SurveyLA’s head discusses technology, methodology for preservation project

As mentioned in previous posts, the city is asking its citizens to recommend their favorite neighborhood spots to be made historical landmarks.  An event is being held Saturday, April 4 at the Central Library to kick-off the SurveyLA project.  Ken Bernstein, the project’s head, discussed the city’s renewed efforts to protect the city’s historical areas.

According to a report released by the Getty Conservation Institute showed that there was “no comprehensive inventory of [L.A.’s] resources,” said Bernstein.  “[GCI] entered into a grant agreement with the city” in which L.A. matched the J. Paul Getty Trust’s funding of $2.5 million for the five-year project that would strive to document historical places.

“[The project will] radically rethink how historical surveys used to be [with] a pencil and clipboard,” Bernstein said, adding that the city consists of 880,000 legal parcels.  “[It’s] creating an entirely new methodology…we now have a new database, and a field tool that surveys with tablet PCs…[using] donwloaded information from our geographic survey.  The city an upload a photograph and match it to the parcel [being surveyed].  It’s taken a bit of time to design and get that tool in place.”

L.A. approved an ordinance in 1962 that would preserve cultural heritage sites, but “in many ways we are playing catch up” because it wasn’t until recently that the city began taking more initiative in protecting its historical areas.

“This really should have been done 40 years ago,” said Bernstein.  “We’ve been operating…very much in the dark,” and neighborhoods in West L.A., the San Fernando Valley and downtown cities have yet to be surveyed for important places.  These are the areas where “significant buildings [may be lost] without [us] even knowing it…Community members have to rally to save [these places] at the 11th hour,” he said.  “It’s far better to be proactive and upfront well before there’s a threat to a particular site.”

The city is reaching out to those community members who are willing to act as neighborhood coordinators and reach out to their “friends and longtime residents to identify places that are important local landmarks…We are hoping to begin building a network of engaged active neighborhood volunteers” and work with Angelenos.

So far, the city has been getting a stream of steady responses from their online MyhistoricLA submission form, Bernstein said.  One example includes “an old (Chatsworth) movie ranch up against a hillside…that has never been designate and has great natural features.”   There have been some “offbeat responses,” but for the most part, many of the submissions have been “very interesting.”

Bernstein, who used to work with the L.A. Conservancy, said they are working on “a nomination for the Bob Baker (who has been at his craft for about half a century at this point) Marionette Studio just west of downtown, along with the original See’s Candy home on Western Avenue.  Both sites are “very (architectually) modest…but it’s not always about a single place or one great grandiose architectural landmarks.”

“It’s how these buildings tell the story of Los Angeles,” Bernstein said.

The SurveyLA kick-off celebration takes place this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Central Library, located at 5th and Flower in downtown.  A panel discussion headed by KPCC Air Talk host Larry Mantle runs from 1 to 2:30 p.m., when local community organizers, city officials, developers and preservationists discuss issues in surveying the city; reservations to attend the panel discussion can be made at

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