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Many tour companies offer sightseeing excursions to movie stars’ homes and Hollywood landmarks, but one local tour guide strives to showcase some of the hidden architectural gems in the City of Angels.
Laura Massino Smith, who operates Architecture Tours L.A., offers different tours of Hollywood, Silverlake, Beverly Hills, Hancock Park, Windsor Square, the Miracle Mile and other locations. An architectural historian, Massino Smith has tailored the tours to be enjoyable for both visitors and local residents, many of whom may not realize that there are special landmarks located in their own neighborhoods.
“[Architecture] is something I love, so I thought, why not show people. We have so much architectural history in L.A., but it can be kind of hard to see all of this stuff,” Massino Smith said. “There are a lot of people visiting who think L.A. is just Hollywood, and they really can’t believe it when we go into these neighborhoods and see how much is here. For locals, it’s the idea that they have driven past these things a million times, but now they get to learn the histories.”
On a recent tour of Windsor Square, Hancock Park and the Miracle Mile, Massino Smith pointed out some of the many architectural landmarks hidden in our midst. The tour begins at an unlikely location: a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet at 340 N. Western Ave. The multi-story fast food restaurant was designed in 1991 by the architectural firm Grinstein/Daniels, and is an example of deconstructivist post-modern architecture. Massino Smith added that the owner wanted to do something different when he franchised the store.
“It is probably the most distinctive restaurant in the chain,” Massino Smith said. “The inside and outside is made of industrial materials that are assembled into a thing of beauty.”
From Western Avenue, the tour heads west into the Wilton Place Historic District, which features many single-family homes in the Craftsman architectural style. Most of the homes were built between 1910 and 1930, and feature tapered stone pillars, low-pitched roofs and wood exteriors. Massino Smith said the Craftsman style became popular around the beginning of the 20th Century after people grew tired of Victorian designs. Craftsman homes were viewed as being less excessive and more in tune with their natural surroundings, she added.
A tour heads into Windsor Square, and the homes get larger and more opulent. One of the first stops is the Getty House at 605 S. Irving Blvd., which is the official house of the mayor of Los Angeles. Designed in the English Tudor style and built in 1920, the home is located one block from Wilshire Boulevard, which was the commercial center of the city as Los Angeles expanded westward.
“There are a lot of English Tudor revival homes in Windsor Square and Hancock Park, built in the early part of the last century,” Massino Smith added. “They have very beautiful exteriors, and what is nice about the old neighborhoods is they have these old trees that are fully grown. You just don’t see them everywhere.”
After a quick stop on Wilshire Boulevard at the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, which was built in 1961 in the neo-classical/European beaux arts style and is adorned with large statues of famous Masons, the tour heads back into Windsor Square to the Higgins, Verbeck, Hirsch mansion – named after its current and previous owners – located at 637 S. Lucerne Blvd. Massino Smith said the home is a classic example of Victorian style. It was once located at 2619 Wilshire Blvd., but was moved to its present location in the 1920s when Wilshire Boulevard began to turn commercial.
“What’s remarkable are the leaded glass windows and the horizontal wood siding,” Massino Smith said. “It really a gem of a building, and it’s right off Wilshire.”
Additional tour stops in Windsor Square include the Janss, Chandler House known as “Los Tiempos”, located at 455 S. Lorraine Blvd. The home was designed in the beaux-arts revival style by the Janss family, which developed Holmby Hills and Westwood, and the house was also once owned by Los Angeles Times publisher Norman Chandler and his wife, Dorothy. Other noteworthy homes in the area include the Donovan House, 419 S. Lorraine Blvd., which was designed in the classical Greek revival style and resembles a large Greek temple; and the Van Nuys house, 357 S. Lorraine Blvd., which is one of the oldest homes in the area having been built in 1898. The Van Nuys home was designed by architect Frederick Roehrig, who also built the Green Hotel in Pasadena. It was once the home of Isaac Van Nuys, a wheat farmer in the San Fernando Valley for whom the district of Van Nuys was named.
Leaving Windsor Square, the tour takes a short jaunt into southern Hollywood for stops at the Ravenswood and El Royale Apartments on Rossmore Ave. The El Royale, which was designed in the Spanish colonial revival style, and Ravenswood, which is an early art deco building, were the former residences of many Hollywood celebrities of the 1920s and later. Hancock Park is the next stop on the tour, and features numerous additional single-family residences such as the Young House, and English Tudor revival at 101 N. Hudson Ave.; the Smith House, a unique example of art deco architecture in a single family home located at 191 N. Hudson Ave.; and Casa de las Campanas (House of Bells), an expansive Spanish colonial revival style residence located at 350 N. June St.
“Hancock Park is also where a lot of the consulates are located, and is a place where you will see many types of architecture side-by-side in the same neighborhood,” Massino Smith added.
The last part of the tour focuses on the Miracle Mile and Wilshire Boulevard, which boasts many notable art deco buildings. Examples include the El Rey Theatre, the Desmonds/Silverwoods Building and the Dominguez Wilshire Building. Massino Smith said the Miracle Mile not only offers great examples of the art deco movement popular in the 1920s, but also features architectural gems such as the former May Company department store, now LACMA West; The Petersen Museum, which was former the Seibu department store; and the George C. Page Museum, which was built in 1976 and features pictorial reliefs on its exterior.
“What’s great about architecture is it offers a three-dimensional representation of history,” Massino Smith said. “So many people want to see this kind of stuff. They are really starved for it.”
In addition to the Windsor Square, Hancock Park and Miracle Mile tour, Massino Smith offer tours in Hollywood, Beverly Hills, downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena, as well as a regional tour examining works by architect Frank Gehry. The tours last between three and four hours. For information, call (323)464-7868, or visit www.architecturetoursla.com.
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