Copyright 1994 The Times Mirror Company
Los Angeles Times
November 13, 1994, Sunday, Home Edition
SECTION: Real Estate; Part K; Page 1; Column 2; Real Estate Desk
LENGTH: 1585 words
HEADLINE: PRESERVING THE PAST;
PRESERVATION: COMMUNITIES ESTABLISH ZONES TO PROTECT NEIGHBORHOODS'
HISTORIC, ARCHITECTURAL AND CULTURAL CHARACTERISTICS.
BYLINE: By R. DANIEL FOSTER, SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Foster is a Los Angeles
In a city that reinvents itself with each new architectural whim,
preserving the look of older neighborhoods can be a quixotic task. Indeed,
those who live in such areas say their fight to shelter their communities
is like chasing after historic characteristics that only they can see and
But buoyed by a city of Los Angeles ordinance created in 1979 that can
seal neighborhoods against indecorous development and renovation, city
residents have since found new teeth. They have battled to create seven
such areas, called Historic Preservation Overlay Zones (HPOZs), and are
pushing for 11 more.
"Los Angeles is behind other cities that have many more zones," said
Barbara Hoff, director of preservation issues at the Los Angeles
Conservancy, a nonprofit group that helps residents win historic
designations. "A typical East Coast city has 27 zones or more. People
forget that historical doesn't just mean houses from the 1820s and '30s,
it also means those from the 1920s and '30s."
HPOZs are designed to preserve neighborhoods' historic, architectural,
cultural or aesthetic significance. The majority of homes in HPOZs (the
first was Angelino Heights, designated in 1983) are over 40 years old.
Some zones are carved out of neat square blocks of residential tracts.
Others have jagged boundaries that avoid commercial districts, although
one proposed zone in Venice consists entirely of commercial real estate.
An HPOZ does not require homeowners to fix up their properties, but an
HPOZ neighborhood association reviews any proposed exterior changes that
are visible from the street. Aluminum windows or stucco, for example,
would mar the design integrity of a Craftsman bungalow and would not be
allowed. Routine maintenance is not affected by a zone's design
Additions or new structures, which, under an HPOZ, require approval from
the Cultural Heritage Commission and city Planning Department, need not
match existing architectural styles in the zone, but they must fit the
area's aesthetic standards.
Those who fight for HPOZs say the process is tedious, time consuming,
involves political infighting among factions of the city council and
residents, and is often frustrating. It involves numerous community
meetings and public hearings, petitioning of homeowners, historical
surveys, and perhaps most difficult, convincing neighbors that an overlay
zone is not bad medicine.
Many homeowners, for example, mistakenly believe they will be prevented
from altering the insides of their homes or from adding or renovating
patios, fences, porches, sun decks or balconies without having to navigate
the city's bureaucratic approval process.
Homeowners and renters often begin their battle for an HPOZ when yet
another Craftsman bungalow or Spanish revival home is razed to make room
for garish apartment complexes.
"Developers would buy up 12 homes at a time, tear them all down and put up
really ugly, huge buildings. Detroit Street is pretty much decimated,"
said Denise Robb, who lives in the Miracle Mile district. Robb formed the
Miracle Mile Action Committee in 1989 to continue a battle that was begun
in 1986 for an HPOZ called Miracle Mile South.
Bounded by 3rd Street and Wilshire Boulevard to the north and south and
Detroit Street and Hauser Boulevard to the east and west, the proposed
zone is adjacent to the Miracle Mile North HPOZ, which was secured in May,
Robb's neighborhood consists mostly of Depression-era Spanish-style
apartment buildings, many designed by celebrated architects Max Maltzman
and Milton Black. The structures are more difficult to protect than
single-family homes since landlords are largely absent.
"I always hear the complaint that we shouldn't have a zone because tenants
are transient, but some have lived here for 15, 25 years," said Robb, who
has rented in the area for seven years.
Robb and five other board members have made weekly forays to City Hall and
libraries, tracking down the neighborhood's history. Since Robb began her
crusade in 1986, she said that 51 buildings have been torn down and
developers keep phoning up owners, making offers. According to one
estimate, 50% of Miracle Mile South has been redeveloped.
Although Robb and her crew now feel more bitter than encouraged, others
say their long fight has been worth it, bringing neighbors together in
ways even an earthquake and riot could not accomplish.
"At our first meeting in 1987, we packed the old Masonic Temple on
Figueroa with 400 people," said architect Richard Barron, who helped
secure the city's most recent and largest HPOZ, Highland Park, awarded in
June. "We knew then that we had something -- a love of the community."
To advertise their meeting, Barron and other neighbors posted signs
depicting a bulldozer about to devour a tiny bungalow.
Other residents fighting for HPOZs said that neighbors, as well as
developers, can be blind to a community's past -- owners don't understand
how their Craftsman bungalow, with its peeling paint and tattered roof,
could be deemed historic.
"It's just a constant fight to keep your neighbors' awareness up about the
significance of their area," said Richard von Earnst, who began holding
meetings in January to fight for a Lafayette Square HPOZ in the mid-city
area. "People here live in a broad range of homes -- Craftsman, Victorian,
Tudor and Norman styles built from 1912 to the 1920s, but some don't
realize what they have."
The purpose of an HPOZ is to consider the relevance of whole districts,
not single structures, said Hoff and others.
"I tell people to picture one row house," Hoff said. "Alone, it's not that
significant, but lined up block after block it forms the fabric of the
community. We have to look at the overall picture, rather than individual
With that concept in mind, the city is looking to revise language in the
HPOZ ordinance. Some clauses require structures to be associated with an
important architect, master builder or designer.
Such requirements have forced residents to do painstaking research to
unearth a home's past. Charlie Fisher, whose family has lived in Highland
Park since the turn of the century, scoured newspapers dating pre-1905 for
building permit records. Fisher, who lives in a 1908 Greek Revival
bungalow on Avenue 57, said that about half of Highland Park's 3,000
structures are deemed as contributing to the zone's historic status.
By contrast, the city's smallest HPOZ contains 45 homes in Melrose Hill,
consisting of the 4900 block of Marathon Street and all of West and North
During Melrose Hill's fight for HPOZ status, neighbors joined forces to
plant stands of jacaranda trees along the boulevards and they added
antique street lights, struck from a 1910 lamp mold once used in New
York's Central Park.
Such upgrading helps real estate agents use a neighborhood's HPOZ status
to sell homes, and according to the National Trust for Historical
Preservation, an HPOZ is a good investment. Property values of homes
within historic districts usually increase because of the designation.
And the sense of community that zones create often helps to reduce crime,
The area surrounding Melrose Hill consists of "major blight --
transvestite hookers and drug dealers a few blocks away," said Bill
Wilson, the third generation of his family to live in a 1917 Craftsman
bungalow edged in burgundy trim. But like the eye of a hurricane, Melrose
Hill stays relatively calm. Still, Wilson has fortified his house, adding
new features. He said the HPOZ has not hindered or added expense to his
construction plans, which were approved by the community's HPOZ
"I'm finishing work on a portal and gate at the base of 20 concrete steps
that lead up to the house," he said. "It's Craftsman-like -- wood beams
with a pitched, copper roof."
The crusade for a Melrose Hill HPOZ, largely led by homeowner Ed Hunt who
has lived in a 1923 English Tudor brick house for 15 years, took 15 years
-- not a lengthy time period when considering what is involved in the
process, said Hoff and others. The procedure often becomes stalled as it
languishes in the City Council, Planning Department or Cultural Affairs
For example, a recent push by the city to secure the Miracle Mile South
HPOZ failed because a procedural deadline was missed by over seven years.
Other times, neighbors just don't agree.
"We brought up the zone once, at a town hall meeting two years ago," said
Sesiah Lane, who lives in Atwater Village, known for its colonial and
Spanish Revival homes and fantasy bungalows with miniature turrets and
cupolas. "There was a lot of negative feelings. People think we will be
telling them what color to paint their homes."
But more than educating homeowners about what's required from an HPOZ,
residents say that raising their neighbors' appreciation for history
remains their biggest challenge.
"L.A.'s idea of historic preservation is moving six or seven old mansions
to Heritage Square where you plunk down your $5 to see them lined up on a
fake street," said Barron, who is the seventh owner of a Victorian home
built in 1896. "Los Angeles has always prized the new as opposed to the
old. Bright and shiny has always won over any patina. Look what they did
to Bunker Hill."
Help With an HPOZ
For help in securing an HPOZ, phone the Los Angeles Conservancy, which
helps residents conduct surveys and package their findings. (213)
GRAPHIC: Photo, COLOR, Neighborhood activist Denise Robb, who lives in the
Miracle Mile district, formed the Miracle Mile Action Committee in 1989 to
establish an HPOZ there. STEVE DYKES / Los Angeles Times; Photo, COLOR,
Charlie Fisher, left, and Richard Barron lead effort in Highland Park.
LUIS SINCO / For The Times