Uncovering Los Angeles’ Forgotten Neighborhood

The Photo Blog
June 9 2014 11:07 AM

Uncovering Los Angeles’ Forgotten Neighborhood

behold
1880s-Victorian
Now used as USC student housing, this beautiful Victorian was built in 1895 by Dennis Burkhalter, the superintendent of the Southern Pacific Railroad. To the left, you can see the construction of new student housing.

Jett Loe

After spending four years in Belfast, Northern Ireland, former BBC director Jett Loe came to California with his wife in search of a new place to live.* He’d heard that the West Adams district was full of communal houses, and so he took a bus one day to seek them out. At first, the area didn’t seem remarkable. Then, he turned a corner and his perspective changed. “I was stunned. House after house, block after block was filled with incredible Craftsman homes, Tudor homes, and Victorian mansions. I'd never seen anything like it. I couldn't figure out why I'd never heard of this place,” he said.

Turns out, Loe wasn’t the only one who had overlooked West Adams. Once Los Angeles’ original wealthy neighborhood, the area has since been largely forgotten by Angelenos and the wider world. After moving into a home there, he decided to try to correct that by exploring the neighborhood’s rich history and its present-day beauty. Loe’s iBook, Untold LA, offers a glimpse inside the incredible buildings and lively communities that now call West Adams home. “My vision of L.A. wasn't these old Victorians and mansions. Most Angelenos don't think of L.A. that way either. They think of modern architecture. The fact that this exists and is preserved is surprising,” he said.

1914-Guasti-Mansion-Foyer
Segundo Guasti, owner of some of the world's largest vineyards in the early 20th century, began building this Beaux Arts and Italian Renaissance Revival Villa for his family in 1910. This room was known as the foyer and was used often as a ballroom for the Guasti's lavish parties.

Jett Loe

Art-Sencion-in-his-Victorian
Longtime West Adams resident Art Sencion in his home, the Richard H. Alexander House, an “Eastlake” Victorian built in 1888 and now a recognized Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument.

Jett Loe

1899-Ecung-Ibbetson-House-with-Moreton-Bay-Fig-Tree
This home, built for a prominent real-estate developer in 1899, shows a confluence of what's called Richardsonian Romanesque and Victorian styles. On the left, you can see it dominated by a Moreton Bay Fig Tree.

Jett Loe

Making-Pupusas-Inbetween-Homes
Food trucks, roving produce vans, and folks selling tamales and elotes on the street are common sights in West Adams. Here, a woman makes Salvadoran pupusas in an ad-hoc kitchen in between two homes.

Jett Loe

House-used-in-film-Insidious
This house was used prominently in the horror movie, Insidious. It's an early 20th-century Craftsman designed by Frank Tyler, who used many variations of this design throughout West Adams.

Jett Loe

In the 1880s, West Adams was an ideal place to reside for wealthy, white Angelenos who wanted a quick streetcar commute to downtown. With the advent of the automobile, however, those people moved farther away to neighborhoods including Beverly Hills. Many wealthy and influential black families moved into the area in the 1940s and 1950s. In the late ’50s, however, construction of Interstate 10 cut through West Adams, breaking up the neighborhood in the process. Wealthy residents moved away once again, and the neighborhood dimmed in the public consciousness. “Many of the mansions still have all the features in tact. Many are occupied. Some are sitting around. People bought these homes in the ’70s for nothing and they bought them to preserve them. They thought USC would turn them into parking lots,” he said.

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After raising money on Kickstarter to fund the project, Loe thought he’d need two months to get the shots he wanted. He ended up taking two years and expanding the project to incorporate audio interviews and video footage. “I spent more and more time in more neighborhoods, and I started incorporating neighborhood activities. It became more about the people and the landscape,” he said.

Though the neighborhood has changed and will likely continue to do so, Loe hopes his work will ensure that West Adams’ history and homes remain a defining characteristic there. “There have always been movements of people in West Adams. I hope the book raises awareness and that these homes are preserved and it continues to be a vibrant area that thrives. There are so many beautiful homes here and we'd hate to lose them,” he said.

Clark-Library-Reading-Room
The reading room of the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library. Run by UCLA, the library occupies an entire block of West Adams and is open to the public by appointment.

Jett Loe

1922-Cottage-with-Wisteria
This wisteria-covered cottage is home to the granddaughter by marriage of one West Adams most famous residents, African-American architect Paul Williams.

Jett Loe

Guasti-Mansion-Chandelier
Vintner Segundo Guasti spared no expense while building his showcase villa in West Adams in the early 20th century. Craftsmen from Italy were brought in to create windows, murals, and chandeliers like the one seen here in the dining room.

Jett Loe

Zac-Efron-Frat-House-in-Neighbors
Hollywood beckoned again when using this 1907 Craftsman with Victorian touches for Zac Efron's fraternity house in the film, Neighbors.

Jett Loe

Correction, June 11, 2014: This post originally misstated that Belfast was in Ireland. It is in Northern Ireland. It also mispelled Angeleno.

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