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Saving Harvard Heights: Old college try works

HomesArts and CultureArchitectureColleges and UniversitiesLos Angeles Unified School District

Beginnings

Built between 1902 and 1910, the Craftsman-style homes of Harvard Heights owe their grandeur to a land covenant that stipulated that houses built within the tract cost at least $2,500. The city's best architects flocked to the area to build elegant homes for upscale residents. The naming of streets after universities such as Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford and Hobart added to the neighborhood's prestige.

Today, Harvard Heights boasts the only existing Greene and Greene house in Los Angeles, as well as homes built by the Heinemann brothers, Hunt and Eager, and especially noted architect Frank M. Tyler, who lived on Oxford.

Exquisite woodwork, high ceilings, formal dining rooms, cozy inglenooks and stained-glass windows are some of the features that attract residents to these spacious two-story homes. For those who work downtown, the area's proximity to the city and the Santa Monica Freeway make it an easy commute.


Bad news, good news

In days gone by, an evening stroll in Harvard Heights might have brought you in contact with Arthur Selberg, a world-class aviator; the builder of the city's first movie palaces, Henry C. Jensen; Leslie G. Canfield, the lead saxophonist in Paul Whiteman's orchestra, or Edward Trinkkeller, the master ironworker who designed the gates at Hearst Castle.

Following the stock market crash and the westward migration of residents to Hancock Park and Beverly Hills, many of the large residences were carved into boarding houses or board-and-care facilities. After decades of urban blight, residents took action in the late 1990s. They formed a strong neighborhood association with active members from the community's diverse ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Today the gangs and crack houses are gone, crime is lower, and the once-ubiquitous security bars are disappearing from the neighborhood's beautiful homes. The community is a favorite among film and television location scouts.


Insider's view

Harvard Heights is a preservationist's dream come true. Homeowner Roland Souza, who has helped many neighbors find salvaged materials for their restorations, said, "There's a new energy in Harvard Heights. The transformation of the neighborhood over the past 10 years has been dramatic."

Attorney Eric Bronson, a board member of the West Adams Heritage Assn., is meticulously restoring his Frank Tyler-designed home to its glorious past. He appreciates that Harvard Heights is not following the typical model of urban gentrification. "There is no elitist group here trying to push out older residents," Bronson said.

His association sponsors home tours, evening walks and special events designed to help people care for their historic homes. Recently, neighbors got together to paint the house of a longtime resident on a fixed income.

"When we lived on the Westside, I didn't know any of my neighbors," Bronson's wife, Darby Bayliss, said. "Here we know everybody, and we really watch out for each other. I'm thrilled to raise my children in this community."

Housing stock Although prices are rising steadily, Harvard Heights remains an affordable choice for people interested in large historic homes. Two-story homes here are a relative bargain when the square footage and features are compared with similarly priced structures in other neighborhoods.

"I'm seeing a lot of young, creative couples who want more space than a downtown loft and who appreciate the unique architecture," said David Raposa, owner of City Living Realty, a real estate firm that has specialized in the historic homes of West Adams for the last 22 years.

"People are attracted to the interesting, diverse mix of people in Harvard Heights. The new residents care deeply about preserving the historic beauty of their homes."


Report card

In the 2004 Academic Performance Index, 24th Street Elementary scored 649 out of 1,000, Los Angeles Elementary scored 667, and Magnolia and Pio Pico Elementary Schools both scored 631. Berendo Middle School had an API score of 548, and Mt. Vernon Middle School scored 557. Los Angeles Senior High School scored 516.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is building four new schools in or adjacent to West Adams, two new elementary schools and two new high schools.


Historical values

Residential resales:

Year...Median Price 1990...$171,250

1995...$126,000

2000...$173,000

2004...$509,000

2005...$610,000*

*Year to date


Sources: DataQuick Information Systems; Laura Meyers, West Adams Heritage Assn., http://www.westadams heritage.com.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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