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The transformation of Highland Park's landscape from single family homes to high density apartments spurred local residents and preservationists to act to protect the heritage of this historic Arroyo Seco community.
Plans were under way in the 1960s by the Community Redevelopment Agency to raze and flatten much of the once prosperous neighborhood of Bunker Hill. In response to the pending demolition of grand homes that once populated the neighborhood (and the city), the Cultural Heritage Board was formed by the passing of the Cultural Heritage Ordinance, one of the first historic preservation codes in the country. Their plan was to find a new permanent location for these irreplaceable homes. This begot the idea for Heritage Square, with Bunker Hill's last two remaining structures, "The Castle" and "The Saltbox," earmarked to be its first inhabitants. In 1968, the two homes were moved to its new location by Highland Park, at the foothills of Montecito Heights. They were awaiting restoration work when they burned to the ground in 1970. Arson was suspected.
Later that year, the magnificent Hale House, one of the best examples of Victorian architecture in Los Angeles, was saved from demolition and moved to Heritage Square from its location a few blocks away in Highland Park. The structure became the cornerstone of the new museum.
The continuing demolition of craftsman and mission revival homes prompted the formation of the Highland Park Heritage Trust (HPHT) in the early 1980s. Their mission was to preserve the culture of the Arroyo Seco by means of education, advocacy, and preservation projects for the benefit of present and future generations. Beginning as a small city-sponsored volunteer organization, the HPHT became a legal non-profit in 1982 and was instrumental in developing means of preserving the architectural heritage of Highland Park.
In addition to helping designate the the Highland Park Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ), the largest such district in the city, and the only one to include commercial structures, the HPHT also achieved the designation of over 70 local sites as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monuments. Among these sites include the Highland Park Masonic Temple, designated in 1984, and the Arroyo Seco Bank Building, designated in 1990. As a result of these successful nominations, the Northeast Los Angeles region now holds a significant portion of the city's historic resources. The Santa Fe Railroad Bridge, the Los Angeles Police Museum, and the Southwest Museum all benefited from the HPHT's protection and its push to utilize these sites for practical and educational efforts.
Historic preservation continues throughout the Arroyo Seco with outreach efforts by local residents and businesses. The maintenance and celebration of this historic area contributes to the growth of Highland Park as it learns to embrace its rich past and creates a new source of community.
Above, Charles Fisher, historian and preservationist, describes HPHT's efforts to preserve Highland Park's historic buildings; Nicole Possert, Highland Park Heritage Trust member and preservationist, anchors the community's efforts to maintain historic structures through home-ownership.
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