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Issue: Issue Summer 2012

The Historic Preservation Overlay Zones (HPOZs)


While many outsiders may view Los Angeles as an imposing megalopolis, it is truly a city of great neighborhoods. Just slightly off the beaten path, in communities throughout the city, are remarkably intact historic neighborhoods.

Recognizing the need to identify and protect neighborhoods with distinct architectural and cultural resources, the City developed a program of Historic Preservation Overlay Zones (HPOZs). HPOZs, commonly known as historic districts, provide for review of proposed exterior alterations and additions to historic properties within designated districts.

The City Council adopted the ordinance enabling the creation of HPOZs in 1979 and today there are 29 such historic districts with many more under consideration.  These areas range in size from neighborhoods of approximately 50 parcels to more than 3,000 properties. While most districts are primarily residential, many have a mix of single-family and multi-family housing, and some include commercial and industrial properties. Individual buildings in an HPOZ need not be of landmark quality on their own: it is the collection of a cohesive, unique, and intact collection of historic resources that qualifies a neighborhood for HPOZ status.

The most recently designated historic district (HPOZ) in Hollywood is the Hollywood Grove, a small neighborhood of 139 craftsman, colonial and Mediterranean style homes dating from the early 1900's. It stands out as a strong indication of what a typical residential subdivision once looked like in the Hollywood community nearly 100 years ago. Wide front yards with lush landscaping, front porches that embrace the sun, and views of rolling mountains and the ubiquitous Hollywood Sign make this an indelible part of Los Angeles' history.

            Originally planted with citrus and avocado groves, many of these homes were built for the grove managers and their families. And while change has come to many other neighborhoods of Hollywood, these historic homes bounded by Canyon Drive and Western, Franklin to Foothill remain remarkable intact to this day!

Hollywood Grove is Los Angeles' newest designated Historic District (HPOZ).

            One of the largest designated HPOZ's in the area Hancock Park is located in the eastern portion of the original Rancho La Brea area, was purchased by Major Henry Hancock in 1863. The residential subdivision of Hancock Park was developed by Major Hancock's son, G. Allan Hancock, in the 1920s. The vast majority of the residences are set back 50 feet from the street, as insisted upon by G. Allan Hancock, and include side driveways generally leading though a porte cochere to a rear garage. Past prominent Hancock Park residents have included millionaire Howard Hughes, entertainers Mae West and Nat King Cole, Broadway Department Store magnate Arthur Letts, Jr., and architect William Pereira.

Melrose Hill HPOZ is a small gem of a neighborhood that illustrates why Los Angeles is known as "the bungalow capital of the world." The 45 modest single-family homes of this tree-shaded community were built between 1911 and 1926, at the height of the popularity of the California bungalow.

Whitley Heights is located in Hollywood, east of the Hollywood Bowl, occupying an area of lush hilly terrain to the north of Franklin Avenue. H.W. Whitley, who also helped develop Reseda, Van Nuys, and Hollywood, considered Whitley Heights his "crowning achievement." The majority of the residences recreated the ambiance of a Mediterranean village. The beauty and seclusion of Whitley Heights' architecture and terrain quickly made it the home of Hollywood's elite: Rudolph Valentino, Tyrone Power, Gloria Swanson, Rosalind Russell, Judy Garland, and Marlene Dietrich all called it home. Whitley Heights Historic District is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Historic preservation is not just about regulations that prevent inappropriate change to historic resources. Successful historic preservation programs also make available positive incentives, providing property owners financial and technical tools that help give new life to historic properties.

Economic incentives are available to historic preservation projects at the local, state and federal levels. The Historical Property Contract (Mills Act) Program provides property tax abatement to qualified properties. The Federal government offers rehabilitation tax credits to qualified projects and properties. Residential homeowners also find that property values increase when historic preservation standards are used in rehabilitating their homes.

Technical incentives are those that allow flexibility in restoring a historic building. These structures are often made of older materials that can be rehabilitated to increase their useful lifespan. Historic structures also require innovative solutions to improve energy efficiency. The California Historical Building Code is a performance-based code that recognizes older buildings often have additional needs in meeting fire and life safety requirements.