Driving from West Los Angeles along the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10) towards downtown a sign appears reading “Historic West Adams.” Drive on by and you will miss one of the oldest and most architecturally significant neighborhoods in the city. Many of the homes in this area were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s—almost prehistoric compared to the rest of Los Angeles. Take the Western Avenue exit, head south to Adams then zig-zag (walking is good) through the neighborhood bordered by Adams and the 10, Western and Vermont. West Adams extends beyond these boundaries but this will give you a great first taste.
At a glance, Victorian and Craftsman are the predominant architectural styles. The West Adams Historical Society lists “Victorian, Queen Anne, Stick/Eastlake, Shingle, Mission, Transitional Arts and Crafts, Beaux Arts and the Revival Styles, and Craftsman.” Most of the homes are well cared for. Over the decades people have moved into the area with the express purpose of renovating and maintaining the houses.
My friend KL and I walked and drove around the area recently. As we turned a corner we encountered a beautiful transitional house (Victorian/Craftsman). A man was walking out of the garage so I asked him if he was the owner. We told him we were admiring the architecture in the neighborhood and he very graciously invited us in to see the downstairs rooms.
He bought the house in the late 1980s and has been meticulously renovating it ever since. He showed us photos from when he first saw it when it was used as a drug flop house and the interior had been totally trashed. We were both amazed by the transformation—definitely a labor of love.
When I returned home I looked him up on the internet and discovered he is one of the authors of the book West Adams (Images of America). How exciting is that! Needless to say, I had to buy the book!
In its heyday, West Adams was home to such luminaries as Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Busby Berkley (whose mansion is now the Peace Theological Seminary and College of Philosophy which I enjoyed visiting some years ago), W.C. Fields, and yes, even Wyatt Earp who lived out his last years in the area.
Starting in the 1920s wealthy whites began to gravitate westwards towards prestigious new neighborhoods in West LA, Beverly Hills, and West Hollywood. Through the 1940s and 50s, professional and celebrity blacks moved into West Adams. In the 1950s and 60s the neighborhood was sliced up by the Harbor and Santa Monica Freeways causing the area to deteriorate. By the 1980s a new wave of homeowners moved in who were willing and able to restore the homes to their previous glory. In 1983 the West Adams Heritage Association was formed and today boasts hundreds of members.
So put on your walking shoes, grab your camera, and allow your imagination to take you back to a grand and elegant era in the cultural heritage of Los Angeles.
For more information visit the West Adams Heritage Association website.
(All photos copyright roslyn m wilkins)