Walking Rancho Glassell: Uncovering a Crossroads of History


FORM follows FUNCTION is a collaborative media studio creating non-fiction, short format videos connecting architecture, people and place. This week we explore the Glassell Park neighborhood with Maryam Hosseinzadeh, a native Angeleno and cultural researcher who attended elementary school in Glassell Park.

My street in Glassell Park sits in a valley where natural and constructed elements join with one another before heading up into the hills. Deep residential lots contribute to a tree canopy hosting birds whose song is ever-present. This neighborhood is a crossroads. If you stand in the middle of Division Street at Avenue 33, you can look west towards industrial San Fernando Road, beyond the new LAUSD Central Region High School #13, to the soft-bottomed Glendale Narrows of the Los Angeles River that supports fish, birds, plants, and other wildlife currently under restoration. To the south and east are Cypress Park and Mt. Washington's hills and Elyria Canyon Park; further to the west - above the River - a view of the Elysian Hills. It's where the Rancho San Rafael and Rancho Cañada de Los Nogales historically bumped up against one another, too.

One might think that San Fernando Road and surrounding streets would smell mostly of trucks and traffic - being an arterial to the 2 Freeway - and sometimes they do. But the air also floats with the sweetness of sugar from Peking Noodle Factory's fortune cookies, in production since 1924, and La Morenita Bakery's pan dulce, since 1953. An occasional touch of artificially-scented Cranberry, Sandalwood Peach, Pacific Ocean, and Holiday Pine wafts up the street, courtesy of Modern Candles, Celestial Science, and the Southern California Candle Company, a trio of candle factories currently housed in an industrial building on San Fernando. That afternoon breeze happens almost daily around 2 p.m., and in my mind I attribute it to the combination of the river, hills, and valley - but that's all conjecture and romantic thinking.

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Before we delve a bit more into the history of the area, let's visualize and hear what it's like to walk around the neighborhood...

Three periods of residential development are visually apparent in Glassell Park as you walk through it: the teens, when the area transitioned from agricultural land and ad-hoc hunting cabins from the 19th century into more traditional subdivided lots; the twenties, when Taylor Yard was established and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture for small houses and bungalow courts reigned strong; and the forties and fifties, when the River was channelized and Taylor Yard boomed through its symbiotic, localized relationship with post-war industrial production and distribution. Now, the eras sit side-by-side and often on the same lot.

Different eras of architecture on the same lot.
Different eras of architecture on the same lot.

Initial building opportunities were advertised for sale in the Los Angeles Times by the Gilchrist Investment Company, a private development firm, in the early 20th century. These were modest five-room California bungalows, each built "commanding a superb view revealing a vista of verdant valleys and rolling hills, the back of which towers the majestic range of the Sierra Madres with their caps of snow" (LAT, April 18, 1909). By January 1912, Gilchrist sold their interest in Glassell Park to National Home and Town Builders, who took out encouraging advertisements imploring "Buy Your Home In Glassell Park". Such development continued into the early 1920s, with acreage offered as a complete tract or for individual lot sales.

Los Angeles Times ad, June 1, 1924
Los Angeles Times ad, June 1, 1924

In 1924, individual lots in Glassell Park's Gassen Tract were made available at a real estate office that stood by the river on the site of the current Rio de Los Angeles State Park. Large lots were available from $400-$1500 with small payments down. This time, though, the sales draw was its proximity to the planned $20,000,000 Southern Pacific improvement, Taylor Yard.

The 1925 bungalow court where I now live was built during Gassen Tract's development. In the earliest years, the people who lived in the 325-square foot bungalows often worked in industry associated with the Southern Pacific: Edward Sipes - a trainman. L.E. Nolan, Frank Miller, Thornton Collier - yardmen. William L. Hammond - a switchman. Fred Twity - car inspector.

There were also painters and carpenters, a few sheet metalworkers, and two bakers. The latter is also reminder that this neighborhood was considered the 'breadbasket' of Los Angeles, thanks to the locational advantage of flour deliveries by rail. Now, my neighbors include two sisters who work as housekeepers, an aztec dancer, an entrepreneur with a car wash business, and two people in the entertainment industry.

Completed in the most modest iteration of Spanish Colonial Revival, these multiple units on one lot in the bungalow court forecast increasingly dense residential development in the 1940s and 50s. Large lots physically allowed for the addition of small-scale rental units above garages, in front yards, and almost any place that was available on the property. Decorative details repeated throughout the neighborhood - such as mass-produced delicate metal staircase railings with crests and scalloped wooden applied detailing on awnings and rooflines - distinguish this era.

Former Capitol Records pressing plant on San Fernando Rd.
Former Capitol Records pressing plant on San Fernando Rd

Back on San Fernando, a streamline moderne building stands solid. Built as the Hemphill Diesel Engineering School, but better known as the Capitol Records pressing plant until a large fire deemed it closed in the mid-1970s, the building features an intact frieze of trucks and futuristic trains, tractors, and diesel-powered zeppelins in tribute to the promise of our technological future.

Now, the trains hearken the past when their whistles still echo on occasion. While there might be more egrets than zeppelins coming in the future, one thing is certain: this neighborhood was bounded and formed by both nature and technology.

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Directory of Residents and Neighbors of Gassen Bungalow Court

William L Hammon, a switchman, lived at 3348 ½ Gassen in 1927
Robert E Adkins, a sheet metal worker, lived at 3342
Frank O Strand, undisclosed, lived next door to me at 3346 ½
Andrew C Wood, undisclosed, also lived next door to me at 3346

Lelis and Mitzie Baker at 3346 ½
William H Lawrence, foreman for the Park Dept, at 3301

Mr Armstrong, Emp, Southern Pacific Co. 3331
Fedele Battistessa, Carpenter, 3332
John J. Bazziak, baker, 3337
Arthur Jacobsen, baker, 3358
Factory workers:
John E Landon, 3346 ½, not disclosed
William C Lyon, 3348 ½ not disclosed
Charles Mahoney, 3348 ¼, no disclosed
Frank Miller, yardman, SP co., 3348 ¼
LE Nowlin, yardman SP co, 3342 Gassen Pl; Cornelia (widow), Lola, Lyle,
Albert J. Silvey, millworker, 3346 ½
Edward H Eileen, Paul E and Evelyn, trainman, 3346
Along the block there were salesladies and carpenters and painters, a chauffer lived across the street.

Berd and Mabel Brinkerhoff, 3346 ½
Philip and Eda Casanta, gardener, 3331 ½
Thorton and Maude B Collier, yardman, SP co., 3348 1/4
Charles Pressler 3348 ¼
Albert and Eunice J Silvey, Chauffer, 3346 ½
Thos and Josephine Skidmore, 3346, undisclosed
Fred Twity, car inspector, SPco., 3331
Keneth Wade, factory worker, 3324

Additional photos and sound recorded by Maryam Hosseinzadeh on walks in Glassell Park over a period of two weeks, and includes excerpts from a song written by Glassell Park resident Choka on the 12-String Spanish Mandolin.


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