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Friday, October 30, 2009

It's the end of the line for Taylor Yard

The last remaining major repair shops and sheds at Taylor Yard, the once bustling freight train yard that sprawled along the Los Angeles River near Cypress Park, have been turned into piles of rusting metal scrap. In the last few months, nearby residents - and those farther away in the hills of Mt. Washington and Silver Lake, have watched crews demolish and dismantle the large maintenance sheds at the historic rail facility. But Union Pacific did not consider any of the buildings at Taylor Yards historic.

Railroad spokeswoman Lupe Valdez said the buildings at Taylor Yard, which has not been used in many years, were torn down to lessen the need for 24-hour security at the 42-acre property. City and state officials have talked for years about buying the former Southern Pacific yard for parkland - the new Rio de Los Angeles State Park was once railroad property - but budget problems have stalled that proposal. "We would love to sell it," Valdez said of the property. "That's what our hope is."

Angelino Heights resident and railroad enthusiast Kevin Kuzma has been watching and photographing the demolition of one of the reminders of the city's industrial past. He has written a story about the yard's history and significance:

By Kevin Kuzma

Demolition is nearly complete on a pair of Elysian Valley’s largest landmarks. Crews are making quick work of the massive metal buildings built to service the locomotives that once assembled and led Southern Pacific freight trains in and out of Taylor Yard.

The taller Back Shop building is the older of the two. Built in the early 1930s (along with the long-gone Taylor roundhouse), this building once housed a full service repair shop where heavy repairs could be performed on the era’s steam locomotives, including Southern Pacific’s distinctive - cab-forward - locomotives designed to haul trains over the steep grades of Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The more sprawling diesel shop complex was built in 1949 and was considered the finest such facility in the world at the time.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Eagle Rock history in pictures

If you got a question about Eagle Rock history, Eric Warren, president of the Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society, is the person who probably has the answer or can help track it down. Warren has turned his interest in the neighborhood into a pictorial history of Eagle Rock, which will be available for sale at the end of November at local stores. The book features more than 200 photographs and maps. Warren will be available to sign the book at events at the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts on Nov. 29, Read books in Eagle Rock on December 5 and other locations.

Photo from Arcadia Press

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Eastside Property: September home sales & agents debate the first-time buyer credit

The northern part of Silver Lake and the Mt. Washington area were some of the few communities across Southern California to show an increase in the median sales price* in September, DataQuick and the LA Times*. What's going to happen to the market if that first-time home buyer tax credit expires?


Here's what Cheryl Johnson and other agents at Bob Taylor Properties say on the matter:

Cheryl Johnson: "Right now, our office is busy with several buyers, but I think it is a convergence of several factors: Home prices have finally moved down into a more affordable range for more people; interest rates are low (even though the loan qualifications are tighter!); and the media has stirred up a lot of interest in bank-owned foreclosed homes as "hot deals". The first time home buyer tax credit has been an added inventive on top of all that, but in most cases I don't think the tax credit alone is the driving factor."

Griff Lares (works with a lot of first time buyers): "Well, every buyer I'm working with wants that credit. Those who know they won't qualify in time are now holding off from doing anything, not even looking at homes. Others are petitioning their Senators to try and pressure the President to extend the credit."

Dan Jordinelli: "Personally I think there are many first time buyers out there who have been completely unaware of the tax credit. The new buyers I'm working with are more interested in finding the right home and less interested in the credit for closing by the end of November. It will probably shuffle itself back once the time frame has ended and the buyers will still be out there looking for that perfect deal."

Joe Elizondo: "Given the low interest rates, I am not certain losing the credit will have a negative effect. If the Fed is concerned about the deficit or inflation and starts raising rates that will affect the market. If congress increases the credit to everyone not just first time buyers, we will see a boom."

Patricia Barr: "The first time buyers credit is an extra bonus - there is an article in today's NYTimes about folks who are filing and not qualified - the congressional hearing was Wed to extend. Just think we could buy a house in Detroit that costs $6,000 and make $2,000 from the credit. Honestly it's not the sole motivation - in our area most buyers are at or above the 75,000 income limit just to qualify."

* The chart shows the change in the median sales price from September 2009 from September 2008. Only single-family homes are included.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An Eagle Rock home that rises above the rest

Hill Drive has long reigned as Eagle Rock's premier residential street, with giant homes sprawling over gently rolling lots. But one home has long loomed over the others: the Bekins-Lane mansion. The home, built in 1927 by the founder of the Bekins moving company, sits atop 3-1/2 acres of gardens and is said to be Eagle Rock's largest home. Many residents who may have wondered what it's like behind the estate gates will get a chance to find out tonight when the current owners will present the story and photos of the French Chateau-style home during a meeting of the Eagle Rock Historical Valley Society.

Martin Bekins built the house to spend his retirement years with his wife, said historical society president Eric Warren. But Bekins lived in the house only a few years before passing away in 1933. The house was then sold to oil industry executive Willfred "Bill" Lane. In 1965, Emanuel and Maria Kvassay, immigrants from Eastern Europe, purchased the property, and the house remains in their family. One of the Kvassays' sons, Robert, began restoring the property in recent years, including some large green houses and other buildings on the estate he has named "Chateau Emanuel." "He's done a tremendous job," said Warren.

Warren, who grew up a few blocks from the estate, said the home has remained a mystery to many residents. But he recalls childhood visits to the house during Halloween, when the previous owners would offer up ice cream to neighborhood kids. "We would head there as the climax of our trick-or-treeting experience," Warren said. "It was a pretty good deal."

Tonight's free presentation will be held at the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts at 7 pm.

Photo by A.H. Varble/Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society

Saturday, October 17, 2009

They left their mark on Echo Park & Silver Lake

Contractors, like artists, like to sign their work. That's what photographer Roy Randall discovered on his walks through Echo Park and Silver Lake, where concrete streets, sidewalks, stairways and curbs are littered with the stamps of contractors who helped build the city decades ago.

The stamps can be found across the city but it seems as if the practice is not followed as much by today's contractors. Randall, who goes by the Flickr alias Roy Ubu not only took pictures of many of the stamps - pictured here in a gallery -from the 1920s and 1930s - but also located them on a map, along with photos of stairways and other sites. He also included some images of more recent and personal imprints left by residents. Randall explains his interest:

"I do a lot of walking about Silver Lake, Echo Park and adjacent. If you look down as you walk, you'll see these imprints all over the sidewalks and streets. I assume they mostly date from the original paving of these areas. They date these areas as being developed in the twenties and thirties which jives with what little I know about the neighborhoods. I just decided to spend a day shooting things under my feet.

I only shot ones that have dates on them, but there are hundreds more without dates. Most of them have the contractor's logo facing both directions and also many "Inspected by" and some City Inspector's name. There are also more recent stamps on patches done by Southern California Gas and PacBell."

Photo by Roy Randall/Flickr

Friday, October 16, 2009

Echo Park condo living comes to busy Sunset Boulevard

There's a bus stop outside the front door. The back entrance is not that inviting either, with a narrow alley running past abandoned furniture and abandoned-looking houses. But in the middle of this noisy and somewhat chaotic section of Echo Park rises a serene and orderly cluster of buildings clad in carefully selected designer colors, corrugated metal and concrete block: The Sunset Five. It's Echo Park's newest condo project that recently went on the market. How much will it cost you to live on Sunset Boulevard with views of the Hollywood sign in the distance and Little Joy Jr. across the street?

Prices in the five-unit complex at Sunset Boulevard and Portia Street range from $495,000 to $645,000, according to the listing. The project, designed by Chasen Architecture of Santa Monica, features open plan units with up to 1,700-square feet of space on as many as three levels.

The Sunset Five along with a loft-style apartment building a few blocks east near Sunset and Alvarado will test the demand for high-priced housing on Echo Park's busy main streets.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A new vision for Alvarado & Sunset

If you are looking for a peaceful and tranquil place to live, then the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Alvarado Street in Echo Park is probably not the place for you. Developer Clyde Wood readily concedes that anyone seeking suburban peace and quiet should probably head for Calabasas and not the 20-unit apartment complex he is building steps away from the intersection. Still, who is going to pay $1,400 a month to live in a studio apartment near what one blogger described as "an intersection of drugs, homelessness, and 24-hour despair"?
Wood, one of the partners in Rock Ridge Investment Group, said that tenants interested in the yet-to-be-named project at 1030 Alvarado are not going to be afraid of urban living. The two-building complex, which is scheduled to open in the Spring of next year, is the first along Alvarado in Echo Park to take advantage of zoning laws that allow for bigger and more dense development that combine a mix of housing and commercial uses along busy streets. In this case, the Rock Ridge project includes ground floor stores under 20 apartments that can also be used as office or other types of commercial space.

"We wanted a more dense, more urban project," said Wood. "We think it's more appropriate for the site."

Wood assumes that many of the larger, two-story units - some measuring as much 2,000-square-feet - in the front building along Alvarado will be partly used as office space. The smaller studio apartments located in the back building away from traffic noise will be more conducive for residential living, he said.

Apartment rents have not been determined (the project website is still under construction). But Wood said monthly rents for the smaller, studio apartments - which measure about 500 square feet - should range from $1,200 to $1,400.

If the tenants need a break from the harsh surroundings, they can head for a rooftop deck with fire pit, barbecue and outdoor seating. It will be a safe place to view the intersection of despair - from a distance.

Top image from Rock Ridge Investment Group

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The changing of the guard at the Libby House

Back in May, The Eastsider published a story about longtime Angelino Heights resident and community leader Peggy Levine, who lost the landmark Victorian home she spent 30 years restoring as part of a foreclosure. On Thursday night, the new owner of Levine's former home, known as the Libby House, met many of her new neighbors for the first time. Retired teacher Roberta Kirkhart appeared before a meeting of the board that oversees the Angelino Heights historic district. Kirkhart, who came with samples of the shingles and copper gutter she wants to install on the 122-year-old home, lives a few blocks away in Echo Park on Grafton Street. "I was just thrilled," she said of her purchase of the East Edgeware Road house. "These homes don't turn over very much."

Levine remains a member of the Angelino Heights preservation board, but she did not attend Thursday night's meeting. So, the past and current owner of the Libby house did not meet. But, Kirkhart asked the board members to pass along a message to Levine: "She will always be welcomed."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Will the home of Billy's Gangplank become Echo Park's next historic landmark?

The city's Cultural Heritage Commission voted today to consider declaring the home of art dealer Billy Shire a historic cultural landmark. Shire's hard to miss home -which he once described as having "a tiki-nautical thing going on" - is already an unofficial neighborhood landmark in the Elysian Heights section of Echo Park. The front of the attention getting home is entered through a front-porch structure, dubbed "Billy's Gangplank," that was created and built by his brother and neighbor, sculptor Peter Shire. The Shires consider Billy's Gangplank a work of art but city inspectors have expressed a different view on the matter.

The city's Building & Safety Department has viewed the porch as an illegally permitted structure, according to a story The Eastsider published in March. In addition to Billy Shire's home on Vista Gordo, the Cultural Heritage Commission also agreed to consider a landmark nomination for the mid-century home designed by their father, Henry Shire, on nearby Princeton Street.

The commission also agreed to review an monument application for a third Echo Park area home (this one, however, was not connected by the Shires) on Mayberry Street.

The Highland Park house of your dreams just sold for $50,000 over its asking price

Many Highland Park residents, including the blogger at 90042, have watched the transformation of a worn out bungalow at the corner of Avenue 61 and Piedmont Avenue into a "Highland Park Dream Home." After 3-1/2 month renovation, the owners of the 1921 bungalow put the house on the market for $399,000 in a real estate flip (The house sold for $175,000 in June, according to Trulia.) Five bids were submitted by the end of Monday for the three-bedroom house. By Wednesday, the owners had accepted an offer of more than $450,000, said real estate agent and Highland Park resident Rob Hanson, who advised the owners on the renovation as an unpaid "flip consultant."

There is a solid back up offer in the wings, said Hanson. "I'm stilll getting several phone calls a day on it."

Photo from Rob Hanson