ground from a fire set by vagrants.

Despite that bitter loss the Foundation recovered, and followed its main mission - saving - on a shoestring budget. The Museum, now safely fenced, is home to nine structures in varying stages of restoration. It's located at the end of a quiet residential street just next to the 5 Freeway and the L.A. River. Drivers zipping past can see the fantastical structures, and wonder what they are. For a ten dollar fee, you can take a docent-led tour inside the houses. Photos are only allowed outdoors.

The Hale House, above, was built in 1887, only a few blocks away on Pasadena Street. It was donated to the Foundation in 1970 and moved here. It is considered a superb example of Queen Anne and Eastlake architectural styles.

Hallmarks of the Eastlake style include applied decoration such as the carved wooden panels and railings. Queen Anne style features assymetrical shapes, like the turret on the side and the small corner balcony; large wrap-around porches, and alternating textures like the scalloped shingles, inset panels, and decorative brickwork.

It's fully restored inside, and furnished as it would have been in 1899. The brilliant colors were reproduced from chips of the original paint found during restoration.

The Perry Mansion was built in 1876 in Boyle Heights, and features both Greek Revival and Italianate architectural styles. William Hayes Perry was a lumber tycoon, banker, and City Councilman.

The Perry Mansion is closest to the Museum's nearest neighbor, a small single-family bungalow. This rooster from next door is a frequent visitor.

The Valley Knudsen Garden Residence is an odd little house - a tiny cottage with an ornate mansard roof that looks like it belongs on a grander structure. The style was popular in France during the reign of Napoleon III, and much used by the architects who redeveloped Paris in the mid-Nineteenth century. This little house was moved from Lincoln Heights. The docent leading the tour told us that when it was moved from its foundation, they discovered a cache of empty liquor bottles stashed under the porch!

The Ford House was moved from downtown Los Angeles, and really isn't terribly unique as a structure - except for the amazing carved wood decoration. Lots of Victorian houses had applied wooden decoration, much of it factory produced and mass-marketed. The decoration at the Ford House, however, is one of a kind. The owner, John Ford, was a woodcarver and did all the woodwork on both the interior and exterior of the house himself, by hand.

The outside of the house is in beautiful shape, and it's set in a garden designed to be typical of a residential garden of its era - roses cover a trellis archway and lead to a family vegetable garden. The interior of the house awaits restoration. Walls and partitions dating from its days as a rooming house have been torn down, and the original plaster and lathe walls are exposed.

The other unique structures on the property include a late Victorian-gothic wooden church, an old horse barn, a train depot and an octagonal house. In the last, the old kitchen and bathroom are in their original unrestored state - which certainly gives you much food for thought about how our ancestors lived.

It's wonderful that the Foundation is doing such work, but at the same time, the place feels a little lonely, compared to Angelino Heights, which is home to real living families. Here, the historic houses sit silently, fenced away from their neighbors - whose small turn-of-the-century bungalows show the kind of haphazard alterations that were stripped away from these homes after they were donated to the museum. I wondered as I walked to where we parked - what if there were some way to help the owners of these small houses beautify them, and make the whole neighborhood an example of real historic preservation?

Victorian Los Angeles is all around us. We don't need to go to a museum to find it - or appreciate it. If you drive through the neighborhood, you'll find structures that look just as great candidates for restoration as the houses in the museum - like this example on nearby Glendale Blvd, with its elaborately carved gable in the Eastlake style, ornamental iron and shingled bay windows. Who knows what's beneath that asphalt siding?

Here in Echo Park, just at the foot of the hill Angelino Heights is built upon, is this house - a cottage similar to the Valley Knudsen Garden house, its mansard-roofed turret still sporting fish-scale shingles.

If you're in Los Angeles, go visit Heritage Square. They need your support.


Beverly said...

Glennis, I am so glad I read your post today. This project is wonderful, and it gave me a big smile.

I am so pleased when I see such great efforts to preserve our history.

Thank you so much for sharing these beauties.

Susie Jefferson said...

Absolutely fascinating. I didn't even realise Los Angeles HAD Victorian houses. The first one looks like the house in Psycho!

Life with Kaishon said...

Very beautiful restorations. I wish I could visit. It would be lovely to see those houses.

Gary Rith Pottery Blog said...

oh, gorgeous!

Cheri @ Blog This Mom! said...

Your posts always make me long for LA . . . well, almost. :-)

Gilly said...

Saving houses, and restorations are great, but I do think houses need to be lived in. though with such very large houses, built by the Victorians, it would cost a fortune to maintain, heat, etc. them today.

But I do love all the porches, embellishments etc. How the Victorians loved all the twiddly bits!

Vallen said...

I was pleasantly surprised when I lived down L.A. way to see so much beauty. In Pasadena and Altadena there are magnificent structures - beautiful places and in L.A. proper, hiddne though they are, every so often you'd come around a turn and there would be a masterpiece. You're right, you don't think of L.A. as beautiful but there is plenty of beauty to be found, still.

Briget said...

Oooo-ooo! Nice post! I love all the pretty houses!

Are the houses that were used in The Addams Family and/or The Munsters anywhere in L.A?

Anonymous said...

At first I thought, how weird that they moved those houses into one place and all those different styles of architecture are together. But after reading this post, I think, how wonderful that they are saving these houses!

The neighborhood that my stepfather lived in (in Seattle) is finally experiencing some of this revival, but there is still a long way to go.

Anonymous said...

So many abbreviate

1) Come for the silent and classic movie nights or the free concerts to see how the place is used in other respects than just for tours (Museums of the Arroyo Day was a lot of fun)
2) There is something to be said for NOT having homes lived in, but brought back to a certain time period. If I'm not mistaken, there aren't any regular hours I can walk into residences on Carol Street and walk around.
3) Interestingly, the area is in an "HPOZ" or "Historic Preservation Overlay Zone" the express purpose of which is to help those homeowners you mention to preserve their homes.

g said...

Anonymous, I wish you had left a link to respond directly to you.

You raise interesting and valid points. It would be good to be able to discuss them.

I will definitely check out the movie nights - I've certainly read about them on the Museum's website.

Brian Sheridan said...

Just stumbled onto the conversation here. Check out our blog and feel free to send me an email. I'd also point out Halloween Mourning Tours, Exhibits, Christmas Programs, LA Heritage Day, Safe Haven Trick or Treating for kids, Classic Car Show, Vintage Fashion Tea and Show and other events. I'd also point out to the teachers out there that the museum has a free program for 3-5th graders that through the first three months of this year served over 1,000 youths!
And (its like you read my mind) the museum is working with a representative from the local homeowners group to have an architecture specific tour of Montecito Heights. Good thinking!
My email is
Heritage Square was named the number one museum on My Fox LA's "hotlist" in 2007 and 2008!

Anonymous said...

never destroy these houses!!!!!!!