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Architecture specialists are preparing to categorize the historical significance of structures in Los Angeles in the largest building survey to date. With a substantial grant from the Getty Foundation’s J. Paul Getty Trust, the city will be analyzing all buildings in the city, residential and business, to determine historic status over the next three years.
“The purpose of the survey is not to designate areas, but to use the survey as a planning tool to give policy makers, planners and developers upfront and objective information on potential historic resources in every community,” said Ken Bernstein, manager of the office of Historic Resources for the City of Los Angeles.
Bernstein sees SurveyLA as a move away from reactionary measures against developers when potential historic structures could be involved. Rather than wait until individual cases are presented, SurveyLA will answer questions about historic resources prior to investment and development.
The project will begin with three pilot surveys, undertaken by different teams covering Hollywood, the West Adams-Baldwin Hills-Leimert Park region, and the Sunland-Tujunga region. By the end of the year, West Los Angeles, Palms, Mar Vista and several areas near the L.A. Harbor will be surveyed. SurveyLA is currently two years away from surveying the Wilshire area.
The City of Los Angeles is matching the Getty Grant with funds from the Construction Services Trust – funds that do not affect police or fire department budgets – and the program has three years to record the entirety of Los Angeles, which will be split into more than 11 regions.
“This effort to identify the historic resources of the City of Los Angeles is precedent setting in both the volume of resources and public outreach,” said Linda Dishman, director of the Los Angeles Conservancy.
To ease the extensive research process, surveyors will be equipped with tablet PCs uploaded with historic data, real estate research and additional information provided by community members. Bernstein refers to the information gathered as the “historic context statement” – which will provide on-the-spot eligibility standards to guide survey teams.
“One of the interesting things about the project as well is using state of the art technology,” Bernstein said. “The historic context statement will set a standard of what an art deco building has to include to be a historic example. It (historic context statement) also has integrity standards like alterations.”
According to Christy McAvoy, managing principal of Historic Resources Group (HRG), survey plans have been proposed to the City of Los Angeles for more than two decades, but the grant from the Getty Foundation allowed the project to move forward.
HRG will oversee the Hollywood survey and serve as primary administrator for SurveyLA in its first year. The survey includes both research and property analysis, and will be performed by interns and staff with a background in architectural history. Due to the teams involved and the sizeable scope, McAvoy sees SurveyLA as a project like none other in the country.
“Other cities have survey programs,” McAvoy said. “This is just an attempt to corral one of the largest cities in the United States. There’s close to 900,000 parcels. In order of magnitude, it’s pretty ambitious.”
Brian Curran, vice president of Hollywood Heritage, emphasizes the important timing of the project in regards to the future development of Los Angeles.
“It comes at a very opportune time because the Community Redevelopment Agency just completed its historic resources survey,” Curran said. “This is a precursor to what will happen with SurveyLA, breaking it up into various regions and assigning each building a specific context.”
A member of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, Curran recently hosted a walking tour that allowed members of his community to identify various types of architecture and discuss the hidden stories behind buildings, like the history he unearthed at Hollywood Independent Church, located at 4527 Lexington Ave.
“Pastor John Varga there told me that the church served as a deportation site to Japanese internment camps during World War II,” Curran said. “We wouldn’t know that story without the community’s help and that’s what needs to happen here.”
Curran and Bernstein both said SurveyLA relies on community interaction to properly label buildings, understanding their local significance as well as architectural importance. MyhistoricLA, a resource identification form found at www.surveyla.org, provides community members with the opportunity to provide local histories.
“Some buildings might not be good examples of architecture, but their history as examples of commercial development trends could be just as important as architectural history,” Bernstein said.
The MyhistoricLA form also provides step-by-step instructions to create awareness in neighborhoods through oral histories and tours, like the one Curran led. According to Bernstein, the response from neighborhoods varies, sometimes with upwards of a 100 community responses to barely any. Curran adds that while surveyors can analyze the exterior of a building, only neighborhood communities know the real stories.
The project will commence in the next few weeks. Surveyors will not be entering homes but solely researching the exterior of buildings. For information and to participate in MyhistoricLA, visit www.preservation.lacity.org/survey.
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