Untold LA: West Adams homes through a photographer’s lens

Jett Loe set out to document the architecture of a

South L.A. neighborhood’s past eras in an e-book



A home built in the “Queen Anne” style. | Jett Loe

Conspicuously absent from tour books and commercial tours of Los Angeles is South L.A. Photographer and television director Jett Loe thinks that needs to change, and has created a new book on the West Adams district to highlight some of the architectural gems in the area.

Loe has documented the treasure of Craftsman, Victorian and Tudor homes of West Adams and their histories in an innovative electronic book, Untold LA. (For now, available via for Mac and iPad via iTunes, where you can download the first chapter for free.)

The book takes its viewers on an interactive neighborhood tour, with more than 500 photographs, 70 oral history audio clips and two hours of behind-the-scenes video commentary that bring the homes to life.

Loe’s wonderment about the homes and the people who live in them made his time on the project stretch from two months to two years. He spoke with Intersections about how the idea for the book came about and how his background influenced the project.

1914 Guasti Mansion Foyer

The foyer of the Guasti Mansion, built in 1914. | Jett Loe

Intersections South L.A.: What is your connection to West Adams?

Jett Loe: I encountered the amazing homes of West Adams upon moving to Los Angeles in 2012 from Northern Ireland, where I was directing shows for the BBC. My wife wanted to live in a communal household and I started looking in the Harvard Heights neighborhood of West Adams. In my search, conducted by foot and bus since I didn’t have a car yet in the United States, I was amazed by the beauty of the homes in the district. Following my discoveries, I was astonished to find that no one had done a “coffee table” book of photos about them. I then launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the book and raised $9,000 in 25 days from supporters who were excited that someone was finally documenting the neighborhood’s architecture.

What were the historical changes that contributed to the evolution of West Adams from the original wealthy section of Los Angeles into the neighborhood it has become today?

West Adams was home to the wealthy and powerful of Los Angeles during the late 1800s. If you were a doctor, banker or lawyer it was convenient for you to live in West Adams and take the streetcar Downtown. Of course, with the invention of the car people could live farther away. The rich created areas such as Beverly Hills, leaving the large, beautiful homes of West Adams to other folks. Once the original owners left, the powers of L.A. stopped focusing on the area and the media paid less attention to it. However, Japanese, African-Americans, Hispanics and others moved into the neighborhood, establishing vibrant communities. For a time it was the locus for Black political, economic and cultural power which is why West Adams was home to such greats as Marvin Gaye and Ray Charles.

1880s Victorian Home by Jett Loe

A Victorian Home from the 1880s | Jett Loe

What types of people have you met as a result of doing this project?

All types: From African-Americans who’ve lived here for many decades, to Japanese families who almost lost their homes during the World War II internment, to young folks who live in communal homes. The mixture of interviews and photographic portraits in the book was intentional; I wanted to show a whole spectrum of people to reflect the diversity the way I experienced it.

What made you decide to make it an e-book?

I always like to experiment with new things. An ebook allowed me to combine the interview skills I’d accumulated during my time directing television with my photography and interactive production abilities. The illuminated screen of an iPad or computer allows photographs to really ‘pop’ and for me evokes the illuminated stained glass windows that you see in so many West Adams homes.

Day of the dead celebration in west adams

A Mexican Day of the Dead celebration takes to the streets in West Adams

Do you think this is the future for photography and books?

For photographers in the U.S., making a living is an ongoing challenge, in no small part to the effects of the Internet, which seems to melt like water so many established business models. Many job positions for photographers have disappeared due to the development of Internet photography. For example, jobs that a newspaper would have had a decade ago no longer exist because now there is always someone on a news scene with a mobile phone. So being a working photographer is a continual challenge. Doing a project like Untold LA with its mix of private funding though a site like Kickstarter combined with selling a version of the project through iTunes is an experiment for me in new models of photography production.

How has Untold LA changed your relationship to West Adams?

When I moved to L.A., I had never heard of West Adams. But I feel that the district deserves to be just as famous outside of Los Angeles as well known spots like the Griffith Observatory. The homes and culture of West Adams are rich, unique and beautiful. I feel privileged that I was able to document a part of it.

1940 lukens home

Comparatively modern next to other West Adams residences, the Lukens Home was built in 1940 | Jett Loe

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West Adams architecture, Watts Riots yearbooks + South LA assemblyman to pay fine

A historic home in West Adams. | Erin Leiker / Intersections

A historic home in West Adams. | Erin Leiker / Intersections

Slate: A new book explores the unique architecture of West Adams, with styles ranging from Victorian to Craftsman to Beaux Arts.

KCET: Erin Aubry Kaplan sees demographic changes in the wake of the Watts Riots in her family’s school yearbooks.

KPCC: Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer representing South L.A. must pay a $10,000 fine for violating campaign donation laws.

LA Times: Blight builds in South L.A. and other neighborhoods with an abundance of foreclosed homes.

LA Times: Cyclist dies in hit-and-run in Vermont Square.

Inglewood poised to revamp its streets and its image

The freshly renovated Fabulous Forum | Olivia Niland/Neon Tommy

The freshly renovated Fabulous Forum | Olivia Niland/Neon Tommy

Inglewood-based architect Chris Mercier sometimes likes to play a word-association game with people when he talks about the place he’s called home for the past decade:

“If I say to you, ‘let’s go to Inglewood,’ you probably don’t picture a city, do you?”

As an artist and partner at (fer) Studio, an architecture firm in Inglewood, Mercier is an outspoken advocate for revitalizing Inglewood—starting with a city-wide rebranding.

“You probably imagined four things,” said Mercier. “The Forum, Hollywood Park, rap music and crime.”

For some, Inglewood is a place better known for its past—as the former home of the Los Angeles Lakers for 32 seasons, site of the iconic Randy’s Donuts, and a ubiquitous name-check in ‘90s West Coast rap—than its current endeavors or future plans.

“The city has created income from these things,” said Mercier. “It’s created a brand that isn’t good branding.” [Read more…]

West Adams neighborhood opens its doors for the holidays

(Scroll to the bottom or click here for a slideshow)

Story by Erin Leiker
Photos by Leslie Velez

This past weekend, six houses in a West Adams neighborhood opened their doors — and their kitchens — to a parade of visitors celebrating the holidays.

Put together by the West Adams Heritage Association (WAHA), the Silver Jubilee offered a self-guided walking tour of the neighborhood, or a docent-led progressive dinner, with each house serving one part of an elegant five-course meal.

In the early afternoon, guests followed brochures printed with addresses and brief summaries of the houses on the tour. Inside each, volunteers guided them from room to room, explaining the history of the house; from the architect who built it to former residents who lived there and renovations undergone to maintain or restore the property.

imageLater in the evening, groups gathered at the Welcome House for the start of the progressive dinner. Volunteers from WAHA led them through each course of the meal which was set up in a different house; from the Atomic-Age Appetizer House through the Salad and Dinner Houses, ending finally at a Spanish-style villa serving as the Dessert House.

“People love old houses, and they just love to be able to have an opportunity to see the inside of how other people live,” explains John Patterson. The President of the West Adams Heritage Association is relatively new to the position, but has quickly grown fond of the group’s year-end event. “There are people that have been on the tour every year for the last ten or fifteen years, and it’s become the holiday tradition for them.”

Founded in 1983 as a local homeowners group, neighbors banded together to share the maintenance and restoration woes that came with owning classics like these. Their dedication to stay true to the style and intent of the architects led them to evolve into the preservation organization they have become today.

Working extensively with the LA Conservancy, the WAHA has had a hand in making sure preservation ordinances stay in place to help maintain the integrity of the buildings in the West Adams neighborhood. The Silver Jubilee is the biggest of four similar events throughout the year, which raise funds for the group’s preservation efforts. They celebrate these efforts by returning to their roots in the pride they have for their homes.

Patterson explains how the Silver Jubilee started, “twenty-five years ago, that little homeowners group – now that they fixed up their houses – loved to show them off. And so they’d done a couple of walking tours here and there, and they said, ‘let’s do a dinner party!’”

The Silver Jubilee’s progressive dinner is entirely run by volunteers and members of the WAHA. From planning the menu to cooking and serving the food, neighbors, homeowners, and even children from the local elementary schools help kick off the holiday season in West Adams.

But it’s not just about cool houses and delicious food for the Silver Jubilee.

“A big element of what we do is educational,” says Patterson. Several of the houses on this tour are listed with the name of Paul Williams. The prominent African-American architect was known for designing classic homes in the mid-century modern era – and for not being allowed to live in the areas in which he was building. That’s an important aspect not to forget,” Patterson warns. “We are doomed to repeat mistakes if we don’t remember our past. So we don’t brush over those facts in our brochures.”

imageThe Appetizer House is one example of this honesty. The swanky Atomic-Age residence is a Paul Williams design officially known as the Taylor Residence.

The guide brochure states that it was named for Dr. Jackson Taylor, who was prominent in the struggle for African-Americans to gain equal access to quality healthcare. It goes on to list his struggle to open “the first inter-racial, non-sectarian, non-profit hospital, open to every race, creed and color.”

Even with the backing of well-known figures of the time – Harpo Marx, Lena Horne and Benny Goodman to name a few – Dr. Taylor’s dream hospital was never built.

WAHA forges on today to preserve the community and its cultural heritage and history. Patterson muses, “this is a very very unique community. It’s very very strong.”

“Most of the people within the neighborhood – even if they’re not members of WAHA – are aware of what we do.” Outreach to more local levels of block clubs or homeowners associations allows the group to get to know homeowners personally. The ones who open their doors for the tours not only allow others to get a glimpse of the culture that thrives here, but also puts them in the position to become ambassadors to their neighbors.

With more than 100 visitors on the walking tour on Sunday alone, and another 450 guests at the progressive dinner, that’s a lot of opportunity for the people of La Fayette Square and WAHA to share their hope for their community.

West Adams artists open up homes during architectural tour

The West Adams Heritage Association (WAHA) hosted its second annual ‘Art in Historic Places’ tour Saturday.

Attendees toured 8 historic homes in the West Adams neighborhood. Each home was owned by a local artist, and his or her work was displayed throughout the house.

The ‘Art in Historic Places’ tour is one of four events hosted by WAHA throughout the year, each in an attempt to bring new visitors to the historic neighborhood and to raise money for the association’s preservation advocacy efforts.

“There are more landmarks in West Adams than the rest of the city,” said John Patterson, the president of WAHA.

In the late 1800s, the West Adams neighborhood became a destination for Downtown Los Angeles’ professionals. The “first suburb” of Los Angeles, West Adams grew exponentially with the installation of the streetcar.

But after Downtown Los Angeles’ heyday ended during the 1920s, several of the West Adams homes fell into disrepair.

imageIn 1983, WAHA was founded as a neighborhood association. Noticing that the majority of people moving into the area had an interest in historic homes, WAHA morphed into a preservation advocacy group.

“The sense of community here is really, really strong,” Patterson said.

Patterson moved to West Adams from the Hollywood Hills because he wanted to own a historic home. Previously unaware of the area, he said he marveled at the magnificent homes when he first visited West Adams.

With WAHA, Patterson works to encourage more people to move into the area and provide guidance on how to renovate and preserve its hundreds of homes.

Sometimes referred to as the “preservation police,” WAHA has been at odds with developers in the past. It lobbies for the landmark status of homes based on their architect.

“Preservation is the ‘greenest’ building you can do,” said Patterson.

During the mid-2000s, West Adams saw a steady influx of residents. Among them were substantial Korean and Mexican immigrant populations, said Patterson. He noted that WAHA has experienced language barrier issues.

In attempt to reach out to community members, WAHA is hosting a class in Pico Union this summer to teach youth how to renovate houses. The hope is that the youth involved will work to restore homes to their former glory instead of tagging them with graffiti.

“We want to encourage people to do good work,” said Patterson.

More information about WAHA can be found on its website.

Stephanie Guzman contributed to this story.

BLOG: West Adams receives architectural nod

imageOnce the home of silent film stars and burgeoning banking and mining typhoons, the graceful streets of the West Adams neighborhood have lost their prestige. But they have not lost their architectural wealth.

This Old House Magazine listed West Adams eighth on its list of “Best Old House Neighborhoods 2010,” giving it the honor of the “best place for movie fans.”

It also ranked West Adams as the best neighborhood for city life and singles.

“West Adams seems like a studio backdrop for the set of a perfect small town,” the article read. “It’s become a shared secret among those of more modest means, who love its authentic feel in a city often chided for its artificiality.”

According to This Old House, the Craftsman and Mission-style architecture of the area is “glitzed to the max with detail.”

Yet when considering the area’s history, this “glitz” is hardly surprising.

West Adams was largely developed between 1887 and 1915, according to the West Adams Heritage Association.

Lawrence Doheny, Isidore Dockweiller and William Andrew Clark were among its many famous residents.

imageAmong its many architectural styles are Transitional Arts and Crafts, Craftsman Bungalow and Mission Revival.

The Adams Boulevard Corridor was a haven for new wealth in Los Angeles, said the West Adams Heritage Association.

But as the boom of the roaring twenties died down, so did West Adams’s popularity.

After many decades of decline, a revitalization effort brought the area back into the spotlight during the 1980s.

A new wave of homeowners put time and fresh coats of paint on West Adams’s several historic houses.

“When you have everyone working together to preserve and maintain a neighborhood, it’s a very powerful approach,” longtime resident David Raposa told This Old House.

The area has seen an influx of artists, designers, and media professionals, making it one of Los Angeles’s most diverse communities, according to KCET’s Life and Times series.

Now, several of the homes in West Adams have been restored to their former glory, putting the area in the perfect position for the This Old House nod.

“What we looked for was simple,” the publication said. “Oft-overlooked neighborhoods populated by people who share an appreciation of finely crafted homes that have plenty of past and lots of future.”

Photo credit: Creative Commons