LA celebrates 1,200 historical monuments

Despite the common belief that Los Angeles is consumed by the fresh and new, the city has a long, rich cultural heritage, including its buildings and historical monuments. And this week, the city is celebrating 60 years of preserving that cultural history.

Ken Bernstein, Los Angeles’ principal urban planner and author of the book “Preserve Los Angelessays much of this preservation was made possible by local legislation that was one of the first of its kind in the country.

“The heritage ordinance in our city came into being in 1962 and it was really promoted by heritage advocates American Institute of Architects who were alarmed by the loss of historic buildings across the city.”

Los Angeles experienced explosive growth in the early 1960s. In the aftermath of World War II there were efforts to revitalize urban communities by clearing and grading older communities and properties.

“With the demolition of our downtown Victorian neighborhood, Bunker Hill, in 1962, Dodger Stadium, the icon of modernity, opened. That had come about with the release of Chavez Gorge years before that.”

Los Angeles denotes the Leonis Adobe as the first cultural monument of the city at the first meeting of the Board of Cultural Heritage. The historic Calabasas Building dates from the 1840s and is one of the oldest remaining private residences in the city.

The Japanese Union Church, which served as a major religious and community center for both Japanese Americans and Black Americans, became the 312th Church cultural monument recognized by the Heritage Commission. Photo by Downtowngal (CC BY-SA 3.0).

The Heritage Commission has also been instrumental in paying tribute to the city’s diverse and rich cultural history, according to Bernstein. That Japanese Union Church on San Pedro Street, for example, epitomizes the ethnic diversity that began to take root in the city in the 20th century, as well as the racial segregation and discrimination faced by minority groups.

After becoming the first permanent Christian place of worship in Little Tokyo in 1923, Union Church served as an important religious institution and community center for Japanese-American immigrants prior to World War II. But when Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during the war, the church became a religious and social center for the black community.

“African Americans moved into Los Angeles from the South during this time and moved into Little Tokyo, which had been largely vacated during the internment. During World War II it became known as the neighborhood of Brownsville,” describes Berstein. “The church also played this crucial role for African Americans. And after World War II, it again became an important center for the Japanese-American community.”

In addition to the Leonis Adobe and the Japanese Union Church, the city’s heritage commission has designated more than 1,200 other historical-cultural monuments, including the Angels Flight Railway and Bradbury Building downtown to San Fernando Rey Mission and the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Although some property owners object to their properties being designated as cultural monuments, Bernstein says that opposition has diminished as both the city and state have created incentives to sweeten the pot:

“The majority of the nominations we receive — more than half — come from owners themselves,” says Bernstein. “Recognize your own buildings and properties as historical monuments of the city and want to see them protected in the future.”

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