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How Garvanzans Saved a Historic Home

The historic property is looking forward to a brighter future.

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.

Joe Walker April 14, 2012 at 01:30 PM
I had the privilege of salvaging some old furniture from this house last week. The new owner is exactly what the home has needed for so long. This will soon rival the El Mio Mansion for the most impressive Highland Park homes. Hooray!!!
Tony April 14, 2012 at 02:13 PM
This is an exciting time for Garvanza! I'm certainly looking forward to the restoration of the property.
ChickenBoyFan April 14, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Whew! Let's all exhale with relief that the house did not get purchased and demolished. Kudos to Jose H., Zenay, Brad, Rosa, Tina, and the Garvanza Improvement Association. I thanks for the accuracy of the history of the house. Brad is now a part of the history.
Tina Gulotta-Miller April 14, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Thanks Joe!! We need all the positive reinforcement we can give to a project like this. We are so excited!!!!!!
Tina Gulotta-Miller April 14, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Antonio....we are so happy this outcome has been so positive. All I can say is we didn't sit back and watch. The Garvanza Improvement Association has taken quite a few steps in advocacy just for this moment. Having the groundwork accomplished and laid out we were able with CD14's efforts to pave the way for this opportunity to happen. Thanks for your supportive posts that credited GIA for their hard work. You are awesome!
Tina Gulotta-Miller April 14, 2012 at 06:36 PM
@Chicken Boy....we held our breath through the escrow and then GIA & CD14 even had to step in with an assist until it finally closed on March 30th. And we are keeping our eye on the property for the owner as he proceeds to work on the much needed rehabilitation.
Daniel Wright April 16, 2012 at 10:35 PM
After reading about this preservation action in The Eastsider and Patch, I drove by the place. It can be a charming gateway into the terrific Gavanza area. We are all so proud of the hard work that goes into helping preservation minded investors find the "gems" in Northeast neighborhoods. Congratulations to all who made this happen. Dan Wright
Tina Gulotta-Miller April 18, 2012 at 03:51 PM
@Dan.....thanks. We forgot to mention Jessica Wethington McLean. She was CM Jose Huizar's Planning deputy at the time we were in early talks about forming the Garvanza HPOZ. Now Jessica is working on Bringing Back Broadway. Just fantastic!
Pasadena Adjacent April 24, 2012 at 10:17 AM
Excellent article Mr Fonesca. And no article on Garvanza is complete without referencing Tina. So....does Brad Chambers know about the Pagoda home? My personal favorite http://pasadenaadjacent.com/2011/10/16/garvanzas-lost-pagoda/
rogelio ibarra September 10, 2012 at 05:23 AM
Love your Hard work saving the wonderful homes in our town,but Ihave you all seeing what is been happening with all this real estate companies just buying from the owners on trouble fix them cheap and sell them high . They dont care how the homes look to keep our areas looking nice and historical One of the worst companies is Housing America Realty I call them several times spoke to one of their agents name Martha hardly spoke english to complaint about the homes style colors and care,she inform me the owners are in mexico is when I realize another company just trying to get rich from our community loosing their homes an not caring how they build quality homes let just keep an eye to those companies who are the buyers the builders and the sellers like Housing America Realty they used to be southland realty why change their name???
Tina Gulotta-Miller September 10, 2012 at 04:41 PM
@Pasadena Adjacent, thank-you. We appreciate your excellent blog.
Tina Gulotta-Miller September 10, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Regelio........which properties specifically are you referring to?

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