North University Park Historic District

Los Angeles City, Los Angeles County, CA

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The North University Park Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]

The North University Park Historic District is located southwest of downtown Los Angeles, near the University of Southern California. The district is roughly bounded by South Hoover Street on the east, West Adams Boulevard on the north, 28th Street on the south, and Magnolia Avenue on the west. This five block area was developed between 1887 and 1929 with one and two story residential buildings. There are sixty-six buildings in the district.

Most of the contributing buildings were designed in late 19th century and early twentieth century styles, the most common being Queen Anne, Turn of the Century cottage, American Foursquare, English Revival, Mediterranean Revival, and Craftsman. The districts' high level of coherence can be attributed to several factors. First the buildings are similar in scale and conform to a common setback. Second, while the styles of the buildings vary, the buildings are clad in many of the same materials, notably clapboard, shingles, and stucco. There are three smaller groupings of buildings that stand out in the district, the Period Revival style Vista Magnolia Court, the English Revival style apartment buildings on West Adams Gardens, and the American Foursquare houses on Magnolia Avenue.

Many of the older houses retain mature trees from their original landscape plans. The most majestic of the historic trees is the Morton Bay fig in the front yard of the Ibbetson House at the corner of West Adams Boulevard and Magnolia Avenue. Canary Island Date palms were typically planted in front yards at the turn of the century, either individually or flanking front walks. Many are still standing and are incorporated into new landscape plans. Mature eucalyptus trees and clumps of yucca also remain and indicate historic plant preferences.

Historic streetscape improvements consist of the sidewalks on 27th Street an Monmouth Avenue. The narrow, concrete sidewalks are scored in a diamond pattern. The only street trees that appear to be mature enough to be considered historic are the queen palms on 27th Street. Newly planted cinnamon camphors and large silk floss trees also grace 27th Street. Hoover Street is planted with podocarpus, West Adams Boulevard has cinnamon camphors, and Magnolia Avenue has crepe myrtles, jacarandas, and cinnamon camphors. There modern cobra lights at the intersections. Otherwise, there are no other light standards.

The historic district is significant in local history as an intact grouping of middle class housing built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This period of time was the heyday of the neighborhood's development as a fashionable streetcar suburb of Los Angeles. The buildings in the district represent the prevailing architectural styles of Southern California from 1887 through 1929. They reflect the transition from the Victorian to the Period Revival styles. The works of some of the most prominent architects in Los Angeles are represented within the district, which contains many important examples of Queen Anne, Eastlake, Shingle Style, Colonial Revival, and Tudor Revival architecture. There are only a few such neighborhoods remaining in the City of Los Angeles that retain their physical integrity to the same degree as North University Park.

With this start, West Los Angeles (its name now changed to University) began to grow. A post office was opened in 1883, followed by a general store on the southwest corner of Jefferson and University Avenue. The earliest residents in the University area were well-to-do individuals whose fortunes had been derived primarily through real estate and mining investments locally, and from resources brought with them to California from other parts of the country. They typically purchased five to ten acre parcels on which the constructed substantial houses and planted orchards. Charles F. Harper purchased a tract of land that includes most of the historic district and built a house for his wife and nine sons, Harper moved to Los Angeles with his family in 1868 and immediately set up a hardware store on Main Street. The boom of the eighties, actually a short period of time when real estate sales averaged as high as $12 million a month, was set off by the coming of a second railroad, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe, and the ensuing rate war which brought fares for the long transcontinental trip to Los Angeles to a ridiculously low level. Beginning in 1886, the boom reached a peak in the early spring of 1887 and a phenomenal bust in the following summer. Pioneering families began subdividing their land for residential development. They were joined by real estate developers who purchased additional land for residential subdivisions.

Beginning in 1886, Harper sold large parcels of land to real estate developers. The Nies Tract, which includes most of Magnolia Avenue from West Adams Boulevard to 27th Street, was recorded in 1886. The following year Harper sold the land, with the exception of the two lots on which his own house stood, on both sides of 27th and 28th streets between Hoover Street and Orchard Avenue. This tract was recorded as the Miller & Herriott's Subdivision of the Harper Tract in August of 1887.

To spur the sale of lots, Miller and Herriott hired Joseph Gather Newsom to design a model house at 1163 27th Street. This house is now the oldest building in the historic district and is individually listed in the National Register. The Monmouth Tract was recorded on September 22, 1887 at the request of R.D. Wade, a real estate and oil investor. It included both sides of Monmouth Avenue between West Adams Boulevard and 27th Street. By 1889, Miller and Herriott had sold twenty-eight lots, however, there were only four other houses in the tract besides the model and the home of Harper.

An important factor in the development of this area was the building of the streetcar line, opened in November of 1891. Horse-drawn cars made the approximately thirty minute trip from the business center of downtown via Flower, Washington, Estrella, 23rd Street, Union, Hoover, Jefferson, and McClintock to Santa Monica Avenue (later renamed Exposition Boulevard). This line lent prestige to the properties along its complicated route, providing slow but dignified and reliable transportation. About 1900 it was electrified and remained in continuous service until the 1940s.

The development of the North University Park historic district proceeded rapidly as public transportation became available. Most of the lots in the area were sold to individuals who built houses, however, there were speculative houses constructed as well. In 1901, Thomas Vigus purchased lots 17 through 20 of the Nies Tract. Vigus was the vice president of the Los Angeles Lumber Company and independently constructed houses throughout Los Angeles. He built five houses that year, all of which sold immediately.

In the meantime, Harper moved further west, apparently in search of the semi-rural lifestyle that was all but lost in North University Park. In 1896, he built a large house on the outskirts of Sherman (now West Hollywood.) He sold the house on 28th Street to his son Arthur C. Harper, who lived there during the early part of the century. Arthur had close ties to the community. He and his soon to be wife, graduated from the University of Southern California in 1885. They purchased a lot from his father on Harper Avenue (now 29th Street) and built a house. He was also a founding member of the Church of Christ Scientist on West Adams Boulevard. In 1904, Harper ran unsuccessfully for mayor. He ran again in 1907 and was elected, but was forced to resign amid scandal in 1909. He became the vice-president and manager of the Consolidated Pipe Company and moved to Bakersfield in 1912.

The rapid development of the area was not without its cost. Each new well, drew away its share of ground water which had originally gushed to the surface. Each new dwelling, each new family, added to the need for better fire protection, better streets, and more school rooms. In 1896, a ten square mile area southwest of downtown (including North University Park) was annexed by the City of Los Angeles. A series of public improvements were made to the district after annexation including, street paving in 1897, sewer connections in 1910, and storm drain construction in 1930. The street pattern was also changed during this period. Howland was renamed Magnolia Avenue. Originally designed as a cul de sac off West Adams Boulevard, the end was vacated in 1908 and connected to 27th Street. The private street, West Adams Gardens was added in 1920.

More than half of the houses in the historic district were constructed by 1910. Many of these are significant examples of late Victorian architectural styles including Queen Anne, Eastlake, and Shingle Style. Late Victorian architecture encompasses the revival and eclectic styles popular in England and America during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). The most widespread of these, in terms of American domestic architecture, was named after Queen Anne (1702-14). Virginia and Lee McAlester identify "the half-timbered Watts-Sherman house in Newport, Rhode Island as the first American example of the style" in their book, A Field Guide to American Houses. By the 1880s, however, the English models executed in stone were supplanted by the American interpretation rendered in wood and heavily decorated with spindle work. The style was spread throughout the country by pattern books and architectural magazines. The expanding railroad network also helped popularize the style by making pre-cut architectural details conveniently available through much of the nation.

One of the earliest examples of late Victorian architecture in southern California is the "Queen Anne Cottage" built on the estate of E.J. Lucky Baldwin in 1881. The largest concentrations of the style occurred in the early suburbs around downtown Los Angeles, such as Angelino Heights, Westlake, and North University Park. There are several outstanding examples of the style in the district including the Salisbury House at 2703 South Hoover, the Cockins House at 2653 South Hoover (1894), the Kelley House at 1140 West Adams Boulevard (1892), the Harrison House at 1160 West 27th Street (1891), the DePauw House at 1146 West 27th Street (1894), and 1120 West 27th Street (1894).

Found in a few instances in North University Park, American Foursquare houses are two-story versions of turn of the century cottages. They are recognized by their square proportions, often given a horizontal emphasis by roof or siding treatments; by the nearly always present hipped roof and dormer; and by a front porch either recessed or attached, spanning all or part of the main facade. Columns suggestive of the classical orders, dentils, and traditional molding and endboards treated as pilasters, and boxed cornices tie these homes to the more complex American Colonial Revival style. They can also be referred to as a "Classic Box." An impressive group of American Foursquare houses were built by Thomas Vigus at 2629, 2633, 2639, 2643, 2647 Magnolia Avenue between 1901 and 1902.

Several historic styles gained popularity in the United States during the last few decades of the nineteenth century. The trend gained momentum with Chicago's Columbian Exposition of 1893, which stressed correct historical interpretations of European styles. This early emphasis on period styles was interrupted and almost overwhelmed by the first wave of architectural modernism which, in the form of the Craftsman and Prairie styles, dominated American houses built during the first two decades of this century.

Colonial Revival residences occur infrequently in North University Park, but are worthy of mention due to their exceptional beauty. The Colonial Revival style was often made up of a combination of styles used by colonists on the East Coast. The style became popular in Los Angeles at the turn of the century as the Anglo culture eclipsed the Spanish. Residences in the Colonial Revival style are typically symmetrical in mass and fenestration pattern and sheathed in narrow clapboard. Classical and clean lines were also keynotes of the style. Eaves are usually extended and boxed. Classically detailed entrances were often positioned on the center of this facade. In some cases entrances are capped by hoods or small porticos. Other versions extended the porch across the facade with pediments supported by Ionic or Doric columns. Multi-paned, double-hung sash windows are often found in pairs and typically have shutters.

Many of the houses in the district were influenced by the Colonial Revival style. As mentioned above, Queen Anne and American Foursquare houses and turn of the century cottages often included Colonial Revival style elements. Typically these hybrids would retain the massing and plans of the Queen Anne and American Foursquare, but borrow the classical ornamentation of the Colonial Revival. The C.C. Carpenter Residence at 2671 Magnolia Avenue is the oldest and most impressive Colonial Revival houses in the district. Constructed in 1894, it is similar to the late Victorian style houses in the district in terms of its size and the exuberance of its details. Less assuming, yet fine versions of the style stand at 1157 West 28th Street (1922), and 1180 West Adams Boulevard (1912).

The Craftsman style was used in North University Park in only a few instances. It is almost exclusively a domestic style, and grew out of the Arts and Crafts movement in 19th century England which was in part a reaction to the excesses of the Victorian era. The movement stressed the relationship of architecture and nature by integrating buildings with their landscapes, revealing the construction techniques such as joinery, reducing ornamentation, and using materials in their natural form and color. In American architecture, the movement was named after a magazine published by Gustav Stickley and dominated smaller house production from 1905 until the early 1920s. Identifying features of the style include a ground hugging, horizontal orientation through the use of multigabled roofs of shallow pitch and fenestration with wide proportions. Roofs were characterized by wide overhangs and exposed structural elements such as rafters braces, brackets and joints. Earth colored wood siding, either painted clapboard or stained shingles, and expansive porches helped integrate the house with the site. Brick, stone, and cast concrete blocks were the favored materials for chimneys, porch supports, and foundations.

There are several houses in the district which express the transition from the late Victorian to the Craftsman style. These houses typically retain the massing from the late Victorian period, but incorporate elements from the Craftsman style such as overhanging eaves, exposed rafter tails, and river rock foundations and porches. The houses at 1194 West 27th Street, and 2636 and 2627 Magnolia Avenue are typical of this hybrid.

Constructed in 1901, the house at 1177 West 28th Street is an early example of the Craftsman style. One of the few classic examples of a one-story Craftsman bungalow stands at 2650 Magnolia Avenue (1908). The house embodies the distinguishing characteristics of the style with its low pitched roof, wide overhanging eaves, exposed rafters, river rock porch, and tapered molding around the windows and doors. Another, larger example of the style is located at 1186 West 27th Street (1909).

During the teens, several apartment buildings were constructed in the district. In 1919, the Lilly-Fletcher Company constructed the aforementioned English Revival West Adams Gardens. In 1912, Robert Ibbetson, who had built several houses in the district, constructed an apartment, building. The Alfred E. Gwynn Company built two others: at West 27th Street (1220 & 1228) in 1913. Between 1919 and 1920, the Lilly-Fletcher Company also built three apartment buildings in the district at 1133 and 1157 West 27th Street and 2666 Magnolia Avenue. These early example of multifamily housing in the district were all four-plexes, and in most cases were developed on empty lots. With the exception of the West Adams Gardens, virtually all of the apartments, including those which came later, are nearly identical in design. All have large two story rectangular stuccoed masses covered by flat roofs. Facades are symmetrically arranged with centrally located doors surrounded by wood-framed windows. Roof treatment and ornamentation is inspired by the architecture of the Mediterranean. The earlier buildings are more Italian with bracketed parapets and their classical details, while the later buildings are more Spanish with red tile coping and arched openings.

The historic district includes significant buildings by some of the most distinguished architects working in Los Angeles at the turn of the century. Designed for specific clients, or speculative builders, the works of these architects indicate the level of craftsmanship and attention to detail represented in the historic district.

‡ Teresa Grimes and Jim Childs, ADHOC, North University Park Historic District, Los Angeles, CA, nomination document, 2003, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
27th Street West • 28th Street West • Adams Boulevard West • Adams Gardens West • Hoover Street • Magnolia Avenue • Monmouth Avenue

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