Sunday, March 1, 2009

No. 218 - Politi Residence

Politi Residence

Politi Residence
c. 1908
845 East Edgeware Road – map
Declared: 6/6/79

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.

Politi Residence

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).

Leo Politi on Bunker Hill, Los Angeles
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.

Politi Residence
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.

Angeleno Heights

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).

The Blessing of the Animals Mural
The Blessing of the Animals Mural
Emmet or Oscar

Leo Politi Tree
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.

Politi Residence

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.

Leo Politi

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.

945 Edgeware Road by Leo Politi


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


Anonymous said...

I was so looking forward to this post and as always, you did not disappoint. At one of the exhibits I saw the libretto of a poetic play he wrote for an adult audience, sort of political I think.

I will always love him for the subject matter he chose, and for the sweet humanity depicted in his artwork.

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Thanks, Angelena. It's a shame his work is mostly out of print. Let's hope parents in Los Angeles are tracking down his books online and in used books stores.

Anonymous said...

Another great post, Floyd. I saw the Politi exhibit at the LA Public Library and became an instant fan. I so hope someday his family authorizes some good reproductions of his Bunker Hill paintings, I'd love to have a framed Politi print on my walls.

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Thanks, Joan. I agree about the prints. I think a single volume of his Bunker Hill and Angeleno Heights books would be a hit as well.

Susie said...

Another great post. I looked up Politi on Amazon UK. There's plenty of books - if you want to pay the price. The one I was interested in - the Angelino Heights one - is over £200 ($280).
I love this blog - even though I've never been to most of these place or even heard of them. One day maybe...

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Hi, Susie. $280? All the more reason for a reprint. The picture I took is of the copy in the main library's rare books collection.

Anonymous said...

I guess it's been awhile since I visited last. Yay!! I have Bunker Hill Los Angeles by Leo Politi. It's missing the cover. I think you have a photograph of the cover in your Flikr account. I also have Ed Ruche's Sunset Strip. That one I'm willing to sell but not Leo. Leo Politi has some of his work in the children's section of the South Pasadena library.

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

P.A., you can get a Winnebago for your Ruscha book.

Glennis said...

I wish the books would be printed again.

I'm delighted to see the photos of the murals - I'm going to go see them someday soon.

Anonymous said...

I actually own an original signed copy of his Bunker Hill Los Angeles book full of hand drawn sketches. I'd be happy to share pictures if anyone was interested.

Tash said...

I've heard of Politi but did not know much about him. Thank you for the wonderful post - it felt like time travel. I love the treasures you've uncovered. (I really like the Angeleno Heights painting - I noticed the soft 'n', didn't know that before either.)
Anonymous - please do share - many would be very interested.

Tash said...

PS - my 90 yr-old father-in-law is an LA native. He remembers going to Sunday dinner every week to his aunt's house on Bunker Hill when he was in his 20's.

Adam said...

You were prolific in March, 10 entries! The supplemental information on the Politi House is wonderful!

Unknown said...

Thank you for the excellent information on Leo Politi. Leo and his books have been a big part of my life as his mother was my grandmother, Caterina Siracusa's sister. We always had a big stack of Leo's books in the living room and all of the kids were, and still are, raised with them.

Pete Siracusa

TheChieftess said...

thanks to Petrea of, I found your blog...and in particular, this post on Leo Politi. My grandmother was a librarian in the Los Angeles county library system for over 52 years. Throughout my childhood, she gave me many of Leo Politi's books, several of them personally signed by him, to me. They are my most treasured books from my childhood. I too would love to see his books published again as I would love to give them to my granddaughters. And a framed Leo Politi print hanging in my home? What could be better!!!