Two blocks of South Bronson Ave. in Wilshire Park have been designated the “Boulevard Heights Historic District” by the National Register thanks to the diligent efforts of resident Robby O’Donnell. O’Donnell undertook the initial research for the application, then worked with the Architectural Resources Group (ARG) for final submission of the 38 page document to the U.S. Department of the Interior. The neighborhood will celebrate the designation at a coffee this Thursday, May 29 at 9 am with Councilman Tom LaBonge.
“We decided to invite the residents to participate and donate enough to pay ARG to vet it,” O’Donnell told the Buzz. “There was huge enthusiasm from the residents, and the money was collected in a couple of weeks. We threw parties and dinners and “house birthdays” to whip up interest, and it worked. Even better than that, GWNC (Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council) matched it, so we were fully funded really fast. ” The Wilshire Park Association is very active in the neighborhood.
Representing an intact residential tract for the period 1905-1926, “Boulevard Heights” is significant both for its custom-designed architecture for the middle-class, and as an example of real estate developers betting on the annexation of the area by the City of LA as it expanded west of downtown. Due to an aggressive advertising campaign out east by the railroad companies, the growth of automobile ownership and the need for oil to supply it, as well as the emerging movie industry, Los Angeles’s land area grew by 300% in just 14 years, and tracts owned by private developers were quickly annexed into the City of Los Angeles. Boulevard Heights was one such tract.
Betting on the fact that the Mid-City area west of downtown would soon be annexed, the tract was laid out by land developers Robert McGarvin and Marcus Alonzo Bronson (for whom Bronson Ave was named) in 1905 and was indeed annexed by the City in 1908. With annexation came the support of City services such as a municipally-owned water district and streetcar services that provided public transportation to the business district.
The people who originally bought the plots and newly built homes tended to be white-collar professionals from the Midwest or the East such as doctors, accountants, stockbrokers, lawyers and auto and real estate salesman. They lived in large or extended families, and often did not have live-in help.
Architecturally, the majority of homes in the Boulevard Heights Historic District are not significant for their architecture, but represent a perfect illustration of middle-class living in the early 20th century in LA. For the most part they have front porches facing the street and giving them prominent place in the streetscape, central front doors at the end of straight concrete paths from the sidewalk, and long concrete driveways that lead to garages set behind the house in the backyard where in earlier years there would have been a barn for horse and carriages.
The tract designated that all homes had to be two stories and cost at least $3,000 “ensuring that the area would remain upscale” and also set the tone and pattern of building on the street, which is still appreciated today. The major architectural styles in the District include Craftsman, Colonial Revival, Dutch Colonial Revival, Mediterranean and Spanish Colonial Revival.
Architects who designed these homes in Wilshire Park included L.A. Smith, G Lawrence Ott, J.T. Zeller and H.J. Knauer. Five homes in the District were moved there as central LA became more commercial. Residents sold their plots in the business district to commercial enterprises, and moved their rather new custom-built homes by truck out of the business district to these new neighborhoods with more “desirable surroundings.”
New signs have been posted on the two blocks, indicating this designation. There are no financial benefits to homeowners, but there are “bragging rights” and protection from federally funded or licensed projects that would threaten the area.
Want to know more? Find the entire “Summary of Significance” on the Boulevard Heights Historic District here.
CouncilmanTom LaBonge, will host a a sign “unveiling” and casual reception at 666 S. Bronson Avenue on Thursday, May 29, at 9am, open to the public. Head on over to congratulate Wilshire Park for putting themselves on the historic map.