In what seems like a city-wide race to protect historic neighborhoods threatened with destruction by developers (who have been more greately enabled by the City’s new Transit Oriented Communities and Transit Neighborhood Plans), residents of Wilshire Vista are hoping to get part of their neighborhood designated a historic district just like Beverly Fairfax.
Residents Barbara Kroll and Ruth Scribner are hoping to protect the 113 multifamily properties in the northwest corner of Wilshire Vista, on Orange Grove Avenue, Ogden Drive and Genesee Avenue, by having them designated a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. This part of Wilshire Vista contains a unique district of multifamily homes adjacent to single family homes, built between 1927-1950 and most of which (96 percent) are still in their original condition. Like Beverly Fairfax, the district was determined historically significant by SurveyLA and was named the Orange Grove Avenue-Ogden Drive-Genesee Avenue Multi-Family Residential Historic District.
“These properties are occupied by residents who have lived here for many years; in some cases, for several generations,” explained Barbara Kroll, adding that one building has been owned by the same family since 1932.
“This is a very diverse community too,” explained Walter Dominguez, a resident of South Carthay who is helping with the preservation effort. “This was one of the first neighborhoods where upwardly mobile African Americans were able to buy property.
In fact, the preservation effort got started when Ruth Scribner, a nearby neighbor living in a single family home and who walks her dog every day in the neighborhood, noticed that two duplexes were vacant and slated for demolition. One, 1080-82 South Genesee was built in 1933 and was once owned by music legend Smokey Robinson, who bought it for his mistress and his son, according to Scribner. The other was next door at 1074 South Genesee, and had been converted to a fourplex sometime during the 1940s. Both were recently designated Historic Cultural Monuments and now cannot be demolished without extensive review.
In the process of saving the two buildings, Kroll and Scribner organized their neighbors to support the HCM applications and realized there was a lot of interest in saving more of the neighborhood’s historic architecture.
Kroll told the Buzz that their campaign to save the properties generated more than 100 impassioned emails from renters and owners who strongly supported preservation of the neighborhood. They also realized there were likely to be more buildings targeted for development, having seen a five-story building rise one block away on Spaulding Drive where a single family home once stood. But they couldn’t save each threatened building with an HCM application, so they began to explore other preservation options. They also decided to focus their efforts on the protecting the northwest corner of Wilshire Vista, because those three blocks were specifically identified in SurveyLA as particularly significant and still intact. Also, the buildings’ R-3 zoning made them an obvious target for development (more so than the adjacent R-1 single family homes).
Once they learned about the Beverly Fairfax effort, they decided a National Register designation would be the best way to protect all the properties. Like the residents of Beverly Fairfax, Scribner and Kroll realized that applying for HPOZ status would take many years and surely be too late for these buildings and the neighborhood, so they have opted to pursue the National Historic Register designation.
Along with Jane Galbraith, who serves as co-chair with Barbara Kroll, they created a website, Save Wilshire Vista, and formed a group to educate residents and raise funds to hire Architectural Resource Group (ARG) to conduct the architectural survey of Wilshire Vista properties and prepare the application for the National Historic Register. ARG conducted SurveyLA and authored Beverly-Fairfax’s successful application to the National Register.
According to their website, the group has raised funds from 31 donors, bringing them half-way to their fund-raising goal of approximately $25,000. The group is accepting donations directly to avoid paying extra fees.
The organizers are motivated to save the cultural history of the neighborhood as well as the architecture, explained Dominguez. There are also many more renters than building owners in the neighborhood, so preserving the rent-controlled units is also a priority for the organizers who are all building owners.
“I am offended when YIMBYs (the groups pushing for more housing) say we are just older white people,” said Dominguez. “We are a multicultural neighborhood and have been that way for many years. This was a neighborhood where you could have home ownership and an income; many people have passed these buildings onto the next generation. Many of the owners are proactive homeowners who have maintained their homes, and that is why the neighborhood remains intact.”
This story was updated on August 14, 2019 to correct the location of the five story building on Spaulding Drive.