The 1880’s were and exciting decade for Los Angeles. The Southern Pacific Railroad was linking LA directly with the Eastern United States for the first time. Harvey Henderson Wilcox bought a 160 acre lot and named it Hollywood. The population of LA hit 50,000 and homeowners began settling in a neighborhood known as Angelino Heights.
Often cited as the first suburb of LA, Angelino Heights housed the refined aristocrats of the era. They surveyed the burgeoning city of LA from ornate terraces, watching as streets were paved and structures were built. The city was lit with gas and heated with stoves.
The neighborhood was home to the gentry and an integral part of the area was a street called Carroll Avenue. To give you an idea of the ambience of this street, Carroll Ave’s largest manor had a third floor build to serve as a ballroom, complete with musician’s balcony. A sanctum for refinement and elegance, gentry congregated here to socialize.
They lay the foundation for the city we call our own. A hundred and thirty years later, their secrets are still being discovered within the walls of these long-lived estates.
The Pinney House (1355 Carroll Ave) is a landmark home built in 1887. The owner’s son, Charles, was listed in LA’s social registry as one of the most eligible bachelors in 1894. Charles Pinney lived in that house the rest of his life as the neighborhood changed over time. He lived in that home as the careless paperboys’ hazardous aim broke stained glass front doors along the avenue. He lived there as the advancement of electricity brought power lines to the neighborhood. He lived there through Prohibition when the good looks and charm that distinguished him as one of LA’s elite bachelors brought him attention during the neighborhood’s bootleg parties, at which local policemen attended to share in the drink. And he lived in that home as the neighborhood fell into disrepair around the middle of the 20th century.
Charles was still there in the 1970’s when a young woman named Planaria happened upon the street and moved in next door. She put $1,000 down on the $20,000 Victorian that cost only $5,000 to build a century earlier. Planaria and her inexplicable partner Murray would become the driving force in the crusade to save Angelino Heights and restore it to its original beauty.
We call Murray “inexplicable” because there’s no other word for him. When we arrived at their exquisite historic home, Murray was waiting on the front porch to greet us. A tall man with long blonde-gray hair, Murray sports a mustache that’s half shaved off. The opposite half of his beard is also missing. His t shirt reads, “To me, drinking responsibly means don’t spill.” His relaxed and quirky demeanor didn’t contrast with the stateliness of their historic home. This was no museum covered in plastic with “don’t touch” placards on the walls. This house felt lived in. It felt loved. Everywhere the eye could see there were antique footstools, cushions, churchkeys… details everywhere, each one looking weathered and happy and bursting with stories.
He led us into the front parlor and introduced us to Planaria, and ethereal and posed woman with hair quaffed elegantly on top of her head. Together they’ve restored 30 homes, some partially, some fully.
Planaria proved to be a veritable crusader when it came to preserving the sanctity of LA’s Victorian community. Receiving no help from the city, she and like-minded neighbors took on the project alone. They formed an organization and arranged house tours, opening up their private homes to the public. Horrified at the prospect of the area being blemished with apartment complexes and industrial buildings, they raised enough money to hold developers at bay while arranging buyers to transport genuine Victorian homes from around the city to empty lots on Carroll Ave. To prevent people in the neighborhood from stuccoing, tearing things down, and altering their historic homes, they helped form a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone in the Heights. It was the first in protected historic district in Los Angeles.
Murray and Planaria’s dream to “save the whole neighborhood” seems to have come true. Over the years, the neighbors have raised enough money to bury all the telephone and electricity lines on the street. The modern light poles on the 1300 and 1400 blocks have all been replaced with Victorian-era street lamps which has created an authentic feel that is so irresistible, Hollywood can’t stay away. Michael Jackson’s video for “Thriller” and the TV series “Charmed” are two of the many productions to have featured Carroll Ave as a backdrop.
We urge anyone with the slightest interest in history, architecture, or Los Angeles to drive through the neighborhood. Take a moment to absorb the rare opportunity of seeing LA through the lens of its founders. Remember, Angelino Heights is not only a window to our past, but to our future as well. Murray put it best, “We don’t inherit the architecture of our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”