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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sixth Street Bridge report fails history test

A preliminary review of proposals to rebuild the Sixth Street Bridge between Boyle Heights and downtown Los Angeles fails to take into consideration the bridge's historic and landmark status. That's the thrust of a letter that the city's Cultural Heritage Commission will consider sending in response to a draft environmental impact review of proposals to replace the crumbling span over the Los Angeles River.

For one thing, the executive summary in the environmental report never mentions that the bridge is a city historic cultural landmark. The draft environmental report also failed to evaluate alternatives that would protect the bridge's landmark status and features.

"As one of the most iconic and recognized bridges in Los Angeles, the 6th Street Bridge demands utmost care and dedication in developing a seismic improvement project that will ensure its continued legacy as a beloved landmark. The Cultural Heritage Commission trusts that these comments will be pertinent in addressing the concerns and issues regarding the potential loss of the 6th Street Bridge," said a portion of the commission letter.

Preservationists have been upset since engineers have presented plans to demolish the historic span and replace it with a new design. The commission's response ot the Sixth Street Bridget draft EIR will be taken up a meeting on Thursday.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Boyle Heights as remembered by Julius Shulman

Photographer Julius Shulman, who died last week at age 96, will long be remembered for his photographs of mid-century Los Angeles homes and architecture that looked to the future. But Shulman grew up in Old World Boyle Heights during the 1920s after his family left behind the East Coast to open up a small store.

Ron Fields at the Jewish Journal recounts a 2007 visit he and Shulman took to the photographer's old haunts in Boyle Heights, including the Breed Street Shul and Hollenbeck Park. Shulman, in an earlier interview archived at the Smithsonian, recalls life on what is now Cesar Chavez Avenue:

“We had integration of ethnic groups,” he said in that interview. “I wrote about how on Brooklyn Avenue you would see gypsies with their multilayered skirts with large families with numerous children coming into the stores. There were also Japanese, Mexicans, Germans, Russians. Many ‘white’ Russians [refugees from the revolution of 1917] lived down in the East First Street area, near the L.A. River west of Boyle Avenue.”

Shulman took his first and apparently only photography class at Roosevelt High School.

Photo from the Jewish Journal website.

Monday, July 20, 2009

House Hunting: High prices are not scaring buyers away from north Silver Lake

The Eastsider kicks off a monthly look at homes sales and prices. The figures above for June 2009 are collected from DataQuick and presented in a zip code format by the Los Angeles Times. The chart tracks completed sales of detached homes (not condominiums) and the change in the median sales price.

The most expensive neighborhoods in Silver Lake (90039) were the only ones to show an increase in price compared to June of last year. In fact, bidding wars are breaking out over homes in choice Silver Lake neighborhoods, including one Brier Avenue property that received five offers before the first open house.
* * *
Real estate agents Dan Ortega and Matt Morgus provide some observations about conditions in Silver Lake and other nearby neighborhoods this month. While foreclosures are dragging down prices in Silver Lake and Echo Park neighborhoods south of Sunset Boulevard closer to the 101 Freeway, it's a different story on the north end of Silver Lake. Here, young families are targeting houses near the well regarded Ivanhoe Elementary School. "They will pay extra money to have the option to send their kids there," said Morgus.

Buyers who were once priced out of Silver Lake are pouncing on bargain properties in 90039, including a $399,000 Brier Avenue house (pictured) that held its first open house on Sunday. The house, which was rehabbed, is only about 1,000 square feet and sits on a small lot. But it's within walking distance to stores and restaurants on Glendale Boulevard, including Gingergrass and Silver Lake Wine Company, as well as the soon-to-open Silver Lake library. "People were making offers and had not even seen the inside," said Ortega.

House Pick* : Morgus recommended a foreclosure in Eagle Rock, a three bedroom, two-bathroom Craftsman-style house with a pool on a 7,500-square-foot lot north of Colorado. The house, 5233 Like Oak Avenue, is priced at $399,000.

Related story:
* Southern California median home price surges in June. LA Times

* Neither agent or their companies are involved in the sale of the property.

Photo from themls.com

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rebuilding the fence the Bratts built

Droves of architecture and design fans drove up narrow Lemoyne Street a few weeks ago to tour the new Echo Park house of artist Jonathan Williams and writer Kim Pesenti. What they found was a home of simple forms and clean lines, reflecting the couple's desire for a modest residence that was far from flashy. But, in their front yard, stands a hard-to-miss monument of sorts to the previous owners, the Bratts, who apparently had no problem attracting attention. The Bratt property was known for an approximately 100-foot long, teal-green fence that was something of a neighborhood landmark. It was punctured with holes filled with pieces of stained glass and wood shutters and decorated with kitschy shields of armor, butterflies and a lady bug with the greeting "Come on in."

"Right away the question was, 'Should we keep the fence?" said Williams after the couple purchased the property in late 2004. The immediate answer was "yes."

The fence was built by the previous owners Ben and Gerlinde Bratt, who had lived on the large hillside property since 1967 before Williams and Pesenti purchased it. The fence was part of a whimsical world the Bratts had created on their hillside, complete with narrow paths and patios decorated with driftwood and countless other odds and ends. The paths and clearings were given names that appeared on plaques. A few weeks after purchasing the property, Williams and Pesenti were married in the backyard on Concord Street.

"They lived a very magical life," Williams said of the Bratts. "The fence obviously was part of it."

* * *

While the new owners loved the fence, as did their architect, Rachel Allen, there were issues. Williams was not too crazy about living behind such a big barrier, which towered eight-feet in some spots and lacked any openings in one large section. "I moved here because of the sense of community," said Williams, who has lived in Angeleno Heights and Echo Park for about 20 years.

Many sections of the fence had also rotted away and needed to be replaced. Then there was the color: teal green. "It was an awful color," said Williams. A few months after the couple purchased the house, Williams arrived to discover that all but one of the stained glass windows in the fence were missing "I think people who loved the fence have [bits of it] in their homes."

The need to find new stained glass and replace sections of the rotting fence "gave me an opportunity to remake it myself," said Williams, an artist.

Williams replaced the solid section of the wall north of the front gate with a new structure he designed to have the same rhythm of openings, vertical slats and solid surfaces as the south side. On the other side of the front gate, he managed to retain a small section of the original wall that had not rotted away but lowered the whole structure about two-feet to make it less imposing from the street. The whole fence was painted a muted sage green.

The fence's home-made look seems at odds with the new house's clean lines and mid-century flair. But Williams sees similarities between his new home and the old fence. "It fits perfectly with the idea of the house design: to be warm ... and a home that works for our family and not a show piece."

Since moving into the house last November, Williams enjoys watching the sun poke through the stained glass and emerge on the other side. "I get nods and waves from people on the street. People seem to appreciate that we kept the fence."

He does not know if the Bratt family has seen the fence since it's been remade (Ben Bratt had died by the time Williams and Pesenti had purchased the property). Along with a small section of the original, the fence still contains a piece of stained glass that was left behind and patches of the old teal paint are still visible. The Bratts probably would have enjoyed that.

Bottom photo by Jonathan Williams.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The birthplace of Hollywood goes unnoticed at the end of an Echo Park offramp

The southbound drivers who descend down the 2 Freeway where it melds into Glendale Boulevard are greeted with a weed filled lot and the shell of an abandoned building. It's not pretty but this is the birthplace of the Hollywood movie industry. Really. One hundred years ago this summer, Chicago-based Selig-Polyscope came to this spot in a community then known as Edendale and began churning out silent pictures in the region's first permanent movie studio. Other early filmmakers, such as Mack Sennett, also set up shop along what is now the border of Echo Park and Silver Lake. But don't go looking for any monuments or signs marking this homely historic spot There is none, and the site of the Selig-Polyscope seems destined to be forgotten.

The most recent effort to build a monument near where the Mission-style facade of the Selig-Polyscope studio once rose came from a developer who planned to build condos on the lot, said film historian Marc Wanamaker. But the real estate bust snuffed out that project and the developer was never heard from again.

"It was sad," said Wanamaker, who has long dreamed of a Selig-Polyscope monument. "I had my hopes up."

It's not like Hollywood has not completely forgotten about the Selig-Polyscope studio, which later served as the home for William Fox, Garson and other studios. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is marking the centennial of Los Angeles film studios with an exhibit in Hollywood. Hollywood Heritage is also planning an event for October and the Echo Park Historical Society (I'm a board member) will screen silent films later this month to honor the 100th anniversary of the first Edendale studio. But with the exception of Wanamaker and a few others, no one has expressed much of interest in placing a monument sign near 1845 Allesandro Street (now Glendale Boulevard), where film pioneer Col. William Selig established his West Coast outpost. Writer Allan Ellenberger in his Hollywoodland blog describes the city's first movie studio lot:

"Edendale soon became Selig-Polyscope’s headquarters. Selig sparred no expense in fitting up the permanent studio. The company built the exterior, which faced Allessandro (Glendale) Street, to represent an old Spanish mission and used genuine adobe. In the interior was sunk an enormous water tank. The studio itself, composed entirely of glass, was the second largest of its kind in the world at the time. It contained stages, dressing rooms, offices, and a modestly sized film laboratory. The total cost of the studio renovations was estimated to be a quarter-million dollars."

In October 1911, the Selig lot was the site of another historic Los Angeles event, the movie industry's first celebrity murder. The shooting death of director Francis Boggs by a studio worker came one day after the first film was shot in a community to the west called Hollywood, notes Ellenberger.

"Sadly, the site of the former Selig-Polyscope studios is now an empty lot in a mostly industrial area," writes Ellenberger. "The community that surrounds the spot and the people who pass by are most likely unaware of the historical significance of the site."

Many residents may recall seeing a small obelisk standing on the former Selig-Polyscope lot when it was the site of a printing company. That was indeed a monument to an Edendale film maker but not Selig-Polyscope. That monument was a misplaced tribute to a Sennett, whose studio, a city landmark, was actually located a few blocks further south on Glendale Boulevard (see related story).

Wanamaker and Hollywood Heritage still hold out hope that one day a Selig-Polyscope monument of some kind will be installed near the lot. At this point, Wanamaker would be happy with just some plaque embedded in the sidewalk. But, with the fate of the property up in the air and a freeway project in the works, it's not certain when or if the studio site will ever be recognized.

"It's a wait-and-see thing to see when the property is more stable," said Wanamaker. "But we are committed to doing something. One day."

Bottom images from AlanEllenberger.com

The story of a misplaced silent movie monument

For about 40 years a short obelisk with a plaque dedicated to silent film pioneer Mack Sennett sat near the southern tip of the 2 Freeway. It proclaimed that this spot on the border of Echo Park and Silver Lake was the birthplace of motion picture comedy. The funny thing, it turns out, is that spot never had anything to do with Sennett or his comedy-making machine.

The weed-filled lot where the Sennett monument once stood was the site of the Selig-Polyscope, the city's first permanent movie studio. Sennett, whose films features stars like Charlie Chaplin and the Keystone Cops, operated his own studio a few blocks further south on Glendale Boulevard in a community then known as Edendale. Sennett's concrete studio building, which now houses a Public Storage facility, is still there and has been declared a city cultural historic landmark. So, how did that monument to Sennett end up in the wrong place?

For a few years, at least, that monument did sit in the right place at 1712 Glendale Boulevard, explains Hollywood film historian Marc Wanamker. It was installed on the grounds of the former Sennett studio in 1954 when the television show "This Is Your Life" produced a program on the filmmaker. But about 10 years later, the property, occupied by a moving and storage company, changed hands, and the owners looked for a new home for the monument, said Wanamaker. They found one, up the street, on the former site of the Selig-Polyscope studio, which was then occupied by a printing company. The printing company owner agreed to place the obelisk in a garden in front of his building. And that's where it sat until about two years ago when those buildings were demolished to make way for a failed condo development. "I have always been telling people it was in the wrong place," Wanamaker said.

Wanamaker said a member of Hollywood Heritage was able to rescue the plaque, which is being stored at the group's museum in Hollywood. The plan is to return the plaque to the place where the Sennett studio actually stood, Wanamaker said.

Photos by Dateline-City of Angeles

Monday, July 13, 2009

What to do after the "Stucco Bird" has left its mark on your neighborhood

The sight of a laborer carrying rolls of chicken wire and black tar paper and sacks of stucco mix down the street sends many a preservationist into depression. Why? It's a likely sign that a neighbor is going to have their wood shingled bungalow slathered in a coat of stucco. Many lovers of wood-sized homes have watched helplessly as what one Highland Park preservationist called "The Stucco Bird" has dropped a load of pastel-colored sand and Portland cement on another wood-sided house.

A renter living in an old house near downtown Los Angeles recently asked Curbed LA for advice on how to talk the landlord out of possibly "stuccoing" the shingled house. Local historical groups, like the Echo Park Historical Society (I'm a board member) and Highland Park Heritage Trust, have over the years distributed "Don't Stucco" brochures. But unless the house is located in a historic preservation zone, such as those in Angeleno Heights or Highland Park, there is not much a stucco fighter can do.

However, as the video of a Highland Park "de-stuccoing shows, there is a way to undo the damage the Stucco Bird has left behind.

Monday, July 6, 2009

So, these are corbels

The extensive renovation of the landmark Jensen's Recreation Center in Echo Park involves projects big and small, from the installation of new steel columns for seismic strengthening to the recreation of decorative brackets called corbels. The original brackets located in the corners of the windows were handmade out of heavy terra cotta and hung from a wire set into the mortar, said project manager Gerret Wikoff from CTL Construction.

Seven of the brackets were missing from the 1921 building and had to be recreated. How? In this case, a cast was made from an original corbel and the duplicates were made out of light weight compounds. As a result, the replacements can be attached to those corners with only a mixture of mortar. But why even bother replacing these brackets in the first place? Well, details are important, said Wikoff, who is also replacing the glass tile windows above the store fronts.

"The owners are trying to bring it back to its original glory."

Photo from Historic Echo Park