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|History in the Making|
Historic Home | This house on West 30th Street belongs to John Arnold, and is part of the proposed Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) in the Jefferson Park area.
By Taylor Friedman
John Arnold, with his plain collared shirt tucked into his jeans, and his solid black belt and boots, meshes perfectly with his early twentieth century craftsman-style bungalow. He spends most of his day at an architecture firm in Santa Monica, but standing in front of his house in southern Los Angeles, he is the picture perfect image of a man who has arrived back home after a "long day out in the forest," as he put it when describing how craftsman homes evoke a sense of manliness. His back patio overlooks orange trees — it’s a serene image that harks back to another time.
Though Arnold appears to fit in seamlessly with his house, his house does not fit in seamlessly with the rest of West 30th Street, where Arnold moved in 2001. His front yard, with its overgrowth of plants, is an eyesore among his neighbors’ neatly trimmed lawns.
But what could be chalked up to carelessness and incongruity is actually part of a concerted effort to uphold the history of West 30th Street as a paradigm for the rest of Jefferson Park. The plants are characteristic of the same plants that grew when Arnold’s house was first constructed in 1906.
Arnold is part of a small group that wants to return Jefferson Park to its historic prime. He refers to this group — the people who moved to the area within the last decade and who are interested in historical preservation — as the “newcomers.” This is not his term, though. It is the phrase his older neighbors use who don’t quite understand what Arnold and his friends hope to achieve by transforming Jefferson Park into what is called an HPOZ – a Historical Preservation Overlay Zone. The boundaries of the HPOZ as proposed include both sides of Jefferson Boulevard from Western Avenue to 7th Avenue.
Historical preservation is a fairly new concept to Los Angeles. The city — not well-regarded for its history — was, until recently, more concerned with tearing down old buildings and erecting grander, modern structures, Arnold said.
Only in the past few years has there been a demand for historic, quainter communities. Urban sprawl has taken its toll on residents, and people have gravitated toward mom-and-pop businesses and areas away from the traditional California hotspots such as Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
Currently there are 24 established HPOZs in Los Angeles, and several others, like Jefferson Park, pending approval.
An HPOZ sets standards for a community first by declaring it an area of historic importance that contains buildings and structures from a similar time period, and then by holding residents responsible for maintaining its historic elements. Becoming an HPOZ requires support from the community, the City Council and the Los Angeles Department of City Planning’s Office of Historic Resources.
It is a long process — one that could take several more years, according to Colleen Davis, Arnold’s neighbor who conducted a great chunk of the historic research and drafted the proposal that is currently being reviewed by the Office of Historic Resources.
Jim Childs, a historic preservation consultant and member of the University Park HPOZ board, said the process of gaining HPOZ status for Jefferson Park began in 2006. Because it is largely a grassroots effort, it has taken a while to get off the ground.
"An HPOZ will preserve the story of an area. Jefferson Park has its own story to tell," Childs said.
Roland Souza, who oversees planning and zoning for the West Adams Heritage Association, said that though most community members tend to be apathetic about a project like this, some see the benefits of keeping a historic focus and defining a sense of place.
"Jefferson Park has some very fascinating history, and certainly the architectural housing stock is just amazing," Souza said. "They are very charming and on the verge of becoming desirable."
If it is ultimately passed by the City Council, the HPOZ will have both abstract and concrete benefits for the area. Most persuasive are the financial benefits. Property values rise faster in historic areas, and residents are also eligible for property tax reductions.
Abstractly, being part of a historic neighborhood gives residents a sense of pride. An indirect result of this is decreased crime, because people are more apt to acknowledge that their landmark of a city should remain untarnished by violence, Souza said.
Conversely, some community members feel that an HPOZ would be a hindrance, because it restricts the changes they can make to their homes. Instead, they must take its historic elements into consideration and get permission from the five-member HPOZ board, which Arnold would serve on as the resident architect.
Asked whether he thinks historical preservation can really turn Jefferson Park around, Souza says he has hope because he has seen it happen before in areas such as Pasadena.
"Developing communities where people walk and get to know their neighborhood stores and their neighborhood's history...that's a new concept, and people are starting to value that more," he said.