Historical Preservation
Media:  Los Angeles Times Article

Built With Middle-Class People in Mind

Los Angeles Times, March 6, 2003

The owner of three 1930s buildings wants to tear them down; residents are trying to block the move.

Diana Payne, an astrologer and tenant in one of the targeted buildings, favors "the tempo and the humanity" of neighborhood .
(Al Seib / LAT)

March 6, 2003

By Bob Pool, Times Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times, March 6, 2003

To experience the Westside of Los Angeles from a gentler time, pull off busy Santa Monica Boulevard and take a drive down Kelton Avenue. One side of the 1800 block is lined with graceful early 1930s duplex and triplex apartments. They were built for Westwood's original developer in an experiment to create a premier middle-class neighborhood for Depression-era Los Angeles.

But you'd better hurry. A new developer plans to bulldoze three of the Spanish courtyard-style buildings in the middle of the block where pioneering subdivider Harold Janss worked to bring culture and class to the workingman.

Residents of Kelton Avenue appealed Wednesday to Los Angeles officials to designate the three buildings cultural landmarks. The locals hope to stall demolition long enough to find a way to permanently preserve the block. The Cultural Heritage Commission agreed, recommending that the City Council confer "monument status" on the buildings at 1851, 1845 and 1841 Kelton Ave. The action delays demolition for 180 days; council ratification would add an additional 180-day tear-down moratorium.

Westside Councilman Jack Weiss supports the preservation. "You don't have to look too far to get a sense of before and after," he said, referring to newer and boxier four-story townhouses built elsewhere on the street. "It's really warm and touching to see people living today the way people did a couple of generations ago. This is what's vibrant and special about the Westside."

Michael Cohanzad's family-run company bought the three apartment buildings last fall and intends to construct a four-story condominium project there. He disputed the notion that the apartments are either historic or culturally significant. In any event, "there are other blocks that better show what Janss wanted to do" with affordable Westside apartment development, Cohanzad told commissioners.

These days, the logo of Janss Investment Co. remains visible where it was stamped 77 years ago into the concrete sidewalk in front of the apartments. But the imprint of the Janss family on Los Angeles is even wider and deeper. Family patriarch Dr. Peter Janss arrived in Los Angeles in 1893 to practice medicine. But by 1906, he had discovered there was more money in property than in pills and he established the investment company with sons Edwin Janss Sr. and Harold Janss.

The three began subdividing with Belvedere Gardens in Boyle Heights, luring buyers with purchase plans as low as $5 down and $5 a month. Ramona Acres in Monterey Park and a 3,500-acre orange grove in what was to become Yorba Linda, followed. Other Janss subdivisions soon took root in Van Nuys and Canoga Park and, later, on a 10,000-acre ranch that eventually became part of Thousand Oaks. The Janss family's most important development was on the Westside,

In 1911, Harold Janss married the daughter of Broadway Department Store founder Arthur Letts. That union guaranteed that Janss Investment had the inside track a few years later to buy 3,300 acres owned by Letts family in what is now Westwood. Edwin Janss Sr. worked hard to convince University of California regents to build a new Los Angeles university on a piece of the property. At one point he arranged with a local chauffeur service to have Janss employees pose as drivers for regents as they toured other potential university sites in Pasadena, Burbank, Palos Verdes and Fullerton. The "drivers" eavesdropped on the regents discussing the pros and cons of the rival locations, giving Janss officials the upper hand in Westwood negotiations. A complicated deal to transfer the property to the state soon followed.

Janss Investment sold 375 acres to the cities of Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills in 1925 at the bargain price of $1.2 million — about a quarter of its value. The cities, whose voters had passed bond issues to pay for the site, turned around and donated it to the state. While the UCLA campus was being built, Janss Investment went to work developing the Westwood Village commercial area and surrounding residential neighborhoods.

Although the wealthy Letts had envisioned large luxury estates for the northern tracts of Holmby Hills and Holmby Estates, Harold Janss was determined to build housing for Los Angeles' growing middle class, too. He launched Westwood Hills — an area south of the campus — as a neighborhood of affordable houses and rental units. Lots sold for $800 near the intersection of Westwood and Pico boulevards,where the first subdivision was started. Starting in 1926, Kelton Avenue was one of the first to be developed. Over the next decade, blocks of Spanish, Moorish and Mediterranean-motif homes and apartments were constructed. Builders developing Janss lots hired some of Los Angeles' brightest young architects to do design workthat was both stylish and economical.Allen G. Siple, who went on to design the original Beverly Hills Police Department building, elegant Trousdale Estates residences and portions of the Webb School in Claremont, drew up the plans for the garden-courtyard building at 1841 Kelton Ave.

Siple died in 1972. His daughter, Los Angeles writer and nutritionist Molly Siple, said she cried when she learned that 1841 Kelton and the two buildings south of it were to be demolished."You can see the whimsy and playfulness" of the "first expressions of a budding architect fresh out of USC architectural school" in her father's Kelton Avenue building, she said. Those who live there now said they appreciate its wood-beam ceilings, its campanile-like front porch and its lush garden overflowing with camellia,bougainvillea and bird of paradise they claim were transplanted from Janss' own greenhouses. "I won't live here forever. But I believe it's important for Los Angeles
as a city to keep its history," said Sharon Eisenberg, a publicist who is a tenant. "The few buildings like this that survive need to be kept for historic legacy's sake."

Kia McInerny, a lawyer and wine writer who owns a neighboring duplex, said she refused to sell to Cohanzad when he came knocking. She said all of the apartments on the block are viable rental-income properties. "We've offered to find buyers who would preserve them," she said of the three that Cohanzad plans to replace. Those testifying Wednesday in support of the preservation said that photos of the Kelton apartments are used in at least one architectural school as examples of how Janss subdivisions were designed to provide "consistency without monotony."

But Jeanette McKenna, a cultural resources expert from Whittier hired by Cohanzad to study the Kelton Avenue buildings, suggested that Los Angeles is loaded with similar apartments. "Not to say that they aren't attractive," but "very generic materials were used in their construction," McKenna said of the Kelton buildings. "And it's a very generic design."

In other words, Janss' subdivision was perfect for the working man.

Application for Historic Monument Status
The Cultural Heritage Commission Review Process
Building Neighborhood Support
Arguments that a Developer May Make Against Historical Preservation
Next Steps After Properties Have Been Designated Historical Monuments
The Kelton Homes Now (September 2009)

Los Angeles Times Article, March 6, 2003 (Bob Pool)
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