Garvanza’s “Jungle House” emerges into view after decades of neglect*

"Jungle House" revealed after trees and bushes trimmed away. Photos by Nicole Possert

New owner Brad Chambers.

By Nicole Possert

One of the earliest and most significant properties in the Garvanza section of Highland Park  has been rescued and taken off the long-term “watch list” because of a new preservation-minded owner. Suffering from  decades of severe neglect and was hidden behind overgrown trees and bushes,  the property, known as the Dr. Smith home at the corner of Avenue 63 and Garvanza Avenue next to a Rite-Aid drug store, has been on the radar screen of neighbors and organizations like Highland Park Heritage Trust and the Garvanza Improvement Association.

“It is not owned by Rite Aid, is not scheduled for demolition, is not going to be turned into a commercial anything,” said  Brad Chambers, the new owner. “What it will be is a crowning victory for historic preservation because my intent is to preserve the property by embracing and preserving its original character and bring back the lush historic landscape reminiscent of Dr. Smith’s horticultural style.”

That lush landscape has gotten out of control in recent decades, with some neighbors referring to the property as the “Jungle House” because of the large trees and overgrown shrubbery that have obscured the Victorian home, which has proved a source of intrigue for many of those who visit the weekly Tuesday night food truck fest held in a parking lot across the street.

Built in 1886, the Victorian was the home of Dr. John Lawrence Smith, a physician, horticulturist and and leading community elder, from then until about 1937, reports Charles Fisher, local historian. The main house underwent a second story addition in 1925 and a second two-story home was built in the 1910 on the large property. It anchors the corner of Avenue 63 and Garvanza Avenue in the transition between commercial and residential.

Photo by Nicole Possert

“Dr. Smith was a community activist and the original founder of the Garvanza Improvement Association (GIA) in 1903,” said Fisher. “GIA was responsible for getting the City to pave the streets and replace the street trees that were removed when the curbs and gutters were installed. Dr. Smith was one of only two early physicians in Garvanza, the other being Dr. Franklin Whaley.”

To kick off the revitalization, the new owner, along with the help of the Garvanza Improvement, celebrated this past weekend with an open house to give neighbors a first-ever look inside the property that neighbors and fans of architecture have wondered about for so long. (The saga of this home’s journey to this point will be a future story.)

In a few short weeks since he took ownership, Chambers’ work crew has already filled up six large dumpsters of materials from inside the home as they begin the work, excavated trees and landscape that were in jeopardy and is preparing for a year-long renovation.  He estimated the renovation will take a year to complete.

Related Post:

  • Residents celebrate preservation success in Garvanza. Patch

* Correction: A previous version of the post identified the original homeowner as Dr. John William Smith.  That’s wrong. His correct name was Dr. John Lawrence Smith.

Nicole Possert is a contributor writing about home and history. Questions or ideas? just email her at hello@theEastsiderLA.com

* Possert is a board member of the Highland Park Heritage Trust

Dr. Smith's house before shrubber and trees were cut back.


  1. YES YES YES A MILLION TIMES YES!!!! Please post interior pics of the renovation in progress! I live 2 blocks from here and love this property!

  2. Cool! I love the owner’s attitude, we need more of that (and less stucco over historic bungalows!) in Highland Park!

    • fed Up with City Hall

      I agree we need more of this but the problem lies with the city. Ever try to deal with the housing authority or the building department. It is like going through extortion by a staff of the most rude and useless individuals you will ever have the displeasure of meeting. The only answer they know is “No.”. If this city really wants us to buy homes, restore neighborhoods and invest money, then they need to concentrate on the dumps some people call homes and let us pumping money into here get a break.

  3. Fantastic News!! Just what Garvanza needed… Can’t wait to see it completed. HURRAY!!

  4. Victorian Gardens were pretty junky things to begin with ? No Thorns No Roses ? See Ray Bradbury`s Usher II

  5. Cheers to Brad Chambers – many will be rooting for you!

  6. Preservation Patriot

    YES! Perservation/restoration rules! Big Kudos to the Garvanza Improvement Association for all of their hard work to give this great house a pulse again.
    To the new owner, Brad: Thank you for coming to the rescue. Looking forward to seeing the progress.

  7. I wonder how they will preserve how private the house is, in relation to the commercial properties surrounding.

  8. Tina Gulotta-Miller

    It is unfortunate that the Garvanza Improvement Association did not have the opportunity to make this much anticipated announcement as this was their story. There are several corrections GIA would like to make. First of all the name of the original owner of the house is Dr. John Lawrence Smith not Dr. John Williams Smith. Secondly, there were more than two physicians that had lived in Garvanza.

    Although some groups have their “watch list”, Thr Garvanza Improvement Association takes action. You see we did not have the luxury of watching the predicament of this property, we worked for a solid 18 months to make this success happen. We would like to acknowledge CD14 for their active role throughout the last year and a half in helping GIA accomplish our goal. There were other people we would like to acknowledge but we will be doing our own article so stay tuned.

    Lastly, this property is in the hands of a a preservationists, one of three that GIA brought to the property on that fateful day last November 2011, and his I’d was chosen ought of the four bids. He was the preferred bidder because GIA planted the seed to the owner in 2005 that the property was important to our community. Now you will see a proper renovation commence right before your eyes. The GIA feels proud to have accomplished such an important win for our community. No “watch lists” for us, we are the doers and just stay tuned we have more in store.

    • Hello, Tina. We were not aware that you were preparing to make an official announcement. I am a fan of the Garvanza Facebook page but please give us a heads up of any other news that can be included in our stories.

      • Sound like the Garvanza Improvement Association worked hard to make this happen but I have to agree with Adam. Its not “your story” its “a story” don’t blame eastsider cause its good at its job. If you want to be the first to announce a story then be more strategic in your PR so you don’t get scooped. Good job though!

    • What’s so unfortunate about it?

  9. No offense Tina but if you wanted to be ‘first’ in announcing the story you might have done it already.

    As to the comment about CD14 helping I would love to hear more.

  10. As president of the Highland Park Heritage Trust, I would like to recognize and congratulate the efforts of the Garvanza Improvement Association (GIA) and their leaders, Rosa Rivas and Tina Gulotta-Miller for their advocacy to preserve this property. The GIA facilitated a walking tour through the property to provide the opportunity for potential buyers to purchase an important landmark in Garvanza. As a result, they were successful in finding a preservation-minded buyer to put our shared concerns over the property into action. Without their steadfast commitment to preservation, this property may yet still be on the community’s list of threatened properties. We look forward to the major improvements on the property by Mr. Chambers and the positive impact it will have on the neighborhood. Thank you Rosa and Tina for all your hard work!

  11. Well done.

    That house has the most additions I’ve ever seen.

  12. This is just fabulous! Thank you for caring, and I’d be thrilled to see the house at any point in it’s development. I have spent almost 13 years fixing up my 1920’s home, and it is so rewarding to experience joy every day in the outcome. I applaud any home owner who is willing to preserve the beauty and class of these older homes instead of tearing them down and replacing them with a sterile modern style that leaves me cold. THANK YOU.

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