Sweeping Survey Of L.A.'s Historical Architecture Launched

An ambitious 5 year project will attempt to catalog all the historic properties in the city using an interactive website.

"With technical assistance from the Getty Conservation Institute and funded in part by a $2.5-million, five-year matching grant from the Getty Foundation, "SurveyL.A.: Los Angeles Historical Resources Survey Project" is an ambitious effort to identify, catalog and ultimately protect not just its physical "built history" but to provide a sharper portrait of Los Angeles and how it came to be.

Of course, L.A. has history - a distinct if not variegated one. But its "City of the Future" moniker has, over time, done more ill than good in bolstering a civic sense of self, leaving Los Angeles ambivalent about its connection to the past and its complex evolution. "There's been a growing sense that the city is going to change and with that a growing realization that there is importance in historic preservation," says Ken Bernstein, manager of the city's Office of Historic Preservation. "It's part of a natural maturing of the city - or coming of age of the city. And it's become important to catalog what makes Los Angeles Los Angeles."

In 2001 the Getty Conservation Institute published the "Los Angeles Historic Resource Survey Assessment Project: Summary Report," a report that examined preservation in this city. "We were trying to understand if it made sense to even pursue a survey," says Tim Whalen, the Institute's director. "The report indicated that there was a need. What would it require? The problem is Los Angeles is the size of a small country."

Spanning five years and, they hope, the entire city - more than 800,000 legal parcels - the multiphase project launches one of its key elements Aug. 15: an interactive website that will catalog L.A.'s wide-ranging treasures. Some are more evident - historic downtown, clusters of Deco facades, whimsical bungalow courts - others less obvious. Uncovering that "hidden L.A.," identifying what often slips into the margins or can easily be lost to memory, is a key goal of the survey. Ultimately, that information would be available to anyone who might need it, including visiting scholars and deep-pocket developers as well as harried Hollywood location scouts.

"It's a way to bring historic preservation into the 21st century by taking sites that may be considered by some to be nontraditional or that aren't necessarily architectural masterpieces and ensuring that they are reviewed against accepted historic preservation criteria," Bernstein says. Eligibility will be based not only on architectural significance, "but on historic, social or cultural associations." The idea is not to just round up what we think of when we think about Los Angeles - the Neutras, the Schindlers, the Neffs - but to broaden definitions of "valuable." "

[Editor's note: Planetizen's parent company, Urban Insight, Inc., is a member of the Survey L.A. consultant team.]

Full Story: SurveyL.A. aims to take stock of the city's buildings, back story

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