The Historic Elegance of West Adams

A dozen historic houses and a recycled fire station are on display today and tomorrow in the fourth annual home tour in the struggling West Adams community southwest of downtown.

The mix of stately, well-detailed Victorian, Craftsman and Mission Revival-style buildings to be shown are engaging, as are the scattered pockets of the community in which they are nestled.

The tour, running from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., will begin at the Holterhoff mansion at 1360 W. Adams Blvd., corner of Adams and Vermont Avenue, designed as a manor house at the turn of the century and now undergoing restoration.

Other houses on the tour include delicate Victorians at 1163 West 27th St. and 1286 West 29th St., a robust Victorian at 1660 West 25th St., Craftsman-styled chalets at 2780 Menlo Ave. and 2273, 2299 and 2303 West 20th St. and an imposing stone mansion and grounds at 3420 W. Adams Blvd., once the roost of Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle, the early, scandal-tainted screen star.

Tickets, which will allow one to tour the interiors of the houses, are $6, available at the Holterhoff mansion. Proceeds go to the preservation efforts of the West Adams Heritage Assn.

Also on display, and worthy of admiration and praise, is the human spirit motivating the renovations and the attempt to restore the once (and future?) fashionable area.

The effort in racially mixed West Adams has been slowly gaining momentum over the last decade, prompted by relatively reasonable prices for some well-appointed, spacious houses, increasing interest in historic restoration and the encouragement of preservationist groups.

Each time I have visited the area, most recently last weekend with my family, there is cause for celebration: another landmark renovated, a cluster of houses preserved and the sometimes controversial resolve of residents stronger, if not wiser.

Roughly paralleling the Santa Monica Freeway from about Vermont Avenue west to Crenshaw Boulevard, the area contains some notable remnants from the time when it was--for nearly half a century-- the desired neighborhood of the rich and famous.

However, more prevalent at present is the deterioration and insensitive development of the last few decades. The scars of discrimination, joblessness, crime, neglect and poor planning are depressingly visible in West Adams.

It is no wonder that some long- time and long-suffering residents have viewed the restoration movement with suspicion, wondering if it too is just another gimmick by hustling outsiders to spend a few years in the community, extract a profit and move on.

I frankly doubt that that is the motive of the vast majority of preservationists in West Adams, given the commitment on display there, knowing the blood, sweat, tears, frustration and money that restoration efforts exact, and sympathizing with the anxieties of those who move into so-called changing neighborhoods.

But even if profit is the motive of a few, it is not the preservationists who subdivide once proud mansions and comfortable houses into clusters of bootleg units, strip historic buildings of ornaments and value, abandon cars on streets and lawns, strew garbage in vacant lots or bulldoze landmarks to put up raw, insensitively designed and cheaply constructed apartments.

And if some preservationists do move on, they certainly leave the community improved, its property values higher and its heritage as an attractive, convenient residential area enhanced.

Communities are constantly in a state of change. It is nice that on occasion it is for the better.

Not on the official tour this year but worth a peek if you are in the neighborhood are other prominent landmarks lending the area a sense of history and some architectural distinction.

Beginning at the east end of the West Adams Boulevard swath, at the northwest corner of Figueroa Street and anchoring the North University Park neighborhood, is Saint Vincent de Paul Church. A richly decorated Spanish Colonial Revival extravaganza, it was designed in the early 1920s by the firm of Albert C. Martin for the oil-rich Doheny family.

The family lived for many years a few steps away in the gated, private enclave of Chester Place. Their mansion and a few others remain in what is now the campus of Mount St. Mary's College, which has been lovingly preserved to offer a hint of the city's gracious past.

Also in the area on Adams Boulevard at 948 is the monumental Second Church of Christ, the design of which is said to have been inspired by the Mother Church in Boston. Next door at 950 is an early (1894) attempt at a Mission Revival building by the architect Sumner Hunt.

Further west off Adams, north on Hobart Street and around the corner on Harvard Boulevard, is a cluster of imposing homes, principal among them the Rindge Mansion at 2263 S. Harvard Blvd. May they persevere.

The list of impressive landmarks in the area goes on and on, a copy of which can be obtained, along with a helpful map, from the West Adams Heritage Assn. at the Holterhoff Mansion this weekend, or by writing the association at 4311 Victoria Park Drive, Los Angeles 90019.

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