South Bronson in Wilshire Park Designated Historic District in National Register

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1915: The Waldo family, waving goodbye to their daughter as she leaves on her honeymoon from 658 S. Bronson Ave. The marriage didn’t work out so well – it ended a couple years later. (LAPL Photo Archive)

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.

658 S. Bronson as it looked in a sales photo at the turn of the century. The home has been refurbished and looks much the same today.
658 S. Bronson as it looked in a sales photo from the early 1900’s. The home has been restored and looks much the same today.

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.

An ad describes the area, and shows
A 1905 ad describes the development.

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.

894 Bronson
894 S Bronson is a beautiful example of a Frank M. Tyler Spanish/Moorish interpretation.

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. 

844 S. Bronson was formerly a house of ill repute, owned by madame Dolores Gunn, prominent in LA politics and well known for her attempts to legalize prostitution and by running for mayor in 1943 on that platform. It was moved to its current location in the 1950s and rehabilitated.
844 S. Bronson was formerly a house of ill repute, owned by madame Dolores Gunn, prominent in LA politics and well known for her attempts to legalize prostitution and by running for mayor in 1943 on that platform. It was moved to its current location in the 1950s and rehabilitated.

 

The elegant dark wood, gabled Craftsman at 658 S Bronson Ave. as it looks today. It is an example of the Craftsman style built in 1913 and has already been designated Historic-Cultural Monument #803 by the City of Los Angeles.
The elegant dark wood, gabled Craftsman at 658 S Bronson Ave. as it looks today. It is an example of the Craftsman style built in 1913 and is designated Historic-Cultural Monument #803 by the City of Los Angeles.
820 S. Bronson was built by a hardwood wholesaler - the interiors are beautiful. It was also home (in the 1930s) to the 1920s police chief Davis - a very controversial character.
820 S. Bronson was built by a hardwood wholesaler – the interiors are beautiful. It was also home (in the 1930s) to the 1920s police chief Davis – a very controversial character.
729 is another example of a move-on - moved here in 1925 from 539 Western. It's an older style than the rest of the block - Transitional Arts and Crafts - and may be pre-1910 - the original building permit is gone, replaced by the permits for the current structure. Could be the oldest house in Boulevard Heights.
729 S Bronson  is an example of a home that was moved here in 1925 from 539 Western Ave. It is an older style than the rest of the block – Transitional Arts and Crafts – and may be pre-1910 (the building permit is lost.) This could be the oldest house in Boulevard Heights.

 

 

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About Julie Grist

Julie co-founded the Larchmont Buzz with fellow buzzer Mary Hawley in 2011 and served as Editor, Publisher and writer for the hive for many years until the sale of the Buzz in August 2015. She is still circling the hive as an occasional writer.

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