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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Got a yard but not a green thumb?

Then consider sharing your green space with a land-poor gardener. The L.A. Community Garden Council has launched a garden-sharing program, one of several mentioned in a recent LA Times story, in Eagle Rock, Mt. Washington and other nearby neighborhoods, said council president and Eagle Rock resident Mary Tokita. Homeowners, churches and other property owners with a suitable spot (the garden patch needs at least six to eight hours a day of sunlight) can visit GrowFriend.org to view a list of people interested in growing vegetables and other edible plants.

The garden council has also teamed up with the Los Angeles Conservation Corps to have LACC youths build raised garden beds on participating properties.

Photo from the LA Community Garden Council

Monday, June 29, 2009

Chinatown house makes a move(finally) to a new home in Highland Park

The Donnelly House finally made its trek last week from Chinatown to the Garvanza section of Highland Park. The move went smoothly but there was a hitch, said Nicole Possert of the Highland Park Heritage Trust. "The crane that will lift the house into the air and place it on the foundation did NOT happen because there was another snafu with crane requirements." But it looks like Donnelly House, threatened with demolition, is now in a safe place.

Photo by Charles Fisher

Old homies play tribute to history, handball and a woman named Michi

On Saturday morning, over steaming bowls of menudo served in Styrofoam bowls, the members of the Southern California Old Timers gathered within the brick walls of the Maravilla Handball Court in East Los Angeles. This group of mostly older, former prisoners and veteranos from barrios across Southern California had come here not only for their 20th Annual Menudo Breakfast. They were also here to help preserve the handball court, built in the early 1920s, and to honor its history and the memory of Michi Nishiyama and her husband, Tommy Shigeru, the Japanese-American couple who ran the place and the adjacent grocery store for decades.

The court on Mednik Avenue served as an unofficial recreation center, gathering place, gambling hall and, at times, refuge not only for members of the Maravilla Handball Club but for nearby residents and members of the Lomita Mara and other gangs.

"The attraction was the game plus the people," said Ronnie Villegas, 59, who grew up in the housing project across Mednik Avenue. "It was a safe place to come from the projects and from the police. It was a shelter. They [cops] would look in the door but wouldn't come in."

When word came down that Maravilla Handball Court might be sold, some former and current residents decided to try and save the wedge-shaped community landmark, said Amanda Perez, founder of the Maravilla Historical Society.

"It was built by homies and the community brick-by-brick."

The newly formed Maravilla Historical Society, which recently leased the shuttered court and store, has a long way to go before it raises enough money to purchase and restore the property. But Perez and others say the handball court remains one of the enduring and most visible landmarks in an area where many older buildings have been demolished over a decades long effort to revive the Maravilla section of East Los Angeles next to Monterey Park. Handball teams from other Los Angeles barrios traveled here for tournaments. "There are many good stories here," said Perez. "We want to preserve it as a landmark so our children remember our history."

But the story of the Maravilla Handball Court involved more than just the Mexican-Americans and Chicanos who slammed a hard black ball against white-washed walls for hours at a time. In this case, the building represents for many the mingling of Latino and Japanese immigrants on the Eastside. The Nishiyamas purchased the court and the adjacent market about 60 years ago, said their son, Thomas. The market was officially known as El Centro Grocery, but most everyone called it Michi's because she seemed to be behind the counter all the time. Her husband, who had lost one arm, often joined the Mexican-American players on the handball court. Michi, Tommy and their children became part of the barrio.

"It used to get crowded here - it would help business at the store," said Thomas Nishiyama, who grew up in the small house behind the market.

While the Maravilla Handball Court did have a reputation as a gang hang out, it also hosted years of community Christmas parties, soap box derbies and Las Vegas trips. But the club and market have been opened only sporadically in recent years following the death of Michi and Tommy.

"That lady was for me was an icon for this community," said Villegas, who now lives in West Covina. "Here is a Japanese lady who gave to a community that was not part of her culture. They loved her. This is our way of thanking her."

Top photo by Rick Morton

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Echo Park flippers land in escrow

In early May, house flippers Aubin Crowell and Liza Temple were standing firm on the $789,000 price tag of their Echo Park bungalow despite the lack of a single offer after a few weeks on the market. "We are going to definitely wait a few more weeks before doing anything," Temple said of the Echo Park Avenue house flip being followed by The Eastsider. At the end of May, Crowell and Temple blinked. They reduced the asking price on 1878 Echo Park Avenue to $775,000 and, soon after, a serious buyer emerged. "We generated a lot of new interest with the price cut and received an offer shortly after, " Temple said. "We are now in escrow."

If this escrow concludes in a final sale, what kind of profit will Crowell and Temple walk away from a project that began in April of last year? As they said earlier, it's hard to make a living by house-flipping alone these days. They paid about $535,000 for the Echo Park Avenue house. If their offer came in at the $775,000 asking price, they made a profit of about $240,000. But that profit will be sharply reduced once you take into account the money they poured into the extensive renovation, more than a year of mortgage payments and other costs.

Is what's left over worth the time and effort Crowell and Temple put into the project? We will see once the deal closes.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Eastside moderns

Some of the homes and apartments that were built during the most recent boom are, well, just plain feo. But an upcoming home tour of Eagle Rock, Echo Park, Glassell Park, Montecito Heights and Silver Lake features some more attractive examples of contemporary house design.

The residences featured on the June 27 Dwell on Design tour of the Los Angeles East Side (don't tell these folks about it) ranges from a Glassell Park home on 7-acres to a metal-and-wood clad Silver Lake "Work House." The house in Echo Park, which is positioned to be cooled by afternoon breezes, also gets a feature story in the LA Times.

The homes may seem out of reach for many homeowners looking for remodeling ideas. Try asking for "hand-crafted integral color concrete tiles produced in Marrakesh" at the Cypress Park Home Depot. You will also face language and concepts that only a SCI-Arc grad would love: "... the boundaries between the familiar signifiers of domesticity are contaminated by the operative functions of work." But, still, the homes on the tour are preferable to any McMansion next door.

Image from Dwell on Design

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A safe but lonely place for Victorian Los Angeles

Several grand Victorian-era homes and structures from around Los Angeles have escaped the bulldozer and found refuge inside the confines of Heritage Square Museum in Lincoln Heights. But this cluster of historic buildings in different stages of renovation do seem out of place sitting alongside the 110 Freeway in what resembles a Victorian-era theme park. The blogger at Doves Today expressed mixed feelings during a recent visit:
"It's wonderful that the [Heritage Square Museum ] 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?"
Photo from Doves Today

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Chinatown Victorian makes its move to Highland Park *

If you are planning to drive through Highland Park, don't be surprised if you see an 1870s Gothic Revival cottage in the slow lane. That would be the John A. Donnelly House, which has had its roof removed in preparation for a move from Bartlett Street in Chinatown to its new home, a lot on Avenue 64 in the Garvanza District of Highland Park. The moved was scheduled for tonight but has been postponed a week (see upate below). The house was threatened with demolition until it was rescued by preservationist Brad Chambers, reports Nicole Posert of the Highland Park Heritage Trust. Here are more details from Possert about the move and the home's history:

"The house will be coming through Highland Park along Marmion Way to Monte Vista to Piedmont to Figueroa to York Boulevard and then up to its new home on N. Avenue 64 across from the Church of the Angels.

The house has been located on Bartlett Street in Chinatown since it was moved there in 1886 on land that had been subdivided by former Los Angeles Mayor Prudent Beaudry. John A. Donnelly and his family initially leased the land from Beaudry, but then bought it in 1889.

The land in Garvanza that the house will settle on was also owned by Beaudry at the same time, until he sold it to Augustine Campbell-Johnston whose family established a ranch on the property.

The house had been sheathed in stucco since 1986 and was scheduled for demolition until it was researched for the landowner and it true rarity was determined. Arrangements were made with preservationist Brad Chambers to move the house to the Garvanza property where he moved and restored another historic Chinatown home several years ago.

In preparation for the move, Chambers had the stucco removed (pictured) and exposed the structures original siding and shingled gable. The aluminum slider windows were removed and historic windows matching the original openings were installed.

In final preparation for the move, the house was then stripped and the roof was removed so that it will be able to easily pass under electrical lines along the route. Once at its new site, the house will be lifted by a crane onto its new foundation on a small bluff at the rear of the Garvanza property.

Once reassembled and restored, the house will be nominated as a Historic Cultural Monument for the City of Los Angeles."

* Update: The house moved planned for tonight has been postponed a week, according to owner Brad Chambers. "Alas, City and Cal Trans complications have delayed the move to next Monday night. The house is on wheels now and no parking signs (currently up) will be taken down and put back next week. The mover feels pretty good about no issues for next week."

Photos by Charles Fisher

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Putting some teeth into the city's preservation laws

Many people are under the belief that Los Angeles' historic cultural monuments are protected from demolition. That's the not case. But that might change under a proposal to overhaul the city's preservation laws, which could have a big impact on old Eastside neighborhoods with many existing and potential landmark buildings and sites. The city's Planning Commission will take up the changes on Thursday. Property owners would still be allowed to demolish their building if they proved economic hardship or their appeal is approved by the full city council. Still, some owners are already complaining, according to the LA Times.

"The city is now dramatically changing the rules and, I believe, usurping major property rights," said Karen L. Hathaway, chief executive of Laaco Ltd., which owns the Los Angeles Athletic Club."

The Los Angeles Conservancy is already calling out the troops in anticipation of strong opposition from property owners.

More coverage in the Downtown News.

Photo from the City of Los Angeles website.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A foreclosure ends a Victorian dream in Angeleno Heights

The Libby House is one of those head-turning Angeleno Heights Victorian gems, painted in shades of pistachio, trimmed with frilly wood work and topped by peaked roofs and a turret. But perhaps the most prominent feature of the 122-year-old house on East Edgeware Road these days is the "For Sale" sign out front and the Sheriff's "Notice to Vacate" sign taped to a window. These are signs of not only another foreclosure but of the loss of a prominent Angeleno Heights resident and preservationist who was forced to move out of the house and neighborhood she loved and lived in for more than 30 years.

Many Angeleno Heights residents are still shocked that Peggy Levine was forced to abandon 724 E. Edgeware Road, which was sold at auction several months ago and leave the area. "I was horrified," said former Angeleno Heights resident Tracy Stone, who served with Levine on the board overseeing the neighborhood historic district. "She was a huge asset to the neighborhood and it's really sad to think about her not living in that house."

Losing a house is painful for anyone. But the loss is only magnified among the many house-and-history obsessed homeowners of Angeleno Heights who have invested so much of their time, money as well as themselves in their homes. "I think most people in the preservationn movement are house-crazy," said Stone. The homes "are inherently fragile to begin with ... you have to seek out craftspeople and special materials. It's above and beyond a normal house remodel."

Levine, who now lives outside the neighborhood, and her former husband were among the first wave of preservation minded residents to settle in Angeleno Heights about three decades ago. The couple spent years restoring the former rooming house (pictured in 1982 in the middle photo) and carriage house out back, stripping many walls down to the studs and restoring the remaining features. The home that marked the east end of Carroll Avenue was the site of countless community meetings, home tours, holiday teas as well as an outdoor concert. Levine has also served for many years on the board of the Angeleno Heights Historic Preservation Overlay Zone. But, since she is no longer a resident, Levine must eventually abandon her board seat.

Levine, unlike some preservationists, also had a deep interest in other neighborhood issues and causes beyond restoring Lincrusta wallpaper or replicating Victorian-era landscaping. Maryann Hayashi, executive director for Central City Action Committee, recalls that many Angeleno Heights residents were less than thrilled when her group, which runs a youth program and graffiti-paint out crew, moved into the restored Old Firehouse No. 6. Levine, however, was one of the exceptions. "She was one of the first to welcome the kids. She understood that we were filling a real need for the youth in our community and supported us."

Who in Angeleno Heights is going to fill Levine's void? It's not clear. Her former home, listed for sale at $879,000, went into escrow this week.

Middle photo from the California State Library via Big Orange Landmarks.