Category: Architecture

Wyvernwood, Boyle Heights


Image: Preparing the landscape for Wyvernwood’s opening day, 1939.
“Dick” Whittington Collection, USC Digital Library from .

“Wyvernwood in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles, was the first large-scale, privately funded multiple housing development on the West Coast when it opened in 1939.”

Excerpt from .

“A great deal of study was given to prefabrication and rationalized building techniques, in order to take full advantage of the economies which the huge size of the project made possible. Low rents are attributed to the savings thus affected. Ready-mixed concrete for foundations; standard, demountable, steel and plywood forms which were used over and over again; exceptionally accurate installation of rough framing to receive mill work with a minimum of fitting; prefitted, premortised windows and doors; and site fabricated roof trusses were all employed for their small unit savings which add up to huge totals when applied to the project as a whole. Even the unusual character of the planting was dictated by the same desire for maximum economy.”

Excerpt of “Garden Apartments in Los Angeles, Calif,” The Architectural Forum, May 1940, p. 312 from .

Click on the links for a comprehensive look at this development. While not a paragon of architectural design, it was a large-scale rental community that effectively kept costs down while providing pleasant surroundings.


Russian Village


Image: Blanchard family photo from .

Jerry Blanchard (probably in the above photo but not indicated) helped build one of the last homes in the Claremont neighborhood. The area was mistakenly named  “Russian” when people mistook the origin of the man who started it.

“Russian Village (1923-1939)
 300 Block of South Mills Avenue

“This group of 15 homes lining Mills Avenue was built of recycled materials during the Depression. The land was owned by Polish immigrant Konstanty Stys, who sold lots to friends or needy families and helped them find building materials from wrecking yards and earthquake-damaged buildings. They are unified by their use of rock and street rubble as exterior materials, red-tile roofs, and the informal arrangement of each property. This neighborhood was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as a prime example of folk architecture.”

Excerpt from .

Learn more at .

See present-day photos and a house-by-house description of the architecture at .

Streamline moderne in California


Image: 1939 May Co. Wilshire from .

“Completed in 1939, the May Company Building …in the Wilshire district, Los Angeles, is a celebrated example of Streamline Moderne architecture. The building’s architect Albert C. Martin, Sr., also designed the Million Dollar Theater and Los Angeles City Hall. The May Company Building is a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.

“The Los Angeles Conservancy calls it ‘the grandest example of Streamline Moderne remaining in Los Angeles’. It is especially noted for its gold-tiled cylindrical section that faces the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard at Fairfax Avenue, of which it occupies the northeast corner.”

Excerpts from,_Los_Angeles) .

To see streamline moderne buildings in California that are likely to still be standing click on: .

Long Beach hotel


1939 view.

“The Villa Riviera Hotel, 800 East Ocean Boulevard, constructed in 1929, was second in height at that time only to Los Angeles City Hall. Its architect, Richard D. King, won a grand prize at an international contest for his design of the sixteen-story building. The cost of construction was over two million dollars. At one time, Joseph M. Schenck of Twentieth Century-Fox and Norma Talmadge, then his wife, owned the hotel. It survived the Long Beach earthquake with only plaster cracks which were easily repaired and is a Long Beach landmark.”

Excerpt and Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection image from .

“The Greatest ‘I Told You So’ in U.S. History”

In 1939, Admiral James Richardson was stationed in Long Beach as Commander, Battle Force (ComBatFor), U.S. Fleet, with the temporary rank of admiral.1 In 1939, the Battle Force had 5 carriers, 12 battleships, 14 light cruisers, and 68 destroyers.2 He and his wife lived at the Villa Riviera.


Image: cover and excerpts from .

Admiral Richardson had long advised naval policies that would have better prepared the United States Navy in the Pacific for the onset of what became World War II. He was overruled. Learn more about it in “The Greatest ‘I Told You So’ in U.S. History” chapter at the book link above.

1 via Stephen Svonavec, The United States Fleet, July 1, 1923: Battle Fleet, accessed June 2012

2 via wikipedia (above): Morison, Samuel Eliot (1948). Volume III, The Rising Sun in the Pacific. Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown and Company.

The Darkroom


Image: article in unspecified 1939 magazine.

“The Darkroom was a real camera store on the Miracle Mile at 5370 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles. It opened in 1938 (or 1935 or 1937, depending on which book or website you want to believe). The 9-foot-tall camera was made of black vitrolite (an opaque pigmented glass), with clear glass as display windows. The round window in the position of the camera lens echoes the use of round porthole-style windows in other Streamline Moderne buildings of 1930s.”

Excerpt from . Click on the link to see newer images and how this storefront was copied at theme parks.


China City fire


Image of post-fire Buddha statue from .

With the construction of the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal on the old Chinatown site, socialite and investor Christine Sterling created the China City tourist attraction near her Mexican themed Olvera Street north of downtown Los Angeles. Set buildings from the 1938 The Good Earth film were used.


“In February 1939, a suspicious fire (most likely arson) burned much of China City. After making repairs, Sterling reopened it in the summer of 1940. However, the rebuilt tourist center was not as successful as its previous incarnation.”

But there is more to the story:

Around 1935, Old Chinatown community leader Peter Soo-Hoo, Sr. met with Christine Sperling, the person responsible for adapting  Olvera Street into a Mexican themed shopping district. Sterling envisioned a new China City tourist district in downtown Los Angeles that played to popular Chinese themes. Soo-Hoo hated her idea, so he decided to pursue his own development project at another site. 

“Soo-Hoo and Sterling became bitter rivals which intensified after construction began on their competing Chinatown projects. Sterling scoffed at Soo-Hoo and his supporters by telling the press, “What do they want? An Oriental Westwood Village? Let them build [New Chinatown] if they think they can get away with it, but I think it will fail.”

“Soo-Hoo, in return, argued that the Chinese-Americans were best suited to design and build a New Chinatown…

“Soo-Hoo’s New Chinatown opened three weeks later [than Sterling’s China City in 1938]. Not only was Soo-Hoo’s New Chinatown funded, owned, and operated by Chinese investors and businesses, it provided homes for displaced Chinese, while Sterling’s did not. New Chinatown also reflected a more authentic Chinese culture and clientele.

“The competing business districts factionalized Chinese residents. China City’s shopkeepers and workers were grateful for the opportunity to find work in Sterling’s business district and were happy with the influx of celebrities and tourists. New Chinatown’s shopkeepers and business owners, however, felt that China City’s vendors mocked their culture by offering rickshaw rides and selling ‘Chinaburgers.’”

Excerpts and image from .