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A Dreamy New Database for L.A. Architecture Nerds

15 years in the making, the most complete resource on L.A.'s historic built environment has just launched.


People love to say that Los Angeles lacks history, or at least that its history tends to be invisible. And it's true that from a tourist's eye-view, strolling Hollywood Boulevard or the Santa Monica Pier, there might not be a ton of buildings that look like they pre-date 1960. But that doesn't mean the city's all Googie and Geoff Palmer. You just have to look a little harder to find the old stuff.

Today, that task got a lot easier. Almost 15 years in the making, HistoricPlacesLA is the first online database specifically designed to "inventory, map, and help protect the City of Los Angeles' significant historic resources," according to a press release trumpeting its launch.


That's "significant" in both senses. By my rough count, the database includes more than 20,000 entries, spanning the city's most architecturally, historically, and socially valuable buildings, districts, bridges, parks, gardens, and streets.

Each listing is plotted onto a map of city limits, and can be explored in detail. Most include images, and all are obsessively historicized. The light-up crepe on top of a French cafe by my childhood home, for example, is an "Excellent example of post-World War II neon signage in Sherman Oaks." (And here I thought a crepe was just a crepe.)

A joint project of the city of Los Angeles and the Getty Conservation Institute, the resource is meant for anyone with an interest: policymakers, property owners, developers, tourists, students, L.A. history buffs, and plain ol' architecture nerds. HPLA is still growing, too—the citywide survey that's generating the data is only 75 percent complete.

Hidden Los Angeles: A Victorian-era home and the old ticketing hall at Union Station. (Flickr/tkksummers and Flickr/estebanandjulie)
"This system unlocks Los Angeles' rich cultural history and puts it in the palm of anyone's hand," Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement. "HistoricPlacesLA will enrich and enlighten visitors and Angelenos alike and will encourage people to truly explore our streets and be conscious of the history around us."

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