A city with a great online library

Escrow is that funny time between the proposal and the I do, when you're both pretty sure you know how things will go down but anything could go wrong. We fell in love with a house, a 1924 storybook/English/French/cottage sort of thing, and now someone is holding our money for us while we check out the house and the bank checks out us. I know that the house looks great from the outside, and the interior is beautiful, but I also know that the last potential buyers' offer failed because of their inspection. So we're prepared, and we're not going to give up that easily. As I nervously await our inspection tomorrow (each buyer is responsible for conducting their own inspection), I can't help but eat a lot and do a lot of research. Not about what the inspection might reveal in terms of foundation or plumbing issues, but what the internet can tell me about the house, the neighborhood, and its history. The LA public library. I can't even find my library card, and the resources I have access to on their website are stunning. The photo database is not so new, but its breadth and depth never cease to amaze me. In researching our (hopefully) new neighborhood, I came across a series of photos from 1938 showing off a nearby model home in View Park, near Windsor Hills in Los Angeles.

View Park model home

The home looks largely as it did in 1938, though the trees and the neighborhood has grown up around it.

Some more great shots of the interior:

A model poses inside the "Silver Monterey," a newly completed model home located at 5129 Escalon Avenue in View Park. She is turning on one of the two wall sconces mounted above the fireplace in the living room. A framed card on the mantel identifies all of the room's features: "Real fireplace with Colonial-type mantel, Hardwood of Bruce oak blocks, Venetian blinds, Modern electric light fixtures, Ample windows, New pattern wall paper, Ample electrical outlets, Vented floor furnace, Detailed splayed ceiling." During this open house, 6 framed cards were used to describe a total of eighty-eight outstanding qualities found throughout the home.

A model sits in the "breakfast nook" off of the kitchen inside the "Silver Monterey," a newly completed model home located at 5129 Escalon Avenue in View Park, an unincorporated community in Los Angeles County. The kitchen and seating area include ample storage, tiled countertops, modern lighting, a decorative linoleum floor, and numerous windows.

1930s kitchen

1930s bathroom

See the whole wonderful set here.

But as stimulating as the visuals are, the library isn't done there. I wanted to find out who lived in our potential house throughout the years. First I came across the LA Conservancy's page for researching your home's history. This was helpful, but required a lot of 20th century-style running around town to look at physical records (finding the tract maps is fun, though - you can follow their advice and find your own online). Somehow I discovered that the LAPL has digitized city directories from 1909 to 1987. If you aren't immediately aware of the import of this, it means that you can search by name, occupation, or street address to find almost anyone in the city of Los Angeles in the early part of the 20th century. Coverage drops sharply after the 1960s, but the really interesting stuff is in the 20's and 30's anyway. Obviously, some people chose not to be listed, and sometimes occupations, first names, and street names are abbreviated. You can go ahead and try to search for a full street address, i.e. "4726 Fake" (leave off the ave or st), or if you aren't getting any results you can try for "h4726" or "r4726." The h and r designation is for owning vs. renting. The street directories are a bit different; you just search for the street name and the numbers are listed out. If you get a 500 error, just reload and it should come up. You can find out all kinds of fascinating things, like where Max Factor lived

Max Factor lived at 432 S. Boyle in the 1930s.

or that Marilyn Monroe's mother's first husband, Jasper Baker, was a meat cutter in Los Angeles before taking their kids back to Kentucky.

1919

The address listed is somewhat confusing, as it appears to be Pershing Square, which has always been owned by the city of Los Angeles. But clearly, if you're researching a home or apartment in LA, this is an invaluable resource. I was able to trace the history of almost every home we made an offer on, and even find out who lived in my apartment in the 50's and 60's. If you're an LA history nerd like me, block out a few hours to explore these virtual pages.