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The Neighborhood Project: Garvanza

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Once the heart of the Arts and Crafts movement in Los Angeles and a bohemian artists' colony, Garvanza is today one of Northeast LA's hidden treasures seeking to retain its turn of the century identity while creating a liveable neighborhood for the twenty-first century. Although many consider Garvanza to be just a part of Highland Park, this small and hilly area brimming with historic buildings has more than enough charm and character needed to stand out on its own. Named for the wild sweet peas (garbanzo beans) that used to grow on the hillsides, Garvanza itself is much like a hearty wildflower, blooming stubbornly amidst the dominant concreted landscape, unabashedly colorful and pleasantly surprising to discover.

Boundaries*: Pasadena City Limits to the North (approx. Ave 64 at Burleigh); Metro Right-of Way Bridge (approx. York Blvd/110 Fwy) to the South (although one small segment south of York at Ave 64 is within limits); East side of Avenue 66 to the East (Approx. San Pascual Ave/110 Fwy) ; East side of Figueroa proceeding to the West side of Avenue 63 at York Blvd to the West.

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*Based on the recently designated Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) boundaries

It can be noted that the placement of the Neighborhood signs do present some slight confusion, but generally speaking Garvanza is best designated as the area between Figueroa to the West and North West (bordering Highland Park), Pasadena City Limits to the North/Northwest (at Burleigh St. although Pasadena City Limits signage is placed on Ave 64 South of actual boundaries), South Pasadena and Hermon to the East (approx. San Pascual Av/110 Fwy) and York Blvd to the South.

People who front, or who don't know better, or who have grown weary of replying to "Gar-what-za?" say they live in: Highland Park

Political Lowdown:
LA City Council District 14, represented by Councilmember Jose Huizar

LA County District 1, represented by Supervisor Gloria Molina

State Assembly District 44, represented by Anthony Portantino

U.S. Congressional District 31, represented by Congressman Xavier Becerra

Senate District 22, represented by Gilbert Cedillo
[Some portions (Northeast edges) are in Senate District 21, representated by Senator Jack Scott]

Transit: There are no Metro light rail or subway stops within the Garvanza boundaries, but the area is well served by the Gold Line's Highland Park Station which is located just south of Garvanza at 151 N Ave 57, as well as by MTA Bus lines #81, 83, 176, 176 and also the DHPER bus.

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Freeway Access: The 134 Fwy runs East/West just a couple of miles north of Garvanza (Figueroa exit); The 110 (Pasadena) Fwy runs North/South on Garvanza's Eastern boundary line.

Avenue 64 runs North/South through the heart of Garvanza. Here, an older brick building stands out as a testament to older architechture and the diverse heritage of the neighborhood. In fact, the first brick building ever erected between Los Angeles and Pasadena was situated at York and Ave 64 and was built by the Campbell-Johnson family in 1888.

History of Garvanza
Garvanza was first annexed by the city in 1899 following the annexation of Highland Park four years earlier, although the roots of the area reach back to the late 1700s, when, according to the historical overview presented by Bob Taylor Properties former soldier and rancher Jose Maria Verdugo "was granted 36,000 acres of land which he named 'Rancho San Raphael.' He built a small pueblo, using the balance for cattle raising." A century later the land was handled by several people who figured prominently in the city's history and whose names may ring familiar, such as partners Alfred B. Chapman and Andrew Glassell, who in 1869 bought a parcel of land at a Sherrif's auction measuring 32, 500 acres and sub-divided that further into 31 parcels. Developers Jesse Hunter, Albert H. Judson, and George W. Morgan then purchased the tract of land known as Highland Park in 1885 and broke it down even further. These lots were off what we know as Figueroa Street, but was formerly Grasshopper then Pasadena Street.

Garvanza was a part of the Rancho San Rafael (or Raphael) and earned its name from the local botanical abundance of garbanzo beans that were rumored to have been first planted by Don Julio Verdugo in 1833. Eventually the land located on what is now York Boulevard was held by Ralph and Edward Rogers, who called the area Garvanzo, then Garvanza, and boundaries were established as "Crescent Street on the north, Avenue 66 on the east, North Figueroa Street on the west, and Arroyo Glen Street on the south" (Bob Taylor Properties).

In 1902, these land titles were disputed by Ralph Rogers' ex-wife, as the following archived Los Angeles Herald article reports:

CLAIMS TITLE TO GARVANZA Garvanza — the town which with Pasadena and San Diego shares the slurs cast by the stage people — has sprung into prominence in another way.

Yesterday Mrs. Julia A.N. Rogers, the divorced wife of Ralph Rogers, a former prominent Los Angeles real estate agent, began suit against about 200 defendants to quiet title to strips of land through nearly the entire town of Garvanza. . . .

Nearly every property owner in the town is affected. Mrs. Rogers claims that her title extends back to the old days when what is now Garvanza was a part of the 50,000-acre San Rafael Rancho, one of the oldest in Southern California . . . .

It is asked that each of the defendants be debarred from asserting any claim whatever to the land in question.

A.H. Judson and Julius Lyons represent the plaintiff. This is he second suit that has been brought in the last year to quiet title to nearly an entire town. The first was filed by E.L. Hutchinson on behalf of a client who claimed to own nearly the entire town of San Pedro.

(What became of this case I'm not sure, but it seems that the early 1900s saw much development in the area, leading me to believe the former Mrs. Rogers was not successful in claiming the titles.)

Much of Garvanza was developed in the late 1800s and into the early part of the twentieth century, during which time it became lauded as emblematic of the Arts and Crafts movement in regards to architecture, and the interests of its residents. Many homes have been recognized as official historic landmarks, and they and many more are evidence of the area's phenomenal architecture typical of that time period. Pictured above on the left is a more contemporary home styled to emulate the popular American Craftsman design, boasting a colorful set of directional signs that hint at the present-day self-proclaimed ecclecticism of Garvanza's residents.

Thanks to the hard work of The Highland Park Heritage Trust, Garvanza was officially designated as a neighborhood by the City of Los Angeles in 1997, and the entire area was earmarked as a Historical Preservation Overlay Zone in April 2007. The rest, as they say, is history.

The property located at 1135 N Ave 64 and adjacent lots currently host classic workmans' cottages that were either built or transplanted here between 1885 and 1940. According to the information provided by the organizers of the Treasures of Garvanza tour in 1999:

The original building on this one and a quarter acre lot was the cottage with a side-gabled roof. The front portion of the cottage was probably erected in the late 1880's, as it appears in photographs documenting the construction of the Church of the [Angels] in 1889. Certain features of the house also suggest that it may be one of the oldest buildings in the area, possibly a cottage for the workers on the Campbell-[Johnson] ranch. It is constructed of redwood with hand-forged square nails. (Wire nails were patented in the 1890's and replaced hand-forged square nails by the turn of the century.)

Many homes in Garvanza typify the Craftsman and California Bungalow style, including the use of river rock from the arroyo as foundational and decorative elements. According to this 2000 Los Angeles Business Journal article:

The tradition of appreciating historic buildings in Highland Park goes back to Charles Fletcher Lummis, who helped found the California Landmarks Club in 1894 to advocate the restoration of California's crumbling missions. His appreciation and writings about the arroyo's natural beauty also helped popularize the scenic area with other writers, artists and painters of his day.

One of the cottages located on N Ave 64

A larger home on the 1100 block of N Ave 64

The home at 200 N Ave 66 is known as the Dr. Williams Residence, named for its 1936 purchasor. It was thought to have been built prior to 1900 and had many owners before the noted physician bought it. Dr. Henry Smith Williams "wrote more than 50 books on medicine, birds, science, and nature. Under an assumed name, Williams also wrote scientific detective stories using a doctor as the hero" (Treasures of Garvanza). He also painted from nature and many of his illustrations are viewable in museum collections. The home is currently undergoing a massive restoration.

[Update 4/27/08: The home is almost completely restored, and historians are working with archived deeds and LA Times articles to piece together its origins. For more info and a photo of the home now, go here. --LWR]

Next door is the Crafstman-style home known as the Adams Residence at 210 N Ave 66 built in 1907.

This Mission Revival style home at 1102 Lantana was built in 1906 by Charles Henry Greenshaw. It is now home to pirates who feel quite strongly that "The Time Flies When You are Drinking Rum." Well, shiver me timbers and a yo ho ho to you!

The Art History of Garvanza
In the early 1900s Garvanza became known as an artists' enclave. Many well-known artists who were founding members of the Painter's Club (est. 1906) such as Carl Oscar Borg, were part of an art group known as the Garvanza Circle, whose members included Hanson Puthuff, Fernand Lungren, Maynard Dixon, Granville Redmond, and Elmer Wachtel. The Painter's Club ws disbanded in 1909, but soon after the California Art Club was established, with many members carrying over their association with the group. The CAC is still very much alive to date. Further, The Arroyo Guild of Craftsman (1909 - 1915) was headquartered in Garvanza.

But Garvanza's reputation as a “bohemian arts colony” was due mostly to a man named William Lees Judson, a British-American painter who, along with his three sons, established the the Colonial Glass Company in 1897 for the production of stained glass. The business became the W.H. Judson Art Glass Company after one of the brothers left, and eventually became the Judson Studios in 1931. The property still stands at its original location at 200 S Ave 66, although a third floor was destroyed by a fire in 1910.

Additionally, Judson's Garvanza property served as the location of the first art school in Southern California, the Los Angeles School of Fine Arts for USC, of which the Judson patriarch, was founder and dean. Today, The Judson Studios, still thrives, and is now in its fifth generation as a stained glass business. Remarkably, the great-great grandson of William Lees Judson, David Judson, carries on the tradition of making stained glass on the very same premises as his ancestors.

Just outside the Garvanza boundaries, the Abbey San Encino was built by printmaker Clyde Browne and many noted artists, architects and craftspeople settled there and in the surrounding area.

The mosaic sign-post welcoming you to the Judson Studios

The building was erected in 1897

A closer look at the architecture of the Judson Studios

Pink Peppercorns grow all over Garvanza. These are on the trees that line the curved driveway at the entrance of the Judson Studios.

The Church of the Angels

In addition to the Judson Studios and the many beautiful historic homes that dot the hillsides and streets of Garvanza there are other important buildings. One such structure is The Church of the Angels, located at 1100 Ave 64 at Church Street, which sits at the northernmost boundaries of Garvanza, but is often thought of to be in Pasadena (the zip code of 91105 belongs to Pasadena, the area code of 323 to Los Angeles, the street signs are also City of Los Angeles).

It was commissioned as a memorial to Alexander Robert Campbell-Johnson, an early settler of the area, by his widow. The Campbell-Johnsons bought their 2000 acres in 1883 from Prudent Beaudry (Mayor of Los Angeles 1874-1876) and used it initially for agriculture. Following Mr. Campbell-Johnson's sudden death in 1888 plans for a church on the West end of the property were initiated and the design based on a church in their home country of England, and the cornerstone (pictured below) was laid by Mrs. Campbell-Johnson on Easter Eve, April 20, 1889 (Bob Taylor Properties).

Pictured at right is the bell placed on the property which was a vestige of the area's earliest years.

Placed here on Easter Eve, 1889

Climb the hill to see this full front view of the beautiful old church

This statue of an angel serves as a sun dial

Stained Glass windows glint with afternoon light

A view of the Church from Ave 64

Another historic building is the Old Pisgah Home, which now serves as the Christ Faith Mission and is located at 6026 Echo Street. Their website offers an incredibly in-depth look at the history of the area, in particular the rail operations that were based in Garvanza, including the Los Angeles Terminal Railroad, which eventually served as a major artery for the Los Angeles and Salt Lake railroad and operated from 1890 until its abandoment in 1969.

One of the most remarkable rail projects in the area, however, was the cable line built to bring passengers from the base of Mt. Washington to the hotel that was erected at its top in 1909. Although the Los Angeles Consolidated Electric Railway (LACE) ran a streetcar line from downtown that ran northeast along Figueroa and Marmion Way to Garvanza (at what is today York Boulevard and North Figueroa) starting in 1894 they could not get a streetcar up the steep hills, and the way to the top remained unpaved and without rails until the hotel's opening created the demand for a viable way to ascend and descend.

A cable car line was built which far exceeded the expectations of the LACE, and "people lined up at the end of the cable line all the way down Marmion Way, clear to Pasadena Avenue, in order to make the trip. A car left the terminal every 10 minutes throughout the day. The passenger count that day never appeared in the papers, but it must have been at least 3,000, as people were seen hanging on to the sides of the 24-passenger cable cars" (From Mt Washington: Its Hotel and Incline Railway). These two Llewellyn cable cars were equipped with telephones, and were named Florence and Virginia, in honor of the daughters of local businessmen who were affiliated with the project (pictured above in a vintage postcard). The lines were shut down for repair in 1919, long after the hilltop Hotel had been shut down due to its unpopularity, blamed chiefly on the movement of the motion picture industry to parts elsewhere in Hollywood, but the lines did not reopen, despite later protest in the early 20s. The cars were removed in 1922 and the tracks in 1930. The former hotel's property was taken over by the Self-Realization Fellowship, who still hold the property today. But of course, now we're talking about another neighborhood.

Today, these are the streets of Garvanza, paved and navigable by all sorts of vehicles.

A old street sign affixed to a building on Ruby Street.

The Foursquare Church offers residents a place to worship

A mission-style church's signage exemplifies the ethnic diversity of Garvanza. Many churches in the area cater to a broad range of demographics.

Recreation in Garvanza

When it comes to Garvanza's public space, namely Garvanza Park, two things stand out. Firstly, the almost poetic presence of plant and flower life that blooms and thrives among the sharp edges of fences, some adorned with barbed wire. The park is predominantly behind chain link, which does seem to suck the spirit of greenspace from the area at its core. Despite the austerity of the fencing, the park is populated by numerous families and children who enjoy their resources, like the baseball diamond and the newly erected playground at the park's northeast point.

This playground is linked with the second item of note in association with the park, which is the very recently opened Skate Park. This was one of Councilmember Huizar's focal point projects, with a price tag of over one million dollars. The skate park was opened to the public in June of this year, and during its hours of operation is bustling with local skaters, small and grown, who are brave enough to put their wheels in motion on the concrete ramps and steps of the fenced-in area. Here, KROQ is blaring from the radio inside the supervisor's hut, and warnings and regulations aplenty are emblazoned on signs hung outside the entrance. Skateboarding's rough and tumble nature is supported in Garvanza, not shunned, as the erection of this park indicates. Perhaps this is how the neighborhood is staying true to its origins as an area open to hosting so-called "alternative" lifestyles. This LAist says "Huzzah!" to this, and finds the new Skate Park akin to a local heartbeat, strengthened by youth, physical activity, and the community of sport. Much like the pink flowers that flank the fences, this is just another testimony to the power of humanity and life-force in an urban landscape.

Welcome to Garvanza Park, your tax dollars at work

The Highland Park Reservoir is located on the park grounds

Of course, don't you dare go near the Reservoir!

Barbed wire rims the fence in places

Nature versus urbanity

Skaters gather on the rim inside the new Skate Park

Skateboard at your own risk, folks!

Left: The rules. Top right: Skateboarders small and tall(er) navigate the concrete. Bottom right: Awaiting someone to brave the descent

Enjoying the new Skate Park in Garvanza

Businesses in Garvanza

Business in Garvanza seems to be weighted heavily on the side of dirt cheap dining establishments and fast food joints and recognizable bigger retail institutions like Rite Aid and the 99 Cent store. There are not many--if any--choices for shopping, either as recreation or for major household needs like groceries, immediately located within Garvanza. Smaller markets, like the Hi Ho, on Ave 64, dominate the greater Highland Park area. Few restaurants offer table service; most boast inexpensive ethnic specialties, such as Mexican or Chinese food, or are American standard fast food emporiums, like Jack in the Box, etc.

We were urged to try the authentic Mexican fare at Timbo's, located at 519 N Ave 64, but despite the posted hours of operation indicating they'd be open, a tug on the door and a peek into the darkened window revealed that they were locked up and content to take a nap inside the dining area. Next door to Timbo's is CROP, a place to get your locks shorn and to purchase your hemp-based hair-care products. We found the pink "Shabby Chic"-esque sign very intriguing...

Most of the businesses line the wide and busy stretch of York Boulevard that runs along Garvanza's southern border, including the Garvanza Hardware store, and the eerie looking Dusty's Bar where presumably, if you are braver than some, you can get your drink on. Click here to read what the Los Angeles Chowhounders had to say recently about dining options in Highland Park, which in this case includes Garvanza.

York Blvd. is the chief southern boundary of Garvanza, and contains most of the area's storefronts and businesses

The sign for the Hi Ho market on Ave 64 is somewhat iconic in Garvanza

The Wateria: Where you go for water

This sign for a heavy-weight fabric outside a business in Garvanza is amusing, particularly when the temperature happens to be in the mid-90s

One option for local eats is to get fresh fruit from this cart on the corner of York and Ave 64

A lamb taco and the ridiculously indulgent concoction known as Carne Asada Fries are just a couple of items on the menu at My Taco at 6300 York Blvd.

Some Local Color

This colorful mural decorates the entrance to Luther Burbank Middle School, located at the northwestern tip of Garvanza Park at Figueroa and Meridian

Old meets new: A Toyota Prius hybrid car parked right next to a classic old Chevy pickup

Local residents opt to display their protest against proposed cell phone signal towers slated to be placed on the property of the Hillsides Church Home for Children in Pasadena. The fight has been on since May 2006, and a hearing is scheduled for Oct. 2007 (Save the Hill Neighborhood Alliance)

Ah, yes... the ubiquitous pair of athletic shoes dangling from a power line.

And so our look at the vibrant and historic neighborhood of Garvanza has come to its conclusion. What better way to say farewell than via a spectacular Los Angeles sunset, as seen from high atop a residential hill in Garvanza, once the home address for this LAist's family members. But of course, something like this view--and Garvanza--is better when you're seeing it for yourself.

All photos by Lindsay William-Ross for LAist

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