Room to Grow?: Preserving not-yet-designated historic districts

| October 27, 2022 | 0 Comments

I was having lunch with my friend, James Dastoli, who has newly moved with his family into a historic house located in the Wilton Place National Historic District. We had originally met through a group which was looking to set up an historic district in Los Feliz. James was successfully shepherding an historic district in Miracle Mile through the state system. We were meeting to discuss his interest in furthering the creating of historic districts within Greater Wilshire. He sent me an intriguing map of identified historic districts which, if adopted by the City Council, would in total increase the number of protected historic resources by 30 percent.

This was a conversation I wanted to have. Greater Wilshire’s four Historic Preservation Overlay Zones (HPOZs) are Hancock Park, Windsor Square, Wilshire Park (which also includes the National Register Boulevard Heights Historic District) and Windsor Village. Also in Greater Wilshire is the National Register Wilton Historic District. Together, these districts account for more than 2,800 historic structures under protection in our area. If you include the 10 potential districts identified by Survey LA it would increase this number by more than 4,000.

But what and where are these “potential” historic districts identified by SurveyLA? The surveyors sought out the largest and most cohesive collections of surviving historic structures often sharing a similar development period or history, stylistic design or property type. These are the districts they identified:
• Willoughby Ave. Spanish Colonial Revival Residential Historic District
• Sycamore – Citrus North Multi-Family Residential Historic District
• Sycamore – Citrus South (Sycamore Square) Residential Historic District
• Wilshire Crest – Mullen Park (Brookside) Residential Historic District
• Fremont Place Residential Historic District
• Beachwood Drive – Plymouth Blvd. Multi-Family Residential Historic District
• Van Ness – Wilton Place Residential Historic District
• Ridgewood Place Residential Historic District
• St. Andrew’s Place Residential Historic District, and
• Gramercy Place – St. Andrew’s Place Residential Historic District.

GREEN NEIGHBORHOODS have HPOZs; red neighborhoods may be eligible.

The path to these becoming truly recognized historic districts is a difficult one. The City Attorney’s heavy-handed — and in my opinion, erroneous — interpretation of Senate Bill 330 currently is preventing the creation of any new HPOZs in Los Angeles. Originally planned for a sunset in 2025, this law has now been extended to 2030 after the signing of Senate Bill 8 last year. As I have noted in previous columns, residents and homeowners have been forced to take matters into their own hands by — independently of the city — applying for California and National Register recognition. While these do not provide the same level of protection and control, they do add a layer of review that the Office of Historic Resources is only beginning to come to grips with.

Of all of these identified districts, only Brookside has made a serious attempt at becoming an HPOZ — only to fall short and settle on the City Planning Department’s creation of zoning subzones to preserve the scale and character of the neighborhood.

Sycamore Square considered pursuing HPOZ status but ultimately dropped the idea. Both of these neighborhoods were reacting to the threat of the “McMansion” — the boxy modern houses that are oversized for their lots and out of scale with their neighbors.

The threats to the historic resources of these districts vary, but are more apparent in the districts around Wilton Place, particularly relating to the smaller historic homes as their property values have risen. The local multi-family districts also may see more pressure after the lifting of the COVID-19 eviction restrictions, particularly those parcels that are eligible for density bonuses for Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) projects.

It is a sad truth about the creation of designated historic districts that the efforts to preserve neighborhoods often are reactive, a move to protect against something, rather than proactive as a way of recognizing historic and cultural significance.

My conversations with James Dastoli got me thinking about these potential historic districts and, in future columns, I intend to explore the beauty and significance of them individually and to examine the case for why each should be preserved. But my conversations with James also got me curious as to why my friend, so new to the neighborhood, owner of an historic property, father of three, and a busy professional, would want to spend his free time looking to preserve districts where he didn’t live. His reply is the cri de coeur of many a preservationist:

“Just because we don’t actually live on a certain block, does not mean that we are not stakeholders. Anyplace that we work, shop, dine, commute through or even just walk by frequently can be considered part of our community. We can’t realistically confine our lives to our backyards, or even within HPOZ boundaries.

“You’re going to need to go out and buy groceries, and I love that I can drive through numerous historic neighborhoods on my way to Trader Joe’s… After college, I desperately needed to move somewhere where I could feel a sense of place, with the type of character that could stimulate a young artist. When I moved to Los Angeles, I got an apartment on a mostly Mid-Century block of Winona Boulevard in Los Feliz, which allowed me access to the beauty of the period revivals in Los Feliz Square.

“Good harmonious design provides value to ordinary people’s lives. The stark contrast between the clumsily slapped together Mediterranean boxes of Central Florida [from whence James had moved from] with the artfully crafted bungalow courts of Hollywood had an immediate effect on me.

“When I later moved to Miracle Mile, it was like I was taking a master class in design every time I walked down the street. Here we have neighborhoods that give residents a sense of comfort on the deepest level, regardless of income. You don’t have to be an artist to understand this in a subconscious way.

“I knew that I had to return to the Wilshire Corridor [from Glendale where he bought his first house], so over the past few years, as I was preparing to move, I researched all of the SurveyLA neighborhoods in Greater Wilshire and Mid-City West, not knowing which one I would eventually end up in. Now that I am here, I am determined not to lose the integrity of these neighborhoods.”

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Category: Real Estate

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