Los Angeles begins multi-year effort to save cultural landmarks

Preservationists say Los Angeles is doing a better job of preventing the loss of cultural landmarks to the wrecking ball. The City of L.A.'s 3-year-old Office of Historic Resources unveils an effort this weekend to systematically search the city's nearly 465 square miles for potentially significant cultural landmarks. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has the story.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: On Third Street in Boyle Heights, Office of Historic Resources manager Ken Bernstein recalls what happened to the Jewish Community Center – a modernist building that, when it opened 70 years ago, was the pride of the neighborhood.

Ken Bernstein: It was demolished with no notice to the community, no opportunity to save the building. One of those bus tours pulled up in front of the Jewish Community Center and it was gone.

Guzman-Lopez: Last year, fans of the late L.A. writer Charles Bukowski saved the author's East Hollywood courtyard apartment from demolition at the eleventh hour. Bernstein says that cataloging historic and cultural information about buildings like that one will help avert similar battles and prevent future losses. It'll also lead to a better-informed landmark designation process.

The $5 million program, funded with a matching grant from the Getty Trust, will send scores of professionals throughout the city in the next three years to gather the information and take pictures. That's what Survey L.A. consultant Katie Horak's been doing in Boyle Heights for a pilot survey. She enters data into a customized portable computer as she scrutinizes a 19th-century Boyle Heights house.

Katie Horak: We know that this is an early suburb of Los Angeles. One of the first and this building, dating to 1893, we know the age of the resource, we know what style it is by looking at it.

Guzman-Lopez: L.A.'s nearly 900,000 individual properties make Survey L.A. a massive effort. Organizers hope that you can help to identify historic homes or buildings at their Web site: SurveyLA.org.

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