Baldwin Hills Village
Baldwin Hills Village, a National Historic Landmark, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original NHL nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2014, The Gombach Group.
Baldwin Hills Village, now known as The Village Green, is a middle-income residential community located on a 64-acre site along the south-west edge of the city of Los Angeles. Reginald Johnson (1882-1952), prominent Los Angeles architect, in association with the firm of Lewis Wilson, Edwin Merrill, and Robert Alexander, was the project architect, while Clarence Stein (1882-1975), already a noted author, planner, and architect, was prominently credited as consulting architect. The site plan is considered the best and most fully developed example of Clarence Stein's "Radburn Idea" of neighborhood community planning. The buildings and the site plan are largely unchanged, and constitute one of the finest examples of progressive idealism directed toward providing high quality urban housing.
Baldwin Hills Village is a product of three profound movements, both technological and social, in human history that first took place in Great Britain and the United States. These are the Industrial Revolution (beginning in the early 1700s to the mid 1900s); new social and political philosophies (and institutions) that resulted from the Industrial Revolution; and the invention of the automobile in the late 1800s with mass production in the early 1900s. Baldwin Hills Village, designed and built in the mid-1930s and the early 1940s, is an effort to overcome the past mistakes and experiences of over two hundred years that have impacted negatively the human community in a technological age. The founding architects and Clarence Stein sought to design and build a new humanistic environment (through site planning, architecture, and landscape architecture) to improve the quality of life for the modern individual in an impersonal industrial society.
The creation of Baldwin Hills Village was strongly influenced by two important events. The first event was the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain that began during the early 1700s, and later spread to American society, transforming the physical structure of its communities. The second event was the work of Ebenezer Howard and his colleagues during the late 1800s and early 1900s in solving the deep social problems caused by this revolution. Howard offered a blueprint of an ideal humanistic community for this new modern industrial society. This served as the foundation for the conception and design of Baldwin Hills Village.
Design work on what was to become Baldwin Hills Village formally began in the late 1930s. The original name for the project was Thousand Gardens, and the architects initially proposed a 224-acre site. This was soon reduced to 100 acres with a density of 10 homes per acre. The final size of the project was 64 acres with 629 residences.
Construction on Baldwin Hills Village was begun in February 1941 and continued through December 1942. The cost of the project was approximately $3.3 million. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's new Federal Housing Administration provided critical financing by insuring $2.6 million worth of mortgages. The local contracting firm of Marks-Charde began the work, but was replaced by the Herb Baruch Construction Company after the beginning of World War II.
For more than half a century, Baldwin Hills Village has maintained a surprisingly high degree of historic integrity. A comparison of an aerial photograph taken in the mid-1940s with one taken in 1998 shows that the site plan remains virtually unchanged. These photographs show the locations of the buildings and the basic landscape configuration with its extensive open spaces and walkways. In addition, a comparison of ground-level photographs taken in the 1940s with similar photographs taken recently also shows that the architecture remains virtually unchanged.
However, while the majority of the buildings are unchanged, some modifications have been made. There has been a progressive expansion of garage and parking areas at the expense of other less-valued facilities such as the tennis courts, badminton areas, and clothesline areas. The six "tot lots" or small children's play areas have all been removed, replaced in four cases with garages or parking areas. In the 1950s, clothesline areas were reduced because of the introduction of clothes dryers. Garbage collection areas in the parking courts were introduced to accommodate large bins.
Both the original clubhouse and the administration buildings are not in their original configurations. The early drawings describe what became the clubhouse as a community building and nursery school, but by 1944 it was established as the community clubhouse. Early photos show it as consisting of a large central hall used for games and group activities with other small rooms at the sides. It is possible that the building was converted to other uses as early as 1954 but anecdotal recollections maintain that it was converted into two living units between 1972 and 1978. At present, the majority of the interior partitions are not original; none of the existing fireplaces is original. The footprint of the building has been modified by the enclosure of one-half of the atrium on the south side to give one unit an extra room, and the enclosure of another part of the atrium on the north side to provide two new dining rooms. The large round wading pool on the south side was changed into a planter soon after 1944.
The site plan is one of the most significant assets of Baldwin Hills Village. It successfully demonstrates Clarence Stein's ideal of complete separation of automobile and pedestrian traffic, while providing a calm oasis of greenery in an urban area. The site is approximately 64 acres, and is a rough rectangle running about 3200 feet in the east-west direction by about 800 feet in the north-south direction. In plan, the site is developed in accordance with beaux-arts planning principles with a major axis and minor sub-axes. The central focus of the plan is an 800 foot semi-oval central green. The original administration and clubhouse buildings lay on the site's main north-south axis, which opens out onto this central green before continuing across the site and becoming one garden court. The central green is linked to smaller greens to the east and west by rows of paired sycamore trees that operate powerfully as an architectural element. Other open areas, or garden courts, open out onto the main greens. All the original green areas are unchanged in concept and disposition and are contributing resources. They are the armatures of the Baldwin Hills Village pedestrian circulation, both as drawn in plan and as experienced on foot.
The architecture of the buildings of Baldwin Hills Village is clear, simple, and unpretentious. The buildings, designed as a harmonious unit, are painted in neutral colors and constructed in standard Southern California frame and plaster. The long two-story facades, with strong horizontal lines at the eaves and balconies, along with the low hipped and gable roofs create a quiet and uncomplicated domestic architecture. The style is a simplified modernist version of common building types that Lewis Mumford described as "robust vernacular." The sides of the buildings facing the public greens are generally unchanged except for the installation of sliding glass doors in some one-story end units, and the installation of some metal security screen doors in place of original wood screen doors. After the 1963 flood, the patio sides of some units were modified by the replacement of the wood door and some steel casement windows with large aluminum sliding doors. These changes were made under the supervision of Robert Alexander. The original trellises built onto the buildings to screen entrances remain. The building plans are generally unchanged since construction.
All residences are in multi-family buildings of one-and two-story construction. Each two-level unit has its own distinct entry with the front facing a garden court or interior green. Typically, living rooms and master bedrooms also face the greens. However, second floor flats are entered from the garage court side. Now every unit has its own semi-private entrance garden or patio on the garage side. These are enclosed with either painted wood fences or serpentine brick walls. The painted wood fences are original to the design, and within a few years of first occupancy, the serpentine walls were added by the original architects to provide private areas for the apartment flats as well as many two-level units that did not originally have fully enclosed patios.
The interiors of typical Baldwin Hills Village units are simple with comfortable rectangular rooms and generous built-in closets. The sizes of the units vary from about 700 square feet for the smallest one-bedroom unit, to 1200 square feet for the two-story townhouses, to approximately 1600 square feet for the three-bedroom townhouse. The basic unit configurations are as follows: a three-bedroom townhouse with two baths; a two-bedroom townhouse with either one or 1-1/2 baths; a two-bedroom unit with one bath and dining room; a two-bedroom unit with one bath and a dining alcove; a one-bedroom unit with one bath and a dining room; a one-bedroom unit with one bath and a dining alcove. The ceilings are approximately eight feet high. Exterior doors are either solid-paneled wood or half-paneled with glass lights above. Interior doors are solid paneled wood. All the doors are fitted with brass hardware. Most wall surfaces are three-coat plaster on gypsum lath, but 1" x 8" vertical ship-lapped wood is also used for visual variety. Oak parquet flooring is used on the first floors, and oak strip flooring is used upstairs. Door and window moldings are simple 1" half round fir. Kitchen floors were linoleum while bathroom floors were 1 5/8" unglazed tile. Bathroom walls and tub surrounds typically have a tile wainscoting to a height of 48 inches. Bathroom lavatories were originally pedestal-type. Most kitchens were remodeled when the property became condominiums in 1972, but some retain their stainless steel sinks and counters, and their plywood cabinets. All three-bedroom units and end bungalows have brick fireplaces; some one-and two-bedroom units also have fireplaces.
The garage structures are all simple flat-roofed buildings with walls of either 1" x 8" tongue-and-grove wood siding or frame-and-stucco. The wood siding is original (occurs on contributing resources) while the stucco occurs on rebuilt or added structures. The structural module for the framing is approximately 9'-3" wide by 20'-0" deep. Buildings occur in varying multiples of the width and in one or two multiples of the depth. The end walls of the garages typically have a built-in storage cabinet above the height of a car hood. The garage doors now match the wood siding.
Landscape architect Fred Barlow laid out the original plantings at Baldwin Hills Village in collaboration with the architects. Fred Barlow had worked with Katherine Bashford who was the landscape architect for many of Reginald Johnson's projects. Another landscape architect, Fred Edmondson, also worked with Robert Alexander in the general design of the walkways and landscape massing.
The original landscape plan was strong and simple and it complemented the building architecture. Large ivy beds in front of the residential buildings functioned as a design element that separated the simple buildings from the large open spaces. Architectonic elements were also repeated in rows of hedges defining several of the open areas.
The idea for Baldwin Hills Village (now known as the Village Green) originated when prominent Los Angeles architect Reginald Johnson (1882-1952) in the early 1930s decided to create a new type of community. The intent was to provide affordable housing to help the nation recover from the devastation of the Great Depression. Eventually, this project became possible because of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's progressive housing policies that included government financing. This was a means to rebuild the nation socially and economically. Johnson worked in association with Lewis Wilson, Edwin Merrill, and Robert Alexander to design and construct this community from 1935 to 1942.
The Los Angeles architects made a critical decision that had already ensured the success of this project when they decided to hire Clarence Stein (1882-1975) during 1938 as consulting architect. Stein, a noted architect and town planner, was influential in shaping the philosophical and design parameters of Baldwin Hills Village.
Before he became its consulting architect, Stein was at the forefront in developing an innovative approach in the area of community housing for several decades. During the 1920s, Stein and his colleagues of the influential Regional Planning Association of America worked on solving the growing problems caused by the crowded and socially troubled urban areas. These conditions were intensified during the late 1800s because of the impact of the American Industrial Revolution. Subsequently, the efforts of these individuals made a significant impact on President Roosevelt's progressive housing policies.
Stein's involvement helped the Los Angeles architects in developing a philosophical concept for the design of Baldwin Hills Village. Its philosophical framework can be traced to Englishman Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928) who directly influenced Stein's thinking. Howard proposed an ideal community (called the Garden City) that would be planned specifically to meet the humanistic needs of its inhabitants. This is in contrast to the various economic self-interests that dictated the haphazard and unhealthy growth of the urban areas during the early part of the Industrial Revolution.
† Robert Nicolais, Architect, Dorothy Fue Wong and Michael Tomlan Director, Graduate Program in Historic Preservation College of Architecture, Art and Planning, Cornell University, Baldwin Hills Village (Village Green), Los Angeles, CA, nomination document, 2000, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.