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A house belonging to one of the founding fathers of the Hollywood community will be spared from demolition, and will find new life as offices for non-profit organizations serving the local area.
The house, known as Orchard Gables, is located at the southwest corner of Wilcox and Fountain Avenues. Built in 1904 on a parcel of land that once featured acres of citrus groves, the structure had been threatened over the past several years by development. Most recently, a company that built a rental housing complex directly to the rear of Orchard Gables wanted to demolish the historic home as part of the project, but the Community Redevelopment Corporation of the City of Los Angeles (CRA-LA) and Hollywood Heritage stepped in and Orchard Gables was designated as a cultural historic monument in 2006. The private developer then sold the house and a small portion of surrounding property to the CRA-LA, which transferred the two-story building to the Hollywood Community Housing Corporation (HCHC), a non-profit organization that specializes in preserving old structures.
“I’m very excited about the project. It certainly provides a nice contrast to the new building in the back,” said Bill Harris, executive director for the HCHC. “The CRA-LA contacted us and requested that we work with them to find a new use for this wonderful historic structure. That was in late 2006, so it’s been a long process.”
Harris said although nothing has happened with the property for several years, things are about to change. The Los Angeles City Council is expected to approve the HCHC’s restoration plans within the next week or two, and Harris said he expects work to begin around the middle of November.
Plans call for the exterior of the building to be restored, and the upstairs bedrooms to be converted into office space for the LACER Afterschool Programs, which provides arts and literature courses for underprivileged middle and high school students. The first floor will be converted into a conference room that will be open for use by community groups, Harris said. He also hopes there will be space on the ground level for some small offices for another non-profit organization.
“It will be attractively enhanced for the whole neighborhood,” Harris added. “It is part of the Hollywood Community Housing Corporation’s mission to save historic structures, and this is a great opportunity to preserve one of Hollywood’s treasures.”
According to information provided by Hollywood Heritage, the Orchard Gables house was built on property once owned by Sen. Cornelius Cole, one of the founding settlers in Hollywood. Cole represented California in the House of Representatives from 1863-1865, and in the U.S. Senate from 1867-1873, and was involved in bringing the transcontinental railroad to California. Cole was also an attorney, and once represented Henry Hancock — a wealthy landowner of the time who is the namesake for Hancock Park. Hancock deeded Cole 500 acres of land in what is now Hollywood. The area was designated as the township of “Colegrove” in 1880, prior to Hollywood being incorporated as a district of Los Angeles in 1903.
Cole later subdivided his property in the 1880s into 10-acre lots, and deeded the parcel where Orchard Gables is located to Paul A. Homan in 1897. Homan contracted with Abbot Kinney, the architect who created the Los Angeles district of Venice, to design the Orchard Gables residence. It later changed hands several times, and from 1949 to 1951, housed the Orchard Gables Repertory Company, the first professional theatre in Hollywood.
Marc Wanamaker, a research librarian for Hollywood Heritage, said Orchard Gables is one of only a handful of homes remaining from the period.
“It’s amazing these things still exist. Somehow they survived, and now we have to watch them very carefully,” Wanamaker said. “With this project, I provided a lot of the research material, and am glad to see that it will now be restored. It was touch-and-go there for a while, but Hollywood Heritage and the CRA-LA jumped in to save it.”
Wanamaker said the house was constructed in a mixed style that includes Swiss, Swedish and Hollywood bungalow-style architecture. He added that the building’s configuration on the property — built at a 45-degree angle to the corner — is unique, and was constructed that way so the front and rear would not face the rising and setting sun. Wanamaker added that some of the orchards around the property lasted until the 1960s.
“Hollywood developed very slowly,” Wanamaker said. “That’s why some of these buildings are still around.”
Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge, 4th District, said he believes it was important to preserve Orchard Gables, and added that it will make a good home for the non-profit programs.
“There are very few of these buildings left that have the historic significance of Orchard Gables. They represent the history of Hollywood and the city,” LaBonge said. “This was a great orchard field full of trees, and this Orchard Gables project will be a great new home that will bring life to these community organizations.”
Harris said the HCHC has received a $4,500 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to be used to help restore the building. He anticipates that the project will be completed by next summer.
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