South Serrano Avenue Historic District
The South Serrano Avenue Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. 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 South Serrano Avenue Historic District is located in the old Wilshire District of Los Angeles. The district encompasses the houses on the east and west sides of the 400 block of the street, between 4th and 5th Streets, three blocks north of Wilshire Boulevard. The Westlake neighborhood and downtown Los Angeles are to the east of the district, and the exclusive Hancock Park neighborhood is to the west. South of the district is the Koreatown section of the city, while the Wilshire residential neighborhood extends north of the district to the East Hollywood/Los Feliz neighborhoods. Closer to South Serrano, Wilshire Boulevard is the city's Miracle Mile commercial thoroughfare. Western Avenue—two blocks west of Serrano, Third Street-one block north, and to a lesser extent, Normandie—five blocks east, are all heavily travelled major streets.
The origin of the name Serrano is not certain, but it is possible that the street was named after Jose Serrano who was one of California's leading wine producers before the Civil War.
The majority of the buildings within the district are remarkably intact and in good to excellent condition. Some have undergone relatively minor alterations, such as changes in fenestration, the partial enclosure of a front porch, or rear additions.
Many of the houses on the street were built by and for real estate investment firms and were probably intended for immediate resale. Many of the lots in the area were originally owned by Edward D. Silent and Company, a firm that specialized in "real estate, rentals, loans, insurance, investments, and business changes, according to the 1911 Los Angeles City Directory.
Several of the houses in the district were designed by architects, including Frank M. Tyler who designed several on the street. He also designed a number of houses in the Arlington Heights section of Los Angeles, including the Minney House at 2273 W. 20th Street, built in 1901 (now the Salisbury Bed and Breakfast), and several in the Berkeley Square neighborhood that were razed to make way for the construction of the Santa Monica Freeway. For a number of years Tyler's architectural office was located near the district, at 634 S. Western, and there in the late 1920s he also opened "Tyler and Company," a short-lived real estate company. Another architect who worked on Serrano was Harry Hayden Whiteley, a Los Angeles born and educated architect who worked in Tyler's office from 1907 to 1910 before opening his own practice. He specialized in residential and apartment design, and was a member of the Los Angeles Architectural Club, according to Who's Who in the Pacific Southwest (1913). In the 1920s his architectural practice was located in the same building as Tyler's, at 634 S. Western Avenue. Also, little known architect Henry J. Knauer designed one house on the street, #403. Other houses are the work of local builders. Building permits are missing for several of the houses.
The proximity of the street to the "Yellow Car" street railway lines on 3rd Street, 6th Street and Vermont Avenue and the street's proximity to prestigious Wilshire Boulevard made it attractive to prospective buyers. Prominent attorneys, physicians, investors, and business owners were among the neighborhood's original residents.
The district is the only intact block of single family homes in an area of many massive apartment buildings. This is largely because the residents have successfully maintained the block's R-1 zoning despite increasing development pressures on the residential streets along Wilshire Boulevard that began before World War II and have accelerated dramatically within the past ten years. A number of the houses in the district have been renovated within recent years. National Register designation will help to insure the future of this very special surviving reminder of the area's early history.
† Patricia A. Murphy, Architectural Historian/Preservation Consultant, South Serrano Avenue Historic District, Los Angeles, CA, nomination document, 1987, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.