Councilman Jose Huizar has his eyes set on a corner of El Sereno for historic preservation. Huizar wants to create a historic district, called the Berkshire Craftsman and Revival Bungalow District, in the northeast part of El Sereno next to South Pasadena. The homes and streets in the Berkshire District, part of the Short Line Villa Tract, began to take shape in 1906 and grew in popularity with the expansion of the Pacific Electric Railway lines and stations that served the area near Berkshire Avenue, Berkshire Drive, Atlas Street and adjacent avenues.
Huizar, in a City Council motion, describes that the neighborhood as one the best examples of Arroyo Culture in El Sereno, pointing out the architecture, landscaping and other distinguishing features. The wedged-shaped parcel in question was part of a historical survey conducted by CalTrans in 1992 as the agency was planning to extend the 710 Freeway through the area.
The survey mentions that the Short Line Villa Tract was founded in 1906 and annexed to the City of Los Angeles in 1912, a few years before El Sereno, then called Bairdstown. Much was made then about the prestigious location of the Short Line Villa Tract’s proximity to South Pasadena, though at the time the community was somewhat isolated from the rest of Los Angeles and was unable to receive basic provisions like water and power. It was not until after World War II that the Mexican-American community were able to purchase homes in El Sereno due to restrictive contracts in the area.
Today stone retaining walls on Berkshire Drive speak to that Arroyo Culture, along with a 1900 sensibility of palm trees towering over Craftsman-style homes. From a design standpoint, the area is more similar to South Pasadena than the rest of El Sereno (ever heard of FauxPas?), with prominent homes created by architects who worked primarily in Pasadena.
Several homes mentioned in the 1992 survey were said to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places because they had maintained their original architecture and landscaping. It’s not clear, however, if those homes are still intact.
The motion, which must be approved by the full City Council, also directs the city’s Planning Department to start the process of creating and establish the boundaries of the Historic Preservation Overlay Zone.
View Larger Map The exact boundaries of the Berkshire historic district have yet to be determined. But a 1992 historic survey focused on homes and streets near Berkshire Drive and Atlas Street.
Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis stories, reviews and photos at Smashed Chair.