Qualified Condition

June 30, 2009

Under the Surface

Filed under: Uncategorized — qualifiedcondition @ 10:19 pm

One of the things that I deal with at work is historic preservation.  Occasionally, the City will identify neighborhoods where there is a significant concentration of historic buildings (usually houses) and create restrictions and guidelines as to how the structures can be adapted and maintained over time.  At its best, this practice preserves important parts of our built environment and tells a much better story of what Los Angeles is.  On a more surfacy level, this practice just prevents really tasteless people from fucking up really cool houses with cheap remodels or McMansion additions. 

In addition to getting communities behind stuff like this, I also write guidelines that deal with design and restoration, and I end up working with individual property owners on their projects (a process I call baby-sitting door knobs every now and then).


Recently I came across this house in Lincoln Heights.  Someone bought it and wanted to re-stucco it.  Now normally, if someone asks to stucco over a late-19th century Folk Victorian he gets a really smarmy lecture from me about how absurd and horrible that is (using phrases like “an historic”).  But when the damage was done years before anyone really cared about this sort of thing (in this case 1979) I usually just hit the “okay fine” button.  This has more to do with officially differing standards for houses that have been bastardized vs. those that remain intact.

However, several days later I got a call from a building inspector asking if I was aware that the owner had removed the original Tums-orange stucco and that the original clapboard siding was still in-tact.  On a sunny Friday morning, this kind of phone call is equivalent to a city planner bat-signal.  I grabbed a co-worker who speaks Spanish, jumped in the white hybrid and headed north.

DSCF2885  DSCF2887    DSCF2886

Through some creative negotiation, most of which took place in Spanish my friend was able to persuade the new owner to at least restore the porch decoration and some of the clapboard.  Given the circumstances, not a bad deal–the house is so far gone that it would take an economic miracle to restore it (the interior is gutted, the fenestration is all hacked up, etc.), but at least now it tells a better story to the neighborhood about what Lincoln Heights looked like 100 years ago (when this farm house was probably the only house on the block).  There is a real insistence among recent Latin American immigrants that wood siding looks old and having a house with wood means you are poor.  The tragic reality for these homes and neighborhoods though, is that the opposite tends to be true.  These homes were constructed with a level of craftsmanship that no amount of stucco or aluminum could replicate or replace.



  1. wow! amazing.

    Comment by christie — June 30, 2009 @ 11:26 pm

  2. So did you have to take the “before” picture as part of the permit process? This is really amazing, btw. I’m curious to know what was offered to the homeowners in exchange. Free reign to violate any zoning law they like? A blind eye turned toward their home karaoke business?

    Comment by Lazlo H. — July 1, 2009 @ 12:04 am

    • We always complete a survey when these things get adopted. The survey indicates whether a building is a “contributor” or a non-contributor. (Are YOU a contributor, Lazlo? ARE you?).
      With “non-contributors” we really don’t have a ton of leverage (though tax breaks do come into play for some stuff). Really this just comes down to quick and skillful negotiation. At one point I heard the phrase “Que lastima, que lastima para la comunidad.” Que lastima indeed.

      Comment by qualifiedcondition — July 1, 2009 @ 6:52 pm

      • “Are you a contributor?”

        I haven’t heard that since my last Scientology “stress audit.”

        Comment by Lazlo — July 1, 2009 @ 6:54 pm

  3. the colors are AWESOME!

    Comment by pickleandcake — July 1, 2009 @ 4:55 pm

  4. good werk buddy. that place is gorgeous, even if it is more or less impossible to salvage on anything less than a celebrity budget.

    Comment by bolig — July 2, 2009 @ 1:01 am

  5. Wow. Amazing. I love a beautifully preserved old house, but I love the story told by peeling away layers of a much-fucked-with house even more. I totally geeked on this post.

    Comment by Cheryl — July 2, 2009 @ 1:58 am

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