Few Los Angeles communities celebrate their history as passionately as the residents of Garvanza, the tiny Highland Park adjacent neighborhood named for its once prominent bean fields.
The names of and evoke a distant era in Garvanza that was both bohemian and bucolic, before it and other towns like Highland Park and Hermon were enveloped by the emerging metropolis of Los Angeles.
For groups like the Garvanza Improvement Association, who more than a century after annexation strive to maintain their alcove's historical character, there is no greater victory than the one they celebrated on March 30.
After decades false starts and failed efforts, members of the GIA--with help from Council District 14 and real estate agents Tim Swan and Bob Berger--helped broker the sale of one of Garvanza's most historic homes into the hands noted preservationist Brad Chambers.
It's the kind of victory that's almost overwhelming to GIA co-chair Rosa Rivas.
"Right after I heard the news I just went to the house and stood there for five minutes in silence," she said. "I was so happy."
The Victorian home at the corner of Avenue 63 and Garvanza Avenue was built in 1886 by Dr. John Lawrence Smith, one of the neighborhood's two physicians and an outspoken community activist.
Local historian Charles Fisher notes that Dr. Smith was the founder of the Garvanza Improvement Association and was outspoken in local affairs, including his fight to have local roads paved.
Though the home never left the Smith family--Fisher notes that the sale to Chambers was the first time the property went on the market--it began to fall into deep disrepair in the 1970s.
An absentee owner and descendant of Dr. Smith rented out the property, but failed to maintain its historic facade or trim the yard's abundant plant life.
Convincing owner Paul McCallum to part ways with the property wasn't easy, though, noted GIA co-chair Tina Gulotta-Miller.
She recounted a chance encounter with McCallum in 2005, during which he told her that he refused to part ways with the property for less than $1 million--the price offered by the nearby Rite-Aid Pharmacy.
According to Council District 14 staffer Zenay Loera, the turning point for the Garvanza home came a few years ago when the city began pressuring McCallum to clear the immense piles of brush that began collect on the property.
Rather than dealing with the maintenance costs, McCallum began to look for a seller last fall.
That's where Gulotta-Miller stepped in. In November, she hosted a tour of the house for preservation minded buyers and contractors who she thought might be interested in investing in the home. Among those invited to the tour was Chambers, who had already completed several restoration projects on Avenue 64 in Garvanza, and had moved two historic house from Chintatown to the neighborhood.
"Anyone with an eye for design has an eye for that home," Chambers said. "I've known about the house for years, but I never had any intention to buy it."
Chambers said despite the decades of neglect by the owner, the care that Dr. Smith put into the home still shows through.
"He really had a great sense of design and materials," Chambers said. "The home was built in the 1880s and modified in the 1920s with great care for the original lines. So many of the original details are still in place--and I really live through those details. It's really important to have that."
As difficult as it was to shepherd the home into the hand's of a committed buyer, Loera said it could have been even worse.
In 2010, due in large part to the advocacy of the Garvanza Improvement Association, the City of Los Angeles passed a measure annexing the neighborhood of Garvanza to the Highland Park Historic Preservation Overlay Zone--protecting properties like the Dr. Smith house from demolition or dramatic renovations, and warding off buyers who didn't care to preserve it.
"This probably couldn't have happened without getting that HPOZ in place," Fisher said. "I can guarantee there would have been plenty of buyers who weren't interested in the property's history."
The creation of the HPOZ was just one of many pieces that needed to fall into place for the Dr. Smith house to finally be purchased by Chambers.
A last minute extension of the Mills Act proposed by Councilman Jose Huizar, for example, will allow Chambers to receive property tax relief while restoring historic property.
There was also the walking tour of the neighborhood hosted by the GIA and attended by councilman shortly after he took office in 2005, which prompted him allocate discretionary funds for the historical survey that eventually became the foundation of the Garvanza HPOZ.
Much like the Dr. Smith home, all that is history now. Rivas couldn't be happier.
"As soon as I found out I went all around the neighborhood and told all the neighbors," she said.
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