Last Sunday, residents gathered in the streets of North Sierra Bonita Avenue to celebrate the raising of a street sign marking the historic district of Beverly Fairfax on the National Register of Historic Places. The district, located between Beverly Blvd to the South and Melrose Ave to the North. Fairfax Ave to the West and Gardner Street to the East, was officially listed on that National Register of Historic Places in October 2018.
The National Register is the official Federal list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture. Beverly Fairfax met two of the Register’s criteria; one for the neighborhood’s architecturally significant multifamily properties built between 1927 and 1949 as identified in the City’s SurveyLA, and the other for the cultural history of Jewish residents moving from Boyle Heights and other neighborhoods where racially restricted covenants prohibited Jews from owning property.
“By 1940, at least two-thirds of the population were Jewish, many of whom were refugees and Holocaust survivors,” wrote Nora Wyman in an email to the Buzz. “By the end of the 1940s, the district was firmly established as the residential anchor of Los Angeles’ Jewish community.”
“The Beverly Fairfax area is one of the most well known Jewish communities in Los Angeles, if not the country,” said Councilmember Paul Koretz. “This neighborhood means a lot to me, even though I didn’t grow up here but my dad was a Holocaust survivor. ”
“This neighborhood should never be forgotten,” said longtime resident Fred Zaidman and building owner who grew up in the neighborhood.
“The Beverly Fairfax Historic District played a key role in the westward shift of Los Angeles’ Jewish diaspora starting in the 1920s, and proved crucial to the development of Fairfax Avenue at Beverly Boulevard as a Jewish commercial and institutional hub. Its attractive multi-family residences, lack of racially restrictive covenants, and opportunities for property ownership drew residents from older Jewish enclaves on the east side of town, and made it one of the first areas in the western suburbs to see a Jewish influx during a period of massive growth for the city. The area quickly became known among Jewish Angelenos as a desirable and attainable neighborhood on the city’s burgeoning west side. It became predominantly Jewish over the next ten years. By 1940, at least two-thirds of the population were Jewish, and by the end of the 1940s, the district was firmly established as the residential anchor of Los Angeles’ Jewish community.
By 1951, the Fairfax District was over 60% Jewish—a percentage of Jewish residents the Beverly Fairfax multi-family neighborhood had already surpassed over a decade earlier. The influx of new residents, both native-born and immigrant (many of whom were refugees and Holocaust survivors), changed the commercial as well as residential composition of the area.” — Excerpt from the application filed for Beverly Fairfax.
The efforts to preserve the district were galvanized in 2016 when longtime residents learned of a neighbor who was being kicked out of her home by developers who had purchased the two story Spanish Revival duplex. The new owners evicted her using the Ellis Act, and planned to demolish the building and replace it with four, 4-story luxury homes, explained Wyman.
A core group of residents, including Wyman, formed “Save Beverly Fairfax” to gather support from residents and building owners for an application for designation of the neighborhood to the National Register of Historic Places. Designation would require Los Angeles City review before any buildings could be demolished and new buildings would have to conform to the character of the neighborhood. The group also raised funds to hire the Architectural Resources Group to survey the neighborhood and prepare the historic report for the submission as part of the application that won the support of the City’s Office of Historic Resources, the Los Angeles Conservancy and most importantly, CD5 Councilmember Paul Koretz.
“How can they tear a building down, we have rent control?” said organizer Dale Kendall speaking to the crowd on Sunday about he got involved. “The Ellis Act was put in place to offer small owners an opportunity to get out of the rental business but now, developers are using it to evict tenants, demolish the building and build something larger.”
In his remarks, Koretz likened the struggle to save historic homes to “hand to hand combat.”
“You find a historic place and you fight and try to preserve it but this won’t happen in this neighborhood now, thanks to your efforts, it’s a miracle,” said Koretz.
“We can see around us what could have and would have happened if you had not taken this amazing action,” said Koretz, “I guarantee that if this had not been done, five years from now, a quarter or half of them would have been torn down and you would have the ugly boxes replacing them.”
Koretz said the misuse of the Ellis Act can be seen in neighborhoods across this city. He added that he was able to make a deal with one developer to collaborate with his office and focus their development efforts on commercial corridors. He thought his deal may have saved some of the properties in Beverly Fairfax that had already been identified for development, but congratulated the neighborhood for their efforts to more broadly protect affordable housing and great architecture.
The organizers decision to apply for National Historic Register designation because it was the fastest way to protect the neighborhood may prove fortuitous. National Register designation should provide stronger protection than the city’s Historic Preservation Overlay Zones (HPOZs) against state legislation like SB50 which could supersede City rules but not federal laws.
This story was updated August 13, 2019 to include additional information.