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Discover L.A.'s Nomadic Buildings

One of two Victorian houses being moved from West Adams to University Park / All photos: Sandi Hemmerlein
One of two Victorian houses being moved from West Adams to University Park / All photos: Sandi Hemmerlein

When you think about Los Angeles, its architecture, and its land use, it might not be immediately obvious that we live in a modular city.

The L.A. area has a lot of "nomadic" buildings that their owners once moved when they wanted to change their geographic home base. Or, maybe their owners wanted to build something else in its place, and so the old house got moved to a new empty lot.

Sure, a structure's ever-evolving landscape means that some of its original unique features are lost, but moving it somewhere else ultimately saves it.

That was the case with not one, but two, Victorian cottages that made the drive on the back of a flatbed truck in the middle of the night from West Adams to University Park last summer. And preservationists rejoiced when Taco Bell picked up their first taco stand in Downey and rolled it away to their corporate headquarters in Irvine, where it will stay in storage until they figure out where to put it permanently.

In the architectural puzzle of Los Angeles, it's not always easy to spot the structures that have been dropped into a new slot. Here are five of the best places to find historic structures that have been on the move (sometimes more than once).

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1. Heritage Square Museum
Heritage Square Museum in Montecito Heights is probably the best example of threatened architectural treasures finding their "forever home" somewhere other than where they were actually built.

It's an entire outdoor museum of displaced 19th-century domiciles, including the Perry Mansion (moved from Boyle Heights), the Hale House (moved from Mount Washington), the John Ford House (moved from downtown L.A.), the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot (moved from Palms), and the Lincoln Avenue Methodist Church (moved from Pasadena), among others. This is also where two deteriorated Bunker Hill Victorians -- the "Salt Box" and the "Castle" -- were relocated and famously burned down seven months later.

Oxnard has its own Heritage Square as well, although most of its preserved buildings are being used as offices and other types of private businesses, including a restaurant and a hair salon.

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2. Angelino Heights
The most concentrated area of Victorian houses in the metropolitan L.A. area is the 1300 block of Carroll Avenue in Angelino Heights. While this historic district can tout many gorgeous (and restored) homes that were actually built there, it's also become a repository for a few that moved here. In fact, the oldest Victorian in Angelino Heights -- the Foy House -- was built in downtown in 1872, and it was moved twice before arriving to the neighborhood. Same story with the 1893 Bates House. The 1887 Irey House moved to Angelino Heights from seven blocks away in 1978.

Plus, a little off the beaten path on East Kensington Road, you can find the 1894 Weller Residence, which survived the trip from the Bunker Hill-adjacent North Figueroa Street (where it had been surrounded by oil wells).

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3. Spadena House, Beverly Hills
"Storybook" architecture feels uniquely Hollywood, even though it can be found across the U.S. in other cities like Detroit and Oakland. But while some of the structures that were inspired by fairy tales were built as whimsical residences or businesses -- think the Snow White Cottages in Los Feliz, the Tam O'Shanter in Atwater, or the Charlie Chaplin Cottages in Hollywood -- and are still used as they were originally intended, others were actually built elsewhere for other purposes.

Case in point: the Spadena House in Beverly Hills, also known as the "Witch's House." It originally served as offices and dressing rooms for the Willat Studio in Culver City, until the house was slated for demolition in the mid-1920s when Willat went out of business. It then moved to "The Flats" of Beverly Hills, and it's since been converted into a private residence. Although it's not open to the public, trick-or-treaters flock to it at Halloween.

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HeifetzStudio

4. Heifetz Studio at the Colburn School
Now, here's a most unusual one. The Lloyd Wright-designed music studio of virtuoso violinist Jascha Heifetz was slated for demolition when actor James Woods bought the Beverly Hills property it was attached to in 1989. Woods offered to give the studio to whoever wanted to pay to move it, so the Colburn School of Music stepped up and placed it inside a building at their downtown L.A. campus.

However, they didn't actually have anywhere to put it, so after splicing it up into moveable pieces, they put it in storage for six years, while a new facility was being built (keeping the need to house the Heifetz Studio in mind). Now, with much of its original furniture and some original personal belongings, it's a kind of living memorial to probably the greatest violinist of our time, as well as an office for the school's current violin department chair and a place to hold master classes.

 

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5. Walt's Barn, Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum
This historic red barn was moved from Walt Disney's Holmby Hills home, where it served as his "workshop." As the ultimate man cave for a guy obsessed with railroads, this was where he built all his model and miniature trains. In fact, in the years before Disneyland opened, he actually operated his own private railroad line called the Carolwood Pacific, and this barn was its center of operations.

Now, it stands as part of the Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum, which Walt himself helped found, in his beloved Griffith Park. Today, you can visit the barn to examine scale models, memorabilia and other collectibles, and work benches that were hand-crafted by Walt. And as long as you're there, you might as well take a ride on the museum's 7 ½" gauge model train, especially now that the Disneyland Railroad is closed until further notice.

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