845 East Edgeware Road – map
Well, there’s not much to be seen from the road of this century-old house. It’s a shame, too, as the city reports not only is this a good example of Craftsman architecture, but it’s also reminiscent of the work of Greene and Greene.
The house – at least on this blog – doesn’t sport the name of its builder or original owner, but rather its – and Angelino Heights’ – most famous resident and one of the neighborhood’s biggest boosters, artist/author Leo Politi. Politi moved here in 1973 after living for a dozen years at 415 East Edgeware. Of course, the author’s well-known from his thirty years of living on Bunker Hill (he moved out of the neighborhood in the early sixties when his home was condemned with the rest of Bunker Hill’s buildings).
Politi in front of the Castle working on his 1964 book, Bunker Hill, Los Angeles, with nine-year-old Susan Marshall and county librarian Mary Rogers Smith. L.A. Public Library
Leo was born in Fresno on November 21, 1908, right around the same time his future home was built. Around six years later, he moved with his family to Italy (unfortunate timing, what with World War I breaking out and all). Leo won a six-year scholarship to study at an Italian art institute when he was just fifteen. In 1931, he returned to Fresno, moving down to Los Angeles soon after. He married Helen Fontes in 1934 after wooing her with a fifteen-cent ring he bought at Woolworth’s. He published his first book, Little Pancho, about a little Olvera Street boy who wouldn’t smile, in 1938.
A less obstructed view from the city’s Department of City Planning website.
Leo Politi wrote and illustrated about two dozen books. Most of them are for kids, and many of them, including Pedro, the Angel of Olvera Street, The Mission Bell, The Poinsettia, Mieko, Moy Moy, The Nicest Gift, Piccolo’s Prank, and Juanita, take place in Los Angeles. Pedro and Juanita were awarded Caldecott Honors while Song of the Swallows received the Caldecott Medal in 1950. Bunker Hill, Los Angeles is a Southern California classic. Criminally, Song of the Swallows is the only one of Politi books still in print, I think. One I’d especially enjoy seeing available is his 1989 book about the neighborhood he loved so much, Angeleño Heights. The book was his last.
In March 1996, “the Artist of Olvera Street” passed away in the very Angelino Heights home he submitted for landmarking seventeen years earlier, but his memory lives on throughout Los Angeles. We’ve got a Leo Politi Square, Monticillo de Leo Politi Park, and the Leo Politi Elementary School. Fresno, getting in on the act, has its Politi Branch Library, too. And, of course, his Blessing of the Animals mural adorns Olvera Street’s Biscaluz Building (look for the artist’s own dogs, Emmet and Oscar, in the painting). And when you take Spot and Fido to the next Blessing of the Animals on April 11, stroll on over the Leo Politi Tree, dedicated just after Leo Politi Appreciation Month in April 1984 (just keep away Spot and Fido).
Emmet or Oscar
The Plaza’s Leo Politi Tree
Click here for a list of the many, many, many events held for the Leo Politi 2008 Centennial. Yeah, most – but not all – of them have passed (like last May’s open house tour of Leo’s landmarked house – pictures here), but there are lots of links, often leading to wonderful Politi art.
Update, 5/12/09: Leo’s son, Mr Paul Politi, has been kind enough to drop me an email with a brief note and a pair of photos. Paul writes:
I noticed on the comment from some of your readers that there is interest in my father’s books. I am pleased to inform you that the Getty is re-publishing four of my father’s books and hopefully more in the future. The first four that will be published for the fall by the Getty is Song of the Swallows, Juanita, Pedro, the Angel of Olvera Street, and Emmet. We are also completing a coffee table book that will spotlight my father’s fine art. The title of the book is Leo Politi, Capturing the Heart of Los Angeles. It will be published by Angel City Press.Of course, I’m already looking forward to buying copies of the books. Here, from Paul’s collection, is a shot of his father in his Olvera Street studio taken in the late 1930s.
Also included in Paul’s email is Leo Politi’s only painting of his own landmarked home at 945 East Edgeware. Thanks for allowing me to share this with the readers of Big Orange Landmarks, Paul.
Oliver, Myrna “Leo Politi; Author of Children’s Books, Artist” The Los Angeles Times; Mar 30, 1996, p. 18
Rasmussen, Cecilia “Street Artist Tapped into L.A.’s Spirit” The Los Angeles Times; Jan 13, 2008, p. B2
Up next: Galbreth Residence