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Showing Their Pride in the Past : History: City officials plan to revive Jardin El Encanto and waterfall, which could become a key part of a community hall.

September 12, 1991|IRENE CHANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Anything was possible in 1920s-era Monterey Park, and Peter N. Snyder was a developer with a big idea.

During Los Angeles County's boom years, the prominent landowner bought hundreds of acres of prime real estate south of Garvey Avenue, where he envisioned an affluent, whites-only community overlooking the San Gabriel Valley, a "Wilshire of the Eastside."

To begin the project, Snyder built an ornate reception hall called Jardin El Encanto using hand-hewn, hand-painted wood beams and French doors leading to an outdoor flagstone patio. A few hundred yards to the west, he installed a waterfall lined with imported European tile, patterned after one in Granada, Spain.

Standing on either side of Atlantic Boulevard, the structures formed an impressive gateway to Snyder's Midwick View Estates, which he believed would attract home buyers by the dozens.

The ambitious plan was a victim of poor timing. Snyder sold the first lots in late October, 1929. A few days later--on Oct. 29--the stock market crashed, sinking the country into the Great Depression. Development of the proposed Midwick View Estates foundered, and Snyder was forced to sell off the land, piece by piece.

But Jardin El Encanto and the waterfall remained. Over the years, El Encanto underwent a number of transformations to suit the needs of changing times, serving as a wedding chapel, a military academy, a cafe, a home, and, most recently, an apartment building that is now empty. The waterfall, a series of gently cascading tiered pools, continues to run and has become a popular spot for wedding photographs, as evidenced by caravans of limousines that pull up to the site on weekends.

Surrounded by a cluster of ethnic restaurants, office towers and modern condominiums, the two are all that remain of Snyder's dream.

Recognizing the importance of such relics, the city is restoring the El Encanto building to the way it was when Snyder entertained civic leaders and socialites.

Last month, the City Council changed the name of the waterfall from the Cascades to Heritage Falls. And soon, the city will dedicate the falls and El Encanto.

When work is completed, officials hope El Encanto and Heritage Falls will become an important cultural centerpiece in Monterey Park, perhaps a community hall or Chamber of Commerce.

"This is our pride in the past," said City Treasurer Louise Davis, who promoted the restoration project. "It is part of a dream this man had. He had faith in this community but his timing was really bad. We're still becoming that dream."

Davis said the racially exclusive nature of Snyder's Midwick View Estates was typical of such developments at the time. Monterey Park had an Anglo-only law even before Snyder proposed his development, she said.

But the race issue has bothered Councilwoman Judy Chu, who said she supports a ceremony to recognize the landmarks but has asked that officials refrain from glorifying Snyder. "I think El Encanto had a historical role, but in terms of playing up the man, that's not acceptable," she said Tuesday.

Restoring the building is a daunting task: El Encanto is registered as a state historic landmark, so any renovation must preserve its original architecture. Workers will tear away walls, demolish rooms and remove part of a staircase--features that were added after 1929 to make the building more functional.

"These additions were made to accommodate a family's needs in their home with absolutely no recognition of the historical significance of the property," said Brian Kite, the Santa Monica architect in charge of the restoration project.

Either the original El Encanto blueprint was lost or Snyder never used one, Kite said. So restorers who have been working on the project since 1988 must rely on historical documents, old photographs and guesswork.

Sometimes, they have guessed wrong. For example, workers at first assumed a solid stucco wall opposite the front door was part of the original building. In a 1929 photograph of El Encanto that surfaced recently, however, it appears that the building actually opened onto a spacious back-yard terrace. Armed with this information, Kite plans to rip out the back wall and add a pair of French doors that match the front entrance.

The unexpected finding--and others that forced additional changes in the restoration plan--will require the city to spend city funds to supplement the $160,000 in state money for the project.

Kite said the city probably will have to spend $80,000 more on the renovation. City officials will have to approve the additional funds.

"We are going to re-create much of the grandeur that once existed," Kite said. "Now we look at these things as treasures."

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