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Historic Street Is Kept in the Dark

January 24, 1991|PHIL SNEIDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For more than a year, the people who live in a row of older houses near Avenue 50 have petitioned City Hall to embellish their historic Highland Park neighborhood.

They've sought a street name change and new street signs. They've also asked for old-fashioned street lights--and agreed to pay for them.

Yet last week, plans for the signs and the lights were still working their way through the city review process.

Although the street name was changed last summer, the new signs have not been posted because a crucial work order was lost, Los Angeles officials said. And the old-fashioned street lamps cannot be erected until the city finishes a yearlong study on how to handle requests for light poles that are less than modern.

This lack of progress has produced frustration for residents of the 4900 block of North Figueroa Street, which, barring further complications, should show up in next year's Thomas Guide maps as Sycamore Terrace.

"We were hoping by now to get the light fixtures installed," Ted Kitos, one of the residents, said last week. "We're not even to Square 1 yet."

In the fall of 1989, Kitos and most of his neighbors on the two-block street agreed to commit $7,800 per household for the short concrete light poles that were commonly installed through the 1920s.

Richard Barron, a Sycamore Terrace resident who is on the board of the Highland Park Neighborhood Assn., is equally upset by the delay.

"It's really frustrating," he said. "It seems like you're always battling with the people who should be glad that you're trying to do something good for the community. I often feel as though we're an imposition on them."

For residents, the delays are particularly distressing because the neighborhood is also seeking inclusion in a historic preservation zone proposed for portions of Highland Park. The old-fashioned lighting could strengthen their bid for this protection.

Historic preservation zoning would give Highland Park leaders more clout in preventing the demolition of older buildings. It would also empower them to review new development projects to be sure that their design is compatible with the neighborhood.

But Los Angeles planning officials said the historic zoning project, first discussed four years ago, is far from complete. The project was recently assigned to another city planner, who said she is just getting acquainted with it.

"We're still working on it now," said the planner, Estela Figueroa. "The Sycamore Terrace area is under consideration" for protective zoning.

An aide to City Councilman Richard Alatorre, whose district includes Sycamore Terrace, said Tuesday that she plans to sort out the bureaucratic tangle.

"Any time the city hasn't done a good job of communicating the work that is being done, people get frustrated. And they deserve an answer," said Jeanmarie Hance-Murphy, Alatorre's planning deputy. "So we're going to pull together all the parts of this case and get them an answer."

Charles Fisher, a past president of the Highland Park Heritage Trust, said the Sycamore Terrace neighborhood has historic roots.

Sarah Judson, whose husband was co-founder of Highland Park, subdivided the neighborhood in 1894 and named the street Fredonia, after her New York hometown, Fisher said.

Fredonia was eventually dropped, however, and the quiet residential road became known as North Figueroa, the same as the major artery that runs parallel to it.

Linda Arnold, a cartographer with the city's Bureau of Engineering, said the residents have had a Figueroa address because their road is part of a wide easement that became city property when the main Figueroa Street was built.

Because there were two streets with the same name, the residents of what is now Sycamore Terrace said they constantly had trouble guiding visitors and delivery drivers to their houses.

Their petition for a street name change was approved by the Los Angeles City Council in August. Out of about 20 households, Arnold said, the city received a letter from only one homeowner objecting to the proposed change.

Although the name change was recorded, a work order for new street signs was misplaced.

"Unfortunately, this is something that just fell through the cracks paper-wise," James Gonzalez, a city transportation engineering aide, said last week. "For this case, I will put an expedite on it and get it manufactured as soon as possible."

Because the neighborhood has no street lights, the residents also requested the ornamental fixtures to deter lawbreakers without disrupting the historic character of the houses.

But after the request was made, City Council members instructed the Bureau of Street Lighting to conduct a study regarding special lighting requests. The bureau is reviewing costs, illumination requirements and the impact on passing motorists, said Tak Yokota, a senior street lighting engineer.

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