Saving Historic Los Angeles

Saving Historic Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Conservancy is dedicated to fostering appreciation for historic Los Angeles and to saving its past for the future.

Boyle Hotel - Photo by ELACC
With restoration completed in 2013, the Boyle Hotel in Boyle Heights is a prime example of preservation and adaptive reuse. Photo by ELACC.

Think about your favorite building in Los Angeles. Chances are it’s one of the great historic places that help make the city unique. The nonprofit Los Angeles Conservancy works every day — as it has since 1978 — to make sure these places survive.

Historic buildings, structures, landscapes, and neighborhoods fill a critical need. They tell great stories, give us a sense of place, help us learn who we are and what we value as a culture and embody our shared history.

The Conservancy began in 1978 as part of the effort to prevent demolition of the stunning Central Library in downtown Los Angeles. What started as a handful of concerned citizens is now the largest group of its kind in the U.S., with more than 6,500 members and hundreds of volunteers. The Conservancy works throughout L.A. County, spanning 88 cities plus the County’s unincorporated areas.

The group works through education and advocacy to raise awareness of historic places, prevent their needless demolition, empower people to save the places they love, and foster strong preservation laws and incentives.

Los Angeles Library Pyramid. Photo by Zeetz Jones
On October 3, 1993, more than 15 years after the building was first
threatened with demolition, the Los Angeles Central Library re-opened
in a grand community celebration. Photo by Zeetz Jones.

On any given day, the Conservancy has a dozen or more issues in the works. Major success stories range from the city’s first cathedral, St. Vibiana’s, built in 1876, to the world’s last remaining original McDonald’s, built in 1953. The group has also worked to preserve important examples of modern architecture, from futuristic coffee shops to the elegant Century Plaza Hotel, built in 1966.

The 1931 Wiltern Theatre, the 1939 Wilshire May Company building (now LACMA West, whose golden cylinder reigns over the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax), and other buildings you’d never believe would be in jeopardy—these and many more came very close to disappearing forever.

In addition to fighting for specific landmarks, the Conservancy pursues broader efforts including to help residents form historic districts and works with public officials to strengthen policies and incentives. They offer technical assistance to help individuals, groups, and governments figure out the best ways to maintain the authentic character of their communities through historic preservation.

Public outreach and education are equally important in their work. Now celebrating its thirty-fifth anniversary, the Conservancy’s award-winning Walking Tour Program has introduced over 175,000 Angelenos and tourists alike to downtown’s rich architectural heritage. Eight different tours explore everything from Art Deco gems, to modern landmarks, to the role of historic places in downtown’s amazing renaissance.

Johnie's Coffee Shop in Los Angeles. Photo by John Eng
On November 27, 2013 the City Council voted in Johnie’s Coffee Shop on
Wilshire Boulevard as a Historic-Cultural Monument, in part due to the efforts
of the Los Angeles Conservancy. Photo by John Eng.

The wildly popular Last Remaining Seats series screens classic films in historic theatres every summer. This season runs June 10 – 27 and includes a night of mid-century glamour (“How to Marry a Millionaire” at The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion) as well as a trip back to the 1970s with “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” (the original, starring Gene Wilder) at the beautifully restored Orpheum Theatre.

The Conservancy also works with kids from Heart of Los Angeles in the largely Latino neighborhood of Westlake, teaching them about historic places right where they live. “The fate of the city is in the hands of the young,” says Linda Dishman, the Conservancy’s executive director. “We want them to be good stewards of the city and manage its change thoughtfully in the future, so they need to know their history and learn to care about it now.”

Ongoing challenges include the rampant teardowns and mansionization that are decimating older and historic neighborhoods across the region. Odds are you’ve seen it in your own community: existing homes are expanded to fill the entire lot or torn down for massive, out-of-scale homes up to three times the size of what they replaced. By removing trees, blocking sunlight, reducing privacy, and ruining the character of the neighborhood, this trend is diminishing the livability of our communities, one McMansion at a time.

The Conservancy has a vision of Los Angeles as a place that values our past and considers it an essential part of our present and future. “This is a great city with a fascinating, messy, and unique history that’s embodied in its built environment,” says Dishman. “No other city has what we have. Why would we give that up?”

Walking Tour of Downtown Los Angeles


Join us on Saturday, May 30 at 10:30 a.m. for an urban hike led by a docent from the Los Angeles Conservancy who will show us and tell us about the fascinating historic sites of downtown L.A.

This private tour is free for SingularCity members and $10 for non-members. You must RSVP in advance.

Click here for more information.



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