If you enjoy neighborhood history, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the Historic Los Angeles blog, which presents detailed information about the individual homes in several historic L.A. neighborhoods. They include Wilshire Boulevard (when it was more residential than commercial), Berkeley Square, Windsor Square, Fremont Place, St. James Park and Westmoreland Place. The blog’s author, Duncan Maginnis, recently announced on his Facebook page that he has now finished cataloging all 289 homes in the three original Windsor Square tracts – covering the area from Wilshire Blvd. to Third St., and Arden Blvd. to Irving Blvd. – so we thought it would be a good time to find out more about Maginnis and his painstakingly detailed work.
The first – and one of the most surprising – things we learned is that despite his deep interest in local history, Maginnis is a New York resident, not an Angeleno. “I don’t live in Los Angeles and never have, not even in California,” he told the Buzz yesterday. “I grew up in New Orleans and moved to NY in 1978, and from then until the early ’90s was an editor at House & Garden.”
But Maginnis said his interest in Los Angeles homes still comes naturally. “I’ve always been interested in architecture–especially domestic architecture–and urban history,” he said. “The development of LA is probably the most fascinating of any city in the world, considering the speed and the space and the whole idea of “Manifest Destiny.””
Maginnis said his interest was further piqued when he read Reyner Banham’s classic, “Los Angeles: Architecture of Four Ecologies” in 1971. That book, he said, “prompted me to write an article called “On Foot in a Four-Wheel City” that appeared in the Baton Rouge paper a year or two later.” Since then, he says, “I’ve been to California at least twice a year, always making time for LA and the neighborhoods I am covering now, perhaps especially Windsor Square.”
According to Maginnis, “My online projects started with Berkeley Square about 7 years ago–even Angeleno friends had never heard of it. The idea spread to St. James Park and then to Wilshire Boulevard, which few seem to know was once residential. Windsor Square came about similarly, but with 289 houses in the original tracts, I decided to go with a “bullet-point’ presentation.”
So how does he do such complete surveys of places so far from his physical proximity?
“All of my sources are online,” says Maginnis. “The LA Times and Herald, period architecture and building trade journals, etc.” He said the recent availability of historic permit information from the L.A. Department of Building and Safety has also been a big help. “I went back to my earlier sites to include this information in each post once it became available more easily than going into an actual basement.”
In addition to the information about each house in the areas Maginnis blogs about, pictures – both historic and current – are a big part of his online presentation. “I do a stylized illustration for each house based on my own or friends’ or online photographs, using simple computer programming to give the pages a certain “feel,” he said. “To be honest, they please me, which is what the project was always about.”
Maginnis said it took him six to eight months to complete the survey of Windsor Square’s original 289 homes, and he’s currently thinking about whether to continue on to the “New Windsor Square” and “Windsor Heights” tracts, which cover the part of present-day Windsor Square that lies between Larchmont and Arden Blvds., from Third St. to what is now Beverly Blvd.
But even when a section of his blog is “done,” he said, that doesn’t mean it’s forever carved in stone.
“As for “completeness”– I consider the cataloging of [the original] Windsor Square done,” he said. “And all but possibly one elusive house of Wilshire Boulevard. Berkeley Square and Fremont Place are also fully surveyed. Westmoreland Place and St. James Park are tougher to crack.” But, he said, “I update all of the sites any time I come across new information or corrections–there are always corrections–so they will all more or less always be “unfinished.”
Which means that if you’re interested in the history of these local areas, be sure to check back every now and then for new information.