Wilton Historic District
The Wilton Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2014, The Gombach Group.
The Wilton Historic District contains 63 single family residences dating from 1907-1925. Two additional houses were built in the mid 1930s. About half of the houses are two-story Craftsman Bungalows while the others are Colonial Revival bungalows. The District includes the residences on both sides of Wilton Place beginning at Third where the street widens to 50 feet. At Second, the street narrows to 40 feet as it diverges around a one block residential island. The District includes the houses on the island as well as those on the west side of Wilton Drive and the east side of Wilton Place. It ends at First Street, just north of where Wilton Drive and Wilton Place converge again.
The area along Wilton Place and Wilton Drive between Third Street and First Street in Los Angeles was developed during the first decade of the twentieth century. Planned as an upper-middle class, single family residential area, it was located "on the far northwestern boundary of the city." About half of the sixty-five structures in this area were built before the beginning of the First World War. The remaining houses were completed in the decade following the War with only two exceptions, both constructed in the mid-30s. This concentrated period of building and the fact that there have been virtually no major changes or alterations in the intervening years have resulted in an unusually homogeneous neighborhood highlighted with fine examples of two-story Craftsman Bungalows and slightly later Colonial Revival residences. An additional unique feature of this area is the unusual street configuration which was developed to join the already existing alignments of Wilton Place north of First Street and south of Third. Many builders in this area effectively utilized the curving streets to give prominence to their structures, siting them with great care in order to take advantage of the interesting vistas. Such street configurations are unusual in the flatlands of Los Angeles and this, coupled with the facts that Wilton Place is a well-traveled north-south street and that the neighborhood is essentially as it was in 1925, has resulted in a greater than normal interest in this area by many Los Angeles residents.
The houses in this area and the sub-tropical landscaping are particularly reflective of Southern California. Conditions in Los Angeles at the turn of the century provided a unique opportunity for experimentation. The land, the climate and the people all contributed to the development of styles distinctive to the region. This uniqueness is clearly stated in the title of an article which appeared in The Craftsman — "The California Bungalow: A Style of Architecture Which Expresses the Individuality and Freedom Characteristic of our West Coast." The article explains: "In the north and east...a style of building is required which would be absolutely out of harmony with the life and surroundings to be found in...California, — especially in the southern part of the state, - conditions [there] prevail which are found hardly anywhere else on the continent." Una Nixson Hopkins continues in a later issue of the same magazine: "Because of its climatic conditions the possibilities for attractive outdoor effects, such as pergolas, courtyards, terraces and gardens... are almost unlimited...Every house to be built has its particular problem...and in the majority of instances each problem has been worked out according to its individual requirements...There is as yet sufficient space in the West, so that respectable areas are allotted for the erection of homes, — in fact there is a tendency to extend rather than to contract the borders of lawns and gardens, and there is also a growing veneration...for trees." Taken as a whole, this District clearly reflects this kind of architectural development as it occurred in Los Angeles during the first decades of the 20th Century.
Around 1900 the District was being used as a vegetable garden and chicken ranch by the Plummer family to supply food for their restaurant in the plaza in downtown Los Angeles. It made up the central portion of Plummer Square, recorded with the County of Los Angeles on January 28, 1896, and which included the area between Western Avenue and Westminister (now just west of Norton) and Second Street (now First) and Fourth Street (now Third). On January 8, 1907, John L. Plummer filed a tract map with the County of Los Angeles for the area along Wilton Place between the present Second and Third Streets. A tract map for the area between Second and First Streets was filed in May of 1907 by E. T. Wright and slightly modified in June of 1908. The area was annexed by the City of Los Angeles on October 27, 1909. The only change recorded for the area since then occurred in October of 1912 when Ridgewood Place was cut through south of First Street to join up with Wilton Drive.
The grading for the streets left lots which rise between five and seven feet from the parkways. The houses are almost entirely two-story, larger than average, and were meant for upper-middle class families. They are set back from the street on large residential lots. Although some superficial remodeling has been done, the only major changes to the neighborhood since 1925 have been the building of two houses, one at 203 South Wilton Place in 1936 and the other at 268 South Wilton Place in 1937, following the moving of the original 1915 residence designed by Frank M. Tyler to 100 North Van Ness. Neither of these more recent structures detracts from the character of the neighborhood.
The areas north and east of the District contain numerous examples of structures from essentially the same period but they are smaller and closer to the street. To the west, on the other hand, the houses are considerably larger and more impressive, while to the south rezoning has destroyed the architectural integrity of the neighborhood.
The boundaries for the district were determined by the fact that a continuous, unified residential area occurs along Wilton Place north of Third Street where it widens to 50 feet for one block. The sense of continuity continues as the street crosses Second and diverges to the east (Wilton Place) and the west (Wilton Drive) around a residential "island." The continuity ends, however, as Wilton Place and Wilton Drive again converge just south of First Street. North of First Street the houses are smaller and, because the lots are regular rectangles, appear to be closer together. Although they are of essentially the same period, they are quite different in feeling. This short "streetscape" along Wilton Place and Wilton Drive between First and Third Streets is unmistakable in its unity and its remarkable ability to reflect this period of residential development in Los Angeles.
The District itself contains numerous fine examples of two-story Craftsman Bungalows such as those at 111, 121, 122 and 140 South Wilton Place and 103, 117, 125, 127, 147 and 157 South Wilton Drive. Of particular interest are those at 220, 221 and 250 South Wilton Place all probably designed by the same, as yet unidentified, architect. The bungalow at 233 South Wilton Place has an interesting hexagonal gable on the third floor while the one at 263 South Wilton Place has a beautiful clinker brick used in the porch and at the sidewalk. Typical examples of stained, leaded glass of the period can be seen at 118 and 221 South Wilton Place and 135 South Wilton Drive, and fine examples of clear, sometimes beveled, leaded glass can be found at 200, 220 and 239 South Wilton Place. Seen together, these houses give a particularly complete picture of the Craftsman style of architecture between 1905-1920 as found in Los Angeles. Typical characteristics are obvious while the variations apparent in the different structures clearly demonstrate the variety of influences and the flexibility in design which were possible.
There are also numerous fine examples of two-story Colonial Revival bungalows such as those at 148, 203 and 269 South Wilton Place and 132 South Wilton Drive. Of particular interest is the monumental Classical Revival residence at 212 South Wilton Place with its imposing two-story portico and composite capitals on paired columns. (This house was the first built in the 200 block of South Wilton Place and in the I920's belonged to the well-known actor, Lewis Stone.) Other noteworthy examples are the very sophisticated American Colonial Revival house at 226 South Wilton Place, the Dutch Colonial Revival residence designed by Edward Cray Taylor for sculptress, Emma Bogue, at 155 South Wilton Place, and the impressive Spanish and Mission Revival structure at 156 South Wilton Place with its subtle leaded glass windows.
Some of the most interesting houses, however, are not as important as examples of a particular style as they are for their relationship to the street and the neighboring structures. Certain houses gain distinction from their location and their unique siting. One of the most impressive is the house at 165 South Wilton Place which is positioned on the point created by the divergence of Wilton Place and Wilton Drive as they go north. Other structures distinctly sited are at 139 and 156 South Wilton Place where entries are located at the corners of each house, and at 111 South Wilton Place where a pergola extending from the north side of the house contributes to the pleasure derived from the unexpected view of this delightful facade. Other houses are memorable for their relationship to each other such as those along the west side of Wilton Drive where the repeatedly stepped back-siting of each house creates a charmingly different vista.
In addition, the neighborhood contains multiple examples of residences designed by two local architects which provide a marvelous opportunity for comparisons. H. J. Knauer designed three Craftsman Bungalows in the area between 1912-1914: the first at 209 South Wilton Place, the second at 147 South Wilton Drive and the third at 257 South Wilton Place. Frank M. Tyler designed five houses, one of which was moved from 268 South Wilton Place to 100 North Van Ness. The remaining four clearly demonstrate his versatility as an eclectic architect.
His 1912 residence at 244 South Wilton Place is unmistakably Tudor Revival with strong Swiss Chalet influences and is one of the most unique houses in the area. At 163 South Wilton Drive, he designed a typically American Colonial Revival house in 1918. And in 1920, he first designed a Craftsman Bungalow with Late Mission Revival details visible in the porch at 169 South Wilton Drive followed by the only hollow tile and poured concrete structure in the neighborhood at 238 South Wilton Place. The latter is a particularly impressive house in Renaissance Revival style with beautiful classical reliefs above the first story windows and porch.
The best known architect, however, to design a residence in the area was Pierpont Davis, whose Craftsman house at 215 South Wilton Place was designed for his cousin, Thomas A. Churchill, Sr. Numerous personal touches were lavished on this house including the leaded glass window in the front door with the initials of the original owner incorporated into the design. Davis designed other residences in the Los Angeles area for relatives but none more clearly demonstrates his love of the simple English countryside home. (Originally, Davis proposed a thatched roof for his house, but Churchill refused to permit it.) The granddaughter of the original owner resides in the house today and can attest to the remarkably few changes which have occurred in this neighborhood over the years.
And it is this fact, as much as any, which makes this area significant. Changes which have taken place have been relatively few and, for the most part, are reversible, All but four of the sixty-three residences constructed between 1907 and 1925 have undergone no significant alterations, as can be seen by comparing the photograph taken of the north end of the 200 block of South Wilton Place in 1920 with the one taken in 1978. There are few visible changes; even the retaining walls at 215 and 221 South Wilton Place are original. This is unusual in Los Angeles where lots and houses of this size are most susceptible to redevelopment. This is one of the few remaining areas in the city with architecture of this period which is not already punctuated with apartment buildings, offices and parking lots. So far this neighborhood has been able to withstand the pressures of the developers. The last five years have seen a remarkable change as properties once held with the hope of rezoning have been sold to families wishing to preserve them for the future. Owners realize that houses this rich in detail will never be constructed again and they hope to preserve this precious legacy from our past.
† Virginia Ernst Kazor, Chairman, History and Preservation Committee, Ridgewood/Wilton Neighborhood Association, Wilton Historic District, Los Angeles, CA, nomination document, 1979, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.