Contrary to popular cliche, Los Angeles did not spring up overnight as if a producer in need of a fanciful city as a film backdrop ordered a movie set put up for a morning shoot.
Los Angeles has a rich, diverse architectural history that has been evolving for about 200 years. Its history also increasingly is being appreciated, as evidenced by the growth and influence of the area's architectural preservation groups.
One of the more active of these groups is the Los Angeles Conservancy, which in the 10 years since being founded has grown from about 30 members to almost 5,000. Among its many efforts to raise the public design consciousness is an annual awards program honoring significant preservation projects.
The winners this year represent a range of architectural types and styles in various settings, and would make an interesting, if ambitious, weekend tour.
The projects also demonstrate the variety of forms that preservation takes. This includes restoration, generally bringing a building back to its original condition; renovation and rehabilitation, usually involving remodeling and alterations; and adaptive re-use, recycling the building to serve a new function.
Winning an award for its sensitive adaptive re-use as a restaurant with offices above was the Engine Company No. 28 building, 644 S. Figueroa St., downtown. Well-detailed (check out the large cartouches with the city seal and the fireman's hat and tools on the front facade), the Renaissance Revival-styled structure was constructed in 1912 as a fire station, only to be vacated by the city in the early 1970s. It was scheduled for sale and demolition.
But thanks to a few persevering preservation-minded city officials, it was rescued, declared a national historic landmark and recycled by the partnership of Peter Mullin, Linda Griego, Hugh Biele and David Bradley. Aiding was the architectural firm of John Krempel and Walter Erekes.
Other winners exemplifying adaptive re-use include 818 W. 7th St., downtown, and 1930 11th St., Santa Monica. The 7th Street building is a magnificent Renaissance Revival-styled structure that was a large furniture store and is now a distinctive office building. The Santa Monica building is a modest craftsman house, built as a residence in 1890 and moved in 1910 to its present location, where a few years ago it was sensitively reconstructed as offices for lawyers Peggy Garrity and Herb Golden.
Also honored by the Conservancy was the concerted effort by individuals and organizations to preserve the Beverly Hills Waterworks building at 333 S. La Cienega Blvd., just north of Olympic Boulevard. Emphasized in that effort was the potential of the fanciful Spanish Revival-styled water treatment plant to be recycled as a film library for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The examples of restoration that won awards included the Simonson Mercedes Benz showroom at 1626 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, and the Tail O' the Pup hot dog stand at 329 N. San Vicente Blvd., just north of Beverly Boulevard.
When the original, elegant Spanish Colonial Revival-styled showroom was gutted by fire two years ago, the Rehwald family, who own the dealership, decided to rebuild it in the same mold and spirit. When the hot dog stand shaped in the form of a hot dog had to move because of some new construction, it was wrapped and delivered with relish to a new site, its flavor intact.
Winning honors as examples of rehabilitation and renovation were the attractively detailed Montecito Apartments at 6650 Franklin Ave., just west of Vine Street; the St. James Club, a glistening hotel at 8358 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; and the Paramount Pictures Studio Lot, at 5555 Melrose Ave. The studio was cited by the conservancy for "preserving and upgrading its older facilities while adapting them for modern production."
Both the apartments and hotel were Art Deco-styled buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places that had seen better days when they were rescued and remodeled. The ornamented exterior of the hotel is particularly stunning, especially at night when dramatically lit to challenge with its architecture the billboards along the Strip and their image of Los Angeles.