by Paul R. Spitzzeri
This next installment of No Place Like Home focuses on a nice example of a early 20th-century Craftsman home at the northwest corner of West 21st Street and 5th Avenue in the Mid-City area of Los Angeles. The unattributed photo dates to sometime in that first decade, perhaps around 1905.
There are several reasons why the Homestead’s collection includes photos like these. First, they provide comparisons and contrasts to our own historic houses: the 1840s adobe wrapped in an 1870s brick remodeling at the Workman House and the 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival home, La Casa Nueva. This is true in terms of architectural style, as well as in the differences in craftsmanship.
Another reason is to provide a visual record of changes over time with house style and construction, changes in the development of specific communities like the Mid-City area, or how expansion of suburban areas from downtown developed over time.
Sometimes, the house is part of a personal story or stories, if the name of an owner, architect, or builder is known. Future editions of this series will provide some examples of those stories.
Moreover, if the building happens to still be with us, it can be really interesting to compare how the structure looks today to how it did in the photo. There are, of course, many reasons why buildings change in appearance, from needs of future owners, to transformations in style, to changes in use (say, from residential to commercial, or single-family to multi-family).
Finally, the most documented possessions of a person or a family were, invariably, their houses and, after a certain time period, generally 1910 or so, so a big part of the museum’s interest in collecting photos like these is knowing that most of us can relate to wanting to show pride in our home and our cars.
While we don’t know who owned or lived in this fine-looking two-story Craftsman at the time, we’re fortunate to know the location thanks to the street signs that were thoughtfully included by the photographer. Identifying the location allowed for the opportunity to check Google Maps to see if the house was still there and, if so, how much it has changed.
Well, the home is still standing after roughly 110 years. As the Google Maps link here shows, its siding and shingling is painted a clean white with something like a slate blue for its trim, while the porch wall and pillars are an interesting shade of red. Obviously, we can’t know the color palette at the time of the photo!
The deep lot has allowed for somewhat recent additions, such as a small add-on to the rear of the house, a detached “mother-in-law” cottage, and a two-car garage.
The landscaping has also, naturally, changed a great deal. Whereas a century or more ago, there was a lawn and shrubs and bushes up against the porch, with cacti and trees in the median fronting 21st Street, the property is fenced with an attractive, and very different, landscape scheme in the front yard, while the median is pretty bare now. The second floor window boxes were full of flowering plants in the photo, but are empty today.
In all, the home looks well-kept and trim for a grand old residence that has survived well over a hundred years! These “now and then” photos are not only fun to see, but are part of the visual documentation of the development of greater Los Angeles.