SurveyLA Surprises

Literally dozens of new (pocket) historic districts and individual potential landmarks in West Adams have been identified recently by SurveyLA, including many historic resources WAHA has known about for years -- and some that are surprises to us as well.

SurveyLA -- the Los Angeles Historic Resources Survey -- is Los Angeles’ first-ever comprehensive program to identify significant historic resources throughout our city. After a few test runs, the first phase of SurveyLA was launched several years ago with the goal of documenting Los Angeles’s previously unknown/unrecognized – at least, by city officials! – historic resources. Since then, SurveyLA teams have combed through the Community Plan areas of South Los Angeles, Southeast Los Angeles and West Adams- Baldwin Hills-Leimert – in other words, much of Historic West Adams – along with other parts of the city.

The initial results were published in conjunction with the work other city planners are doing to update and revise our local Community Plans. WAHA has been reviewing the 1,000-plus pages of results for South Los Angeles and West Adams-Baldwin Hills-Leimert (no, we are not finished reading!) and we were pleased with the identification of Wellington Square, Victoria Park and the remaining “orphan” sections of University Park and North University Park as meriting historic district status on the California and/or National Register level. In recent years, WAHA has worked hard to bring forward historic and cultural resources associated with important personages in our local history, and we were pleased to learn that many of the buildings we identified in our West Adams’ Landmarks of African American History were included as individual historic resources in the SurveyLA results. Homes belonging to notable African American record producer Reb Spikes, jazz musician Eric Dolphy and dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson are among the many landmarks from WAHA’s publication now included in SurveyLA.

The SurveyLA team was surprised to discover a Sephardic Jewish synagogue in Exposition Park built in 1932 by local Jews with Spanish and Portuguese roots (the building is now home to a Baptist congregation). SurveyLA has also identified Art Deco and Egyptian Revival style buildings, resources identified with Japanese-Americans, and clusters of fourplex apartment buildings in historical architectural styles.

WAHA has also noted, however, some gaps in the documentation as well as some district boundaries that seem arbitrary (in part due to the SurveyLA scope of work that EXCLUDES already-designated historic districts, be they HPOZ or National Register; as a result, nowork was done to identify individual landmark-quality buildings if they are already within a designated District boundary.) To begin the discussion and address WAHA’s initial concerns, WAHA met in late January with Ken Bernstein, manager of the Office of Historic Resources (OHR), and Janet Hansen, OHR deputy manager and the director of SurveyLA.

Among the items we discussed were historic district boundary concerns; SurveyLA’s criteria, standards and methodology, including themes and periods of significance; how SurveyLA relates to ongoing protection of historic resources (and if it does); the exclusion of Washington Boulevard from this phase of the citywide survey; and the recommendations for Arlington Heights.

WAHA learned that SurveyLA will convey some protection to the many historic resources that have been identified, but only when a discretionary project is involved. In other words, if someone wants to demolish a Victorian-era single family house and replace it with another, modern, single-family house and there are no “entitlements” such as a reduction in front yard or side yard setbacks involved, this would be considered a simple “By Right” project, and there are no protections for the historic resource and there would not be a review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). If a developer wanted to demolish an identified historic resource in order to build a project that requires a series of approvals, then CEQA applies and there are some protections built in. But SurveyLA does not officially designate anything.

Washington Boulevard will not be evaluated until the end term of SurveyLA, when the team turns its attention to industrially-zoned properties throughout the city. This is unfortunate, as WAHA pointed out, since Washington Boulevard’s “industrial” (CM, commercial manufacturing) zoning is a fluke that grew out of the 1965 Watts Riots, in an effort to create jobs; the buildings in fact reflect the boulevard’s development as a Streetcar Commercial Corridor in the 1920s and 1930s and in fact little to no commercial manufacturing ever moved into these character structures. Having the “wrong” context theme (industrial rather than streetcar commercial) doesn’t help inform the evaluation of the buildings on Washington Boulevard or, for that matter, the residential buildings nearby erected in the same time period. In any case, due to the nature of SurveyLA’s current funding structure, there may not be a way to adjust this timeframe.

WAHA’s primary current concern is Arlington Heights, the neighborhood bounded by Arlington, Pico, Crenshaw and the 10 Freeway. Established as a township in 1887, today Arlington Heights has a population of about 23,000 people, but almost all of the housing stock is 1- and 2-story detached single-family houses with their own yards. SurveyLA identified ten separate historic districts, some small, one quite large, comprising a little more than half of the parcels within the neighborhood’s boundaries. However, WAHA has been working for about a decade – ever since we started planning the “Exploring the Heights” historic homes tour in June, 2004 – to make all of Arlington Heights an HPOZ. The SurveyLA team appears to have overlooked many other Contributors to such a district, and instead recommended that Arlington Heights be a “special planning district” rather than a “historic district.”

WAHA took photos of one overlooked street, and prepared a sample to present at our meeting with OHR. We noted that of approximately 80 parcels in our sample, about 66 of the structures were either Contributors or Altered Contributors, and only 13 were downright Non-Contributors. We are hoping that this one sample will result in a re-evaluation of Arlington Heights as a whole.

Meanwhile, SurveyLA is a living, breathing document and OHR still welcomes your contributions. If you are aware of a home or other building that (especially) has a significant cultural history, please do let the team know.

You can review SurveyLA results and add your contributions at:

You may also sign up and join the conversation at: