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Amid Transience, Historic Homes Endure : Architecture: An 8-block neighborhood of 75-year-old dwellings has been granted landmark status by a Los Angeles cultural heritage panel.

July 07, 1994|KATHLEEN KELLEHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In a verdant pocket of Hollywood, just south of Sunset Boulevard, is a slice of "Mayberry R.F.D." Americana.

"This is a neighborhood where everyone comes to walk their dogs, where older people take their constitutionals and where women walk with their baby strollers," said actor Michael Corbett, who lives in the neighborhood southeast of the intersection of Fairfax Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. "To be in L.A. and to be in a little neighborhood like this is really something."

And despite the ever-changing character of transient Los Angeles neighborhoods, this melange of Colonial, Spanish, Italian and Craftsman architecture now seems certain to remain. After a five-year battle with the labyrinthine city bureaucracy, Corbett and a handful of other residents have gotten the eight-block Hollywood area declared a Los Angeles landmark by the city's Cultural Heritage Commission.

The newly won status, which became official this spring, means that all 160 single-family homes in the designated spot must maintain their original facades and stay true to the structure's architectural period.

Residents "started talking about (the area) becoming a historical landmark to fight encroachment and because we wanted to preserve one of the few (single-family housing residential zoning) neighborhoods left in L.A.," said Corbett, best known for his role as David Kimble on "The Young and The Restless," a soap opera character who fell into an industrial trash compactor a year ago. "Now, no one can come in and tear down a house and build a different structure . . . or plant a hedge without the (Spaulding Square Neighborhood Assn.) permission."

Nancy Fernandez, executive assistant to the city's Cultural Heritage Commission, said that receiving historical landmark status protects neighborhoods, despite what some might view as laborious architectural review regulations.

"If you've ever had two Craftsman houses destroyed to put up a three-story apartment building, then you can realize the importance of having a (review board) make sure that something is architecturally compatible," she said.

The 1916 housing tract, named Spaulding Square after the man who subdivided it, Albert Starr Spaulding, was originally for film executives and up-and-coming actors working in the movie industry flourishing nearby. Part of the area's draw was its proximity to a Hollywood-line railroad stop at Spaulding and Fountain avenues, which enabled film industry people to travel to the studios sans the automobile.

The neighborhood was noted not only for its famous residents--actress Lucille Ball, film director Hugo Hass ("King Solomon's Mines") and cinematographer Daniel Fapp ("Westside Story")--but also for its role as a location for numerous films, including many Laurel & Hardy movies.

Corbett said that when he bought his 1914 Craftsman-style house five years ago, "it looked like a crack house." He restored his bungalow to its original condition, replete with a gable-covered porch, period columns painted black, and wide windows opening onto a brilliantly colored landscape design resembling a "Sunset" magazine spread.

Once bitten by the inspiration to renew the old, Corbett went further, spearheading a neighborhood movement to plant new trees along the strip between the sidewalk and the street, where some Black Acacia trees had begun dying off and falling onto cars. After a painstaking struggle to win city approval, Corbett supervised the planting of 160 Chinese evergreen elm, Brazilian pepper, liquidambar and camphor trees, a project residents hope will soon provide shade.

"Trees make a neighborhood a much more homey, less urban environment, and it makes you forget that you are in the heart of L.A.," said Corbett, who has rented out his residence as a location for movies such as "What's Love Got to Do With It," assorted TV series and commercials.

"Now we are trying to get a grant proposal to get the original street lights put back," Corbett said. "It's very satisfying to have been even a little part of L.A. history. I am from back East, where there are lots of trees and people walking their dogs. That is the kind of place (where) I want to live."

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