Friday, March 9, 2007

The Point

It’s funny. You always associate Los Angeles, California, with a scorch-and-burn m.o. when it comes to development. But the truth is L.A. originally showed itself to be way ahead of the curve in preserving its cultural landmarks. Think!: two years before New York City showed little compunction in razing Penn Station, L.A. had already passed a law protecting even the most modest of its buildings.

Just about half a century ago, members of the Historical Buildings Committee of the Local Los Angeles Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (whew! – I’m outta breath) formed a committee. They were fed up, steamed, standing by, watching those sites they deemed significantly historic and/or cultural to the country’s second-largest city being obliterated in the post-war frenzy of destruction in the name of overall progress. The group wanted to save those landmarks threatened by the encroachment of development.

Flash forward to 1962 when the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance awarding the newly established Cultural Heritage Board the responsibility to protect L.A.’s endangered historic and cultural landmarks. In the forty-five years since then, it’s been the Board’s mission to seek out those buildings, structures, sites, or plant life important to the city. Here’s a bit of the ordinance, amended over the years, explaining what makes an L.A. city landmark.

Sec. 22.130. Definition of Monument.

For purposes of this article, an historical or cultural monument is any site (including significant trees or other plant life located thereon) building or structure of particular historic or cultural significance to the City of Los Angeles, such as historic structures or sites in which the broad cultural, economic or social history of the nation, State or community is reflected or exemplified, or which are identified with historic personages or with important events in the main currents of national, State or local history or which embody the distinguishing characteristics of an architectural type specimen, inherently valuable for a study of a period style or method of construction, or a notable work of a master builder, designer, or architect whose individual genius influenced his age.

That Faulknerian sentence is from the city’s administrative code.

The Board preserved five landmarks its first day of business, August 6, 1962.

Now, having a building declared an Historic-Cultural Monument does not guarantee its preservation (too many of the declared monuments no longer exist), but there are tons of them in the city. In fact, sites continue to be declared official L.A. monuments (the current Los Angeles Conservancy newsletter – Mar/Apr 2007 – talks about the designation of Lukens House). As of this writing, there are more then 850 Cultural Heritage Monuments in L.A.

The Point: So I came to the realization recently that, despite my being an Angelino for the better part of fifteen years, I’ve never even seen – much less taken a good look at – ninety percent of L.A.’s official landmarks. So, basically, my goal here is to visit as many of these sites as possible and document each in the chronological order of their designation.

At the very least, this should get me off the couch once in while.


Miles Thompson said...


your blog is awesome. i am totally into it.

last year in preparation for my upcoming exhibit i was compelled to pick up some reference literature on the history of the state of california and it was the greatest thing i ever did. SO much has happened here and SO many firsts have come to pass in this nation state which is projected to be home to a population of 50 million by 2014! (we are at 36 million+ as of 2004) for instance - the first manned airflight was not kittyhawk! it in fact happened here and thusly makes the aerospace program appropriately native. also - the OLDEST living thing on earth is a CA resident! "Methuselah" is a bristle cone pine that lives out in the sierras and is just about 5000 years old! there was one older in nevada, "Prometheus", but in 1968 a scientist had to cut it down to make sure that the magic elves he was hearing in his head didn't live therein...leave it to a scientist to destroy what he loves?

pick up "California:a history" by Kevin Starr and try not to let him become your hero because he's MINE and you can't just have him. you'll flip for him, he knows his sh#t and it's the compilation of 6 different volumes he's written on the topic. he was the state librarian for 4 years and teaches CA history over at USC among many other things political.

see you soon!

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Thanks, Miles. I can't wait for the show in September.

Damian said...

Terrific website - keep up the good work!

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Thanks, Damian (to you and all the San Fernando Valley Young Democrats out there).

blissfully caffeinated said...

i happened across your blog earlier today and have been sucked in. fascinating stuff. thanks for the compulsive read, adding your feed to my reader.

-jen in central ca

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Thanks, blissfully caffeinated!

O.noir said...

I just discovered your blog today and have been reading for hours now. It really makes me want to get off the couch and investigate some of these myself since i'm a so cal native.