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At the Heights of Mediterranean Style

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Given Los Angeles’ benign weather and hillside setting beside the ocean, it was only reasonable that in the search for an appropriate architectural style, Mediterranean themes would dominate.

Indeed, in the fervor to attract new settlers in the waves of real estate booms that swept over Los Angeles at the turn of the century, the city was grossly advertised as “the American Mediterranean” and “our Italy,” among other things.

Easier to Build

Developers and architects also found Mediterranean-style houses with their simple, squared stucco walls and red-tile roofs relatively easy to build and easy to detail, certainly more so than the richly ornate, wooden Victorian houses that had been favored by the city’s earlier settlers.

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Not just content with building individual homes in a variety of Mediterranean themes, developers seeking a broader image for their product extended the style to entire subdivisions and neighborhoods. One of the first in the region was Palos Verdes Estates, where the style was monitored by an architectural review board established by the developer, and which still presides today, 70 years later.

Another such development was Whitley Heights, located on a prominent hill overlooking Hollywood and now generally bounded by Franklin and Highland avenues and U.S. 101. It was shaped and styled in the late 1910s and early ‘20s by Hobart J. Whitley, one of the region’s earlier real estate moguls who had become a major booster of the Mediterranean look.

For a time in the late ‘20s before they began flocking to Beverly Hills, Whitley Heights was a favorite roost of film stars, including Rudolph Valentino, Francis X. Bushman and Marie Dressler, and was the scene of some fabled parties. Among those who later had homes there were Gloria Swanson, Bette Davis and Tyrone Power.

Reflected in much of the architecture is not only the richly ornamented Mediterranean style but also the richly ornamented life styles of some of the stars who lived there.

Now a National Historic District, the heights will be on display Sunday for the fourth annual heritage tour, sponsored by the local civic association.

The tours are $10 a person and are offered from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. from the Lasky/DeMille Barn, 2100 N. Highland Ave., opposite the Hollywood Bowl. Because the tour, featuring four open houses, is a favorite of film buffs, reservations are required: (213) 874-3318. Having garnered a considerable fortune investing in land and planning what is now Canoga Park, Reseda, Sherman Oaks and Studio City, Whitley wanted the Heights to be his crowning real estate achievement, something special for which he would be remembered. It was with that in mind that he put his name on the development and before breaking ground in 1918, sent his chief architect, Arthur Barnes, to tour Italy to study the architecture and landscaping of the historic hill towns there.

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Public Stairs

The result is that Whitley Heights is styled very much in the spirit of a hill town, albeit a wealthy, private one, with winding narrow streets edged by proud stucco structures decorated with glazed tile and ironwork. So pedestrians do not have to compete with cars, select streets are connected by public stairs that rise up the lush hillsides.

Whitley Heights has been hacked away twice--first to make way for the Hollywood Freeway in the late 1940s, then in the early 1960s for a Hollywood Museum that was never built. Instead, the site is used for a raw parking lot for the Hollywood Bowl. In the process, Whitley Heights lost many landmark houses before residents rallied to have the area declared a historic district. Thanks to their efforts, much of the original charm of the neighborhood perseveres.

Also on display this weekend is a rich profusion of Victoriana architecture, the style Mediterranean replaced with a vengeance. It can be seen on a house and walking tour in Angelino Heights, sponsored by the Carroll Avenue Restoration Foundation.

The tour is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and Sunday, with admission $8 for adults; $4 for seniors and children under 12. Tickets may be purchased at the 1300 block of Carroll Avenue, Angelino Heights. Information: (213) 250-5976.

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