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Oasis of the Past, Melrose Hill Strives to Maintain Ambiance

May 21, 1987|KENNETH J. FANUCCHI | Times Staff Writer

When Edward Hunt was searching for a home to buy in Hollywood seven years ago, he pulled out a city planning map and discovered a tiny dot signifying homes in a sea of commercial and apartment areas.

"I just had to check out the area," said Hunt, an architect.

Hunt soon bought a house in Melrose Hill, a unique residential section and one of Hollywood's best-kept secrets.

Consisting of 45 residences on three secluded streets protected by two cul-de-sacs, Melrose Hill--made up of North Melrose Hill, West Melrose Hill and Marathon Street between Oxford Avenue and Hobart Boulevard--may become only the third residential area in the city to be designated a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone.

The city Planning Department has undertaken a study of the area and will hold a hearing next month.

Such a designation would establish neighborhood control over the zone, with the goal of maintaining the homes, built between 1910 and 1926, as close as possible to their original architectural styles. The area boasts eclectic architecture. No two houses are the same and building styles include Cape Cod, Greek revival, Victorian, craftsman, Tudor, mission, Dutch Colonial and Spanish hacienda.

None of the residences has been torn down and few have been changed, right down to the wooden windows and white picket fences that front several properties.

"Some people did put new-style aluminum windows in the homes, but there is a movement to replace them in wood, as they were originally," Hunt said.

Flowers Abound

The yards are ablaze with jacaranda, bougainvillea and the original stand of crepe myrtles planted along Marathon around World War I. Flowers of every description add to the color.

And if the street-light standards remind you of Central Park in New York City, you're correct. They were made by the same company and from the same mold used to supply lighting towers at the turn of the century for the famed park.

These novel light standards, installed seven years ago, spurred the movement to preserve the historical aspects of the neighborhood, said Hunt, who is planning chairman of the Melrose Hill Neighborhood Assn.

"The city wanted to put in the standard cobra-headed lighting standards and we rebelled," Hunt said. "They would have been totally out of character here. So we prevailed on the City Council to let us try to come up with something different."

When the group succeeded in persuading the city to install the Central Park lighting standards, it then moved to protect the area from apartment encroachment and to restore homes to their original styles.

"All over the city," Hunt said, "neighborhoods like ours have been torn down and replaced by styleless apartment houses. We are making a stand for preservation of those values of the past that still apply even with today's changing standards."

Traveling on Melrose Avenue, a motorist must make two turns to reach the center of the neighborhood at North Melrose Hill and West Melrose Hill. Those two streets are so narrow that city garbage collection is done by older, smaller vehicles.

"Our inaccessibility has given us all manner of benefits," Hunt said. "We're shielded from street noise and less vulnerable to burglaries. We don't mind that a bit."

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