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Heritage Days
SAH/SCC Member's Celebration
Saturday, November 08, 2008

Join SAH/SCC for the annual Members' Celebration on Saturday, November 8th, 2:30-4:30PM, as we explore Heritage Square near Highland Park. This collection of eight structures dates from the 1870s to the turn of the 20th century, representing the Victorian Erathe precursor to modernismthat posed such challenges and opportunities for clients, architects, builders, and, later, preservationists.

Curator Michael Ontiveros will speak with us, and we'll have the opportunity to tour the buildings and socialize with members. This annual event is free for members, but reservations are required. We encourage you to bring friends who might want to join the SAH/SCC member roster. Guests are $10, which is applicable to new memberships.

The Machine Age triumphed in the late 19th century. New inventions and production methods turned small factories into big businesses that needed white-collar supervisors, bookkeepers, and clerks. The white-collar class grew eight times the rate of the population. And this new middle class had the means to move up to new homes and unfamiliar lifestyles. The middle class maybe couldn't afford the masonry mansions of the rich, with hand-carved details, but they could show off their new status with grand wooden houses adorned by machine-made wooden "gingerbread" (available by the linear foot), lathe-turned banister posts, and simulated carved paneling wallcovering. And show off they did, with as many kinds of surface ornament, each highlighted in a different hue, and as many gables and exotic style references as their budgets could afford. But they wondered if they exhibited "good taste" or if they were being sneered at by passersby. They sought guidance.

At an architect's office, they pored over plan books, picking a turret from one illustration, a pillared porch from another, an elaborate chimney from yet a third. Architects advertised that they could produce fancy homes for any budget. By convincing the client (unfamiliar with "good taste") that he knew what was aesthetically correct, the architect triumphed. But would these pastiches of turrets and porches prove structurally sound? That's where the builders came in. Balloon-frame houses were light-weight relative to size and designers and carpenters often figured out, on site, when more bracing was needed here, or a wall extended there.

The result? Colorful jumbles of forms, eclectic melanges of borrowed and fanciful stylesall designed for conspicuous consumption, to impress occupants and outsiders of wealth and status. But, notice: kitchens, back porches, and back bedrooms are bare-bones plain. The exterior trim is only on the sides to be seen from the sidewalk. The display aesthetic meant housekeeping nightmares, repainting panics, and competitive display anxieties. Architectural modernism, emphasizing efficiency and simpler living, was a reaction to those Victorian anxieties.

Victorian houses went out of fashion, were converted to boarding houses, and painted white to escape notice. In the 1960s and '70s, preservationists took an interest. But saving and restoring these neglected showpieces was daunting. That a few survivedeven in L.A.has much to do with their builders' innovations, redwood sills, and the dedication of droves of volunteers.

Join us as we take a close look at the stories the eight structures at Heritage Square can tell us about an era of opportunity and challenge.

As always, the Members Celebration is a free event for SAH/SCC members, but there is limited space, so reservations are required. We encourage you to bring friends who are interested in experiencing Southern California's architectural history first-hand. Your guests may attend this event for $10, which can be put toward a new membership at any level.

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