Contrary to the clichés of transient critics, there is more to Los Angeles than a suburban conceit of tacky homes, McMansions, mini malls, and dingbat developments. As the increasing cadre of local architectural and history aficionados will attest, the Southern California metropolis has a rich repository of residential, institutional, commercial, and cultural landmarks.
Appreciating them for the distinct sense of place and time they lend Los Angeles has been a problem due to their scattered locations. The city’s multicultural, divergent neighborhoods, many awkwardly transitioning from first to second growth, can be a disorienting maze to the most determined urban historian, adventurous preservationist, or star-struck tourist.
Now at long last the search has been subsumed in cyberspace by an online information and management system, thanks to a $5 million, decade-long effort of the City of Los Angeles and the Getty Conservation Institute.
Heralded “HistoricPlacesLA,” the system is the first such tool created to inventory, map, and describe the city’s significant cultural resources. It is powered by an open source, geospatially based information platform developed by the Getty Institute and the World Monuments Fund.
Accessible to anyone, the system was unveiled recently at the Los Angeles City Hall, a historic landmark, as the largest and most ambitious historic resources survey in the nation, going beyond limited national, state, and local listings to include distinctly LA curiosities.
There are the obvious landmarks, such as Union Station, the Central Library, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House, and the Watts Towers, among thousands of others. But also included are the former, non-descript homes of celebrities Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Shirley Temple, and Amelia Earhart, as well as the home that served as the setting of the popular 1970s television series the Brady Bunch.
And the discoveries keep being unveiled, thanks in part to a battalion of graduate student foot soldiers going the old-fashioned way, door-to-door, clipboard in hand. Some things never change.