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Preservation of Historic Arroyo Seco Community

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.

 

The Demolition of History
Charles Fisher explains how preserving its history has not been a priority for Los Angeles; in fact the opposite has been true with landmarks demolished consistently through the years.

 

A Personal Desire
Nicole Possert on how the burgeoning community movement to preserve historic structures in Highland Park led to the creation of the largest Historical Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) in Los Angeles.

 

The Efforts
Charles Fisher reflects on the origins of the Highland Park Heritage Trust and the importance of preserving L.A.'s shared history.

 

Preservation 1
The Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) was designated in Highland Park in 1994 when the historic neighborhood was being threatened by new developments. | Image courtesy of the USC Digital Library 
Preservation 2
Highland Park has the largest HPOZ in Los Angeles with approximately 4,000 structures and over 70 Historic Cultural Monuments declared by the city of Los Angeles. | Image courtesy of the Highland Park Heritage Trust 
Preservation 3
The HPOZ's mission statement is "to maintain and enhance the integrity, sense of place, and quality of life in the Highland Park-Garvanza HPOZ area, using preservation principles as a tool and stabilizing the community for future generations.” | Image by Flickr user waltarrrrr used under a Creative Commons License 
Preservation 4
The HPOZ has promised to “promote education by encouraging interest in the cultural, social, and architectural phases of its history” and “foster neighborhood pride among residents and property owners.” | Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Preservation 5
The HPOZ is also meant to “provide clear guidelines for rehabilitation" and “ensure historic preservation.” | Image by Flickr user waltarrrrr used under a Creative Commons License
Preservation 6
The assortment of architectural styles found in Highland Park gives the neighborhood charm and variety. | Image by Flickr user waltarrrrr used under a Creative Commons License
Preservation 7
The Smith Estate, aka El Mio, was built in 1887 using the Queen Anne style. This 19th century style was popular in England and was chosen for Highland Park’s largest and most complex homes. Historic Cultural Monument No. 142
Preservation 8
The Occidental College Hall of Letters Building is an example of Classical Revival architecture. The structure, which is the only building left from the Highland Park campus, has classical features such as a symmetrical façade and a decorated roof. Historic Cultural Monument No. 585. | Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library 
Preservation 9
Italian and Mediterranean Revival buildings became popular in Los Angeles in the early 1900s. The Highland Park Masonic Temple, built in 1923, has Mediterranean architectural details. Historic Cultural Monument No. 282. | Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Preservation 10
Italian and Mediterranean Revival buildings became popular in Los Angeles in the early 1900s. The Highland Park Masonic Temple, built in 1923, has Mediterranean architectural details. Historic Cultural Monument No. 282. | Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Preservation 11
"The Castle" and "The Salt Box" from Bunker Hill were some of the the first structures to be declared Historic Cultural Monuments. They were moved to Heritage Square in 1970. | Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Preservation 12
Remains of "The Salt Box," formally on Bunker Hill, after a fire destroyed its structure; firemen suspected arson. This house was featured on the cover of Taj Mahal's self-titled album from 1967. Historic Cultural Monument No. 5. | Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public LIbrary
Preservation 13
"The Castle" after it was burned down. Historic Cultural Monument No. 27. | Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public LIbrary
Preservation 14
The Hale House, declared a historic monument by the L.A. Cultural Heritage Board in 1966, at its second location at 4425 N. Figueroa. It was moved to Heritage Square in 1970, becoming its first permanent structure. Historic Cultural Monument No. 40. | Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public LIbrary
Preservation 15
The Hale House undergoing renovations in Heritage Square. | Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Preservation 16
Considered the oldest mansion in Los Angeles, the Perry-Hubbell residence built in 1876, originally located in Boyle Heights, was moved to Heritage Square in 1972. Historic Cultural Monument No. 98. | Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Preservation 17
Groundskeeper Luis Estrada with daughters at Heritage Square, 1987. | Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Times