Picky about paint

Maria Bembi had considered many color choices before deciding to paint the exterior of her family’s Angeleno Heights cottage (pictured above) a combination of  reddish brown, maple and white.  At this point, most homeowners would go to a home improvement store to buy the paint and hope the color slathered on the wall resembled that on the color chip sample. Bembi, however, had to go through one more step. In late March, Bembi presented her color palette before a handful of neighbors who review paint colors to make sure they are appropriate for buildings within the Angeleno Heights’ historic district.  The March meeting did not go in Bembi’s favor, with the board rejecting her choices. Last Thursday night, Bembi’s brother, Marcelo, returned to the board (she was away at a conference) to seek the approval of a new and simplified color scheme. “It’s such a pain,” said Marcelo of the process.

But, added Marcelo, it is a process that he and his family support to protect their neighborhood’s historic character. There are more than two dozen  historic preservation overlay zones and boards across the city, each with it own policies and rules about what property owners can and can’t do with the exterior of their buildings.  Big things – such as room additions and new roofs – as well as small details – porch railings and window styles – can fall under their jurisdiction.  Exterior paint and wood stain also come under review.

Unlike some planned suburban communities or condo complexes, the Angeleno Heights Historic Preservation Overlay Zone  does not have an approved palette of colors.  Property owners are free to select whatever colors they like. But the Angeleno Heights board decides whether the selection makes sense for the style and age of the home.  When it comes to color, the Angeleno Heights Design Guideline Overview reads:

These guidelines are not to dictate color choices for homeowners however, the colors chosen should be appropriate and should be within the color range of a particular style.

In the case of the Bembi’s Bellevue Avenue house, the board rejected the family’s first color scheme was as being a bit too complicated for the simple, 192os, Colonial Revival-style home.  “For a Victorian home that would be okay,” said one board member. “But for that house it was too much.”

After a recent meeting, the board members emphasized that they don’t want to force a color scheme on owners.  They note they have approved houses that are pink, purple and brown. “We are trying to guide them to a color scheme,” said one board member.  In the case of the Bembi home,  the board suggested that  a simpler palate of only two colors – one for the walls and a second for the trim and window sashes – might be more suitable.

After being rejected during the first meeting, Bembi once again examined the color schemes of other Angeleno Heights homes and also traveled to a historic district in Long Beach for more ideas, said her brother. In the end, she settled on a grayish green (second photo) hue for the main body of the house and white for the trim.

These were Stonecraft #6292 by DunnEwards for the body of the house and a generic white for the trim and window sash.

Stone Craft, in the middle, was approved by board.

Last Thursday night, Marcello Bembi, arrived before the board, which meets around a small black table on the second floor of Old Firehouse No. 6 on Edgeware Road.  Bembi brought along a narrow sample book from paint maker Dunn-Edwards that contained the color his sister had selected to cover the walls of her home:  Stone Craft #6292.

This time around, the board members liked what they saw.

“It’s a two-color scheme that really works,” remarked one board member of the grayish green and white.  “It’s much lighter – minty,” said another. In about 10 minutes, the board approved the new color scheme, and Bembi was headed out the door.

If all goes well, the Bembi home should be painted in shades of Stone Craft  and white by mid May. “We came upon a happy medium,” Bembi said.

Here are the color guidelines for Angeleno Heights historic district:

Each of the building styles in Angelino Heights has a range of color treatment that help to characterize the period and style of the particular building. These guidelines are not to dictate color choices for homeowners however, the colors chosen should be appropriate and should be within the color range of a particular style. Please refer to the architectural styles section for your style of house.
7. In choosing paint or stain colors, 19th and most early 20th century homes should be painted or stained in a minimum of three harmonious colors; one color for the main body of the structure, another for trim and architectural detail, and yet another color to pick out window sashes, and perhaps distinguish other detail.
8. In choosing paint or stain colors for twentieth century colonial revival type structures, homeowners should pick a pallete of at least two contrasting harmonious colors, one to be used on the main body of the house and another for the trim, detail and window sashes.
9. In choosing paint or stain colors, homeowners should select paint colors appropriate to the period of the structure to be painted. The HPOZ board maintains a library of pattern books which illustrate colors popular at the time the HPOZ was developed. Consult the historic paint color chips resource maintained by the board and choose harmonious color schemes from these ranges.


  1. Yup, I’m going to have to go through this as well when I finally get around to painting my house in the Highland Park / Garvanza HPOZ.

  2. The upside is that there are people who would like to buy homes in a historic district, so property values in that area are probably higher than in non-HPOZ areas. Also, the Mills Act provides for a reduction in property taxes in those areas. Lastly, I guarantee that when this homeowner purchased her home, she knew that she was in a HPOZ overlay zone; it’s part of the mandatory disclosures. Think what she went through was a pain? Try getting a permit to replace windows on a home in Glendale.

  3. Miss Marissa Lynn

    I sign the escrow papers on my 1922 built home in the 90042 today!
    Unfortunately/fortunately it’s not in the preservation area. Although it may seem like a hassle, I think that the input from others well versed in the historical period my house was built would be helpful.
    I have been, and will turn, to the internet for my future restoration projects.

  4. Fine with the content of the article….but wanted to comment on Miss Marissa Lynn……Congrats! Hope you love your new home.

  5. @Lauren – No, you’re actually not. The HP HPOZ doesn’t legislate paint color. Thus, stupid paint color choices abound in HP. Even if the HPOZ had a say, it’s doubtful it would make a difference. This HPOZ is known for being lax on enforcement and loose in their interpretation of the Sec. of Interior Guidelines for Historic Structures.

    As far as the the house in the article, the board was right. The greyish green on white is way more appropriate for the house than the mishmash (white in a tri-color earth tones scheme? um, no) of colors the owner wanted. Looking at other homes in the neighborhood and looking at similar houses in other historic neighborhoods should always be the first step in choosing exterior paint. Perhaps a thumb though an Old House Journal article or two. Then the testing on boards or the house itself to see how it works with the natural light, then getting your approval if needed, then buying the paint and doing the job. It’s not any more expensive to get a great color scheme than an ugly one – it just takes time and thought.

  6. I support trying to maintain the character of the neighborhood, but the problem with the process is that it has no teeth. The people who are conscientious enough to bother to get approval do, and generally care about getting the colors right.

    But many others don’t bother getting approval and do what they want with no consequences, so the approval process seems like a penalty for people who are responsible enough to care. That’s why there’s Victorians sprayed mercilessly in one-tone pink in the hood, and lots of others that don’t adhere to any color “scheme” at all.

  7. The main problem with LA City is that chain link fences are allowed on front lawns. This should be banned immediately. Drive up ave 64 and notice the huge difference when you enter Pasadena…. Or go from Glendale to Eagle Rock and look at all the crap front lawn fences allowed in LA City. What a shame. Fences should not be allowed on front lawns period.

  8. @rama, Yeah, I see un-permitted facade work and new and obviously not historically approved paint done on houses all around my neighborhood. I just know that I’m the person they’d fine if I didn’t go through the proper channels so I’m gonna play by the rules regarding this. Catholic guilt? Sure I guess. See, I actually LIKE the fact that Garvanza is now an HPOZ. It just sucks that they don’t readily enforce it. So many beautiful homes and homes that COULD be beautiful again sans stucco, shite windows and yeah, chain link fences.

  9. Also, @rama, they technically DO have to approve paint color. Last November I was going to paint and was in contact with the HPOZ about it. They had set up a meeting for it and everything. A week or so before said meeting, I had a family emergency I had to go back east for so I haven’t completed anything yet.

  10. I live in an HPOZ and had to get ‘permission’ of colors to paint my house. It IS a pain, as someone put it, but it can do some good. One problem with the system is that some buildings in the HPOZ aren’t deemed historically significant – so they can do what they want. For instance, my neighbor painted their 5 unit building a shocking orange color… nice! Now it’s looking like an Issac Misrahi ad over here.

  11. Issac Misrahi, very funny! Choosing color for house exteriors is tricky, even when the house has not been HPOZ mandated. Not only do you need to take into account the period of the architecture, the amount of sunlight that hits the house at its brightest point.,but also the size or volume of the structure. I’m an Architectural Color Consultant, and have speced out color for historical buildings, and houses built after the millennium, and I can testify it aint easy….but taking the time makes a difference. I will suggest to Ms. Bembi that instead of a Pure white, she choose a white that has a warm undertone like Ben Moore’s OC-33 or OC-36. The warmer white won’t pull away from the Stone Craft as harshly as a hard cold modern white. If anyone has any questions about color don’t hesitate to call or checkout http://www.leesamartling.com.

  12. I’m so so glad I don’t have to deal with you busybodies.

  13. @skr – Cruise around MacArthur Park or any other area with once majestic and now dilapidated houses, and maybe you’ll change your mind. Stucco, vinyl windows, hideously inappropriate paint schemes – these are things we all have to look at. You can do whatever you want to the interior.

    It’s about being a good neighbor, and it’s about understanding that you are the caretaker of a a unique and irreplaceable historic property, and you should give it the respect it deserves. If that seems unreasonable, simply find another place/house to live in. The vast majority of LA neighborhoods are not HPOZs, and even within the designated areas, only certain structures are ‘contributing’. I don’t see how someone is a ‘busybody’ because they care about their neighborhood and want to to look it’s best.

  14. I agree with most of the comments above – we need to maintain the character of the neighborhood. None of these homes are an island and without control it will quickly turn into a fiesta of garishness.

    In fact, I would take it one step further and add criminal penalties for violations. It’s simple: Pick Bad Colors, Go To Jail.

  15. Caring about the neighborhood doesn’t make you a busybody Lauren, thinkIng you should have the right to force people to do what you think is right makes you a busybody. You also sound like a horrible classist since you’re obviously hating on the poor around the MacArthur park area.
    I am astounded that you would use men with guns to enforce your own personal aesthetic upon others. Well not too astounded since your fiesta of garishness remark shows your truly racist proclivities.

  16. I wish Los Angeles would tackle the issue of signage. It’s one thing to have a variety of styles and it’s quite another when the majority of businesses choose shitty fonts spelled out in primary colors, many times printed on vinyl banners that are tied up on walls. Personally, I think the signage was great up until about the 70s/80s (it seems that up until that point, people actually gave some thought into what a sign would look like…) and then it all went downhill from there. Is it just me? Does anyone know what I’m talking about?

  17. @skr- Oh yeah, I’m a ‘horrible classist’, living in a low income household (according to the gov), in a studio apartment (rolls eyes).

    I have NO idea how you got that I was “hating on the poor” with my post, but it sounds like maybe you have some issues. All I was saying was that it’s to the benefit of these one of the whole community to have some maintenance guidelines for historic properties, especially if there is a concentration of them. If you weren’t so busy fanning the flames of a class war maybe you’d have some time to learn about the tax breaks that living in an historic property can bring to home owners, and grants that are available for restoration. I don’t fault someone for not having the financial resources or know-how to take care of their home in a historically sensitive way, but that’s what out reach is for. And guess what, the upkeep of a neighborhood as a direct correlation to crime rate. Win-win!

    But I digress…no one in an HPOZ has to renovate their home, they just have to make the repairs/paint/etc. appropriate going forward. I’m sure having to run everything by the committee would be annoying, but I think in the long run it’s worth it.

  18. For anyone who hasn’t seen the architecturally catastophic effects of not having the community review on changes to be made to historic buildings, take a look at 801 E. Edgeware. Once the most magestic developers mansion on the hill, with an amazing exterior and unrivaled interior, in the ’60’s city zoning determined that because it was over 3 stories it was zoned as a commercial building. Subsequently all the gingerbread was replaced by stucco, the dual staircases and formal ballroom removed and the rooms divided into apartments. It now looks like a modern behemoth, suitable to exist in The Valley or Orange County, rather than LA’s first suburb which is still the highest concentration of Original Victorian Homes in the city.

    This travesty was the catallyst for The Angeleno Heights HPOZ. As the son of the man who started the HPOZ in Angeleno Heights (the first in LA) and tirelessly lobbied the city for it’s institution to overlay the existing zoning laws. No candidate up for review will know the “pain” of the years spent making sure this area maintains it’s integrity and charm that keeps it as the diamond in the rough that tour groups and students visit year round.

    As far as class warfare, I maintain friendships with my neighbors and despite ethnicity or economic status, the integrity of the neighborhood is a source of pride that crosses not only socioeconomic borders but ensures that generations have the past to enjoy. In fact, over the years, there have been a number of students who have done school reports about the area history from elementary school pupils at Placencia to high schoolers from Belmont. (many of whom are children of immigrants that live in the area)

  19. @Lauren, I am actually the Planner currently in charge of administering the Highland Park-Garvanza HPOZ. I can tell you that, as a result of the relatively new Preservation Plan for the area, painting your house the same color is now totally exempt from review, while painting in new colors just has to go through the Planning Department (ie. myself) – not the full HPOZ Board (although that is always an option, if you’re interested in some free design advice). You can check the Plan’s list of exemptions, delegations (to Planning) and detailed design guidelines below:

  20. To the readers and commenters who live in an HPOZ, are interested in forming one in your neighborhood, or just want to know more about the process – the City of LA Office of Historic Resources along with the LA Conservancy is hosting the annual HPOZ Conference on May 7th. Workshops, panels, tours, etc. Info and registration here: http://preservation.lacity.org/node/438

  21. This is a great article – thanks to the Eastsider for helping to educate everyone on HPOZ processes. An HPOZ designation is an important tool for helping to preserve whole districts, not just individual buildings. They are much less painful for homeowners who understand the process and willingly participate. They are VERY painful for homeowners who don’t understand, and get caught doing unapproved modifications to their buildings. The more residents are educated, the better the HPOZ functions for everyone. This is an invaluable service you are providing – thank you!

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