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Jack Smith

Carroll Avenue passes test of time, and plaster, to rank as one of Los Angeles' enduring treasures

May 23, 1985|JACK SMITH

We drove up to Carroll Avenue on Angelino Heights last Saturday for the Angelino Heights House and Walking Tour.

On the way, though, we stopped at Barragan's Mexican restaurant on Sunset for lunch and had a table next to one shared by four exuberant young women who, we guessed, had just survived some common ordeal.

We are shameless eavesdroppers in restaurants and are usually able to determine whether our neighbors are on their first date, are celebrating a wedding anniversary, have just lost a volleyball game or are sorting out a divorce.

We decided these young women were students and had passed some kind of test.

"I can't believe it!" one exclaimed. "Do you realize it's all over? It's been over for (looking at her watch) two hours now!"

I guessed they were student nurses. When they started to leave I couldn't stand it.

"We have to know what ordeal you've just been through," I said.

"Oh," one said, too euphoric to mind the intrusion, "we're law students. At Loyola. We've just had our final examination."

"That's great," I said. "Good luck."

Four women law students celebrating their finals in a public house would have been unthinkable a century ago when Angelino Heights was developed as a subdivision for upper-middle-class Angelinos.

Its remaining Queen Anne-Eastlake houses with their quaint interiors spoke of an age of elegance when women's place was in the home and the men worked downtown on Main Street and Broadway in the courts and houses of business and real estate offices.

I had first seen the street several years ago, when it was just being discovered as a historic treasure. I had arranged to meet Robert Winter, the Occidental College historian, in front of one of the houses, at 1321 Carroll. But there was no house there. It had been torn down.

That's the way it was in those precarious days. The houses were either burning down, or being bulldozed, or being slicked over with coats of plaster, and the street was going.

Now, thanks to the Cultural Heritage Board, which declared the street a Historical-Cultural Landmark, and the Carroll Avenue Restoration Foundation, and several heroic owners, its deterioration has been stopped and it is making a comeback.

The annual tour has become a festive event.

The corner house, at 1300, is still one of the finest. As usual, its owners, Tom Morales and his wife, in period costume, waited at the door to welcome visitors into its beautifully lighted Victorian interiors. Morales' grandfather bought the house in 1943 for $3,000.

At the moment, Morales is in a debate with his fellow owners over the proper name of the tract. Is it Angelino Heights or Angeleno Heights? I agree with him that it should be Angelino. That was the name of the original development, even though photographs show that the streetcar was called Angeleno Heights.

Besides, scholarship indicates that residents of Los Angeles are properly Angelinos, not Angelenos.

Barbara Thornburg has lived for 10 years in her Eastlake house, working hard to preserve its authentic style. One of her treasures is a staircase balustrade that looks like a ship's wheel. But her living room furniture is massive modern and her dining room furniture is mauve suede and stainless steel. "This is not a museum," she explained. "I live here."

I found Plenaria Price at her doorway, as before, in an embroidered white Victorian gown, with a black feather boa. At her side was her daughter, Euphronia, whose right leg had been in a cast when I first met her a few years ago. I had written that Plenaria had "an 8-year-old daughter with a broken leg named Euphronia," a piece of curious syntax that provoked many readers to write me asking what the name of the little girl's other leg was.

"Are you Euphronia?" I asked.

"I'm Cindy," she said. "This leg is Euphronia."

"Oh," I said, understanding that a growing girl might wish to set the name Euphronia aside. "What's the name of the other leg?"

"I call it Jack," she said, dashing off with a friend.

Plenaria Price, by the way, teaches English down at the Evans Community Adult School on Figueroa, and is co-owner of another Angelino Heights house, which she has turned into a successful bed-and-breakfast place, at 1442 Kellam Ave.

When she bought the house on Carroll Avenue, it still had the green wood, pink walls and blue floors of a 1950s "improvement." Room by room Plenaria has restored its Victorian purity. She even cooks on an Oakland Queen wood burner that has been "gassified."

Across the street stand two houses that are newcomers since I first saw the street. They are two excellent examples of the Eastlake style, with the intricacies of exterior detail that Charles Eastlake, the English interior decorator, actually meant to be interior designs.

Both these houses, side by side at 1321 and 1325, were moved to the street from Court Street in 1978 as one of the foundation's projects.

Oddly, the house at 1321 appears to have been completely renovated, while its neighbor remains unpainted and gaunt.

Murray Burns, who owns the beautifully restored Eastlake to the west, said that the owner of the unrestored house is working on it, but it takes time. (Burns, by the way, is Plenaria's partner in the bed-and-breakfast house.)

"All the same," my wife said as we were leaving, "I'm glad I don't live in one."

Yes, we're thoroughly modern. We believe in air conditioning and women lawyers.

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