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Swimming Pools and Historic Preservation

Hollywood Riviera apartment building is site for party and talk celebrating LA's swimming pool culture. The party was to commemorate Historic Preservation Month.

Swimming pools have generally been more about entertaining than exercising. People gather around pools more for social interaction that for swimming.

That’s what some experts said as they discussed the Los Angeles swimming pool culture Tuesday night at a special event set around the swimming pool at the Hollywood Riviera apartment building.

Each May, the West Hollywood Historic Preservation Commission hosts an event in honor of Historic Preservation Month. This year’s event focused on that evolved in Southern California during the 20th Century.

Three experts discussed that evolution as they sat poolside with about 100 people gathered around.

Frances Anderton from KCRW radio’s “DnA: Design and Architecture” program said that while growing up in rainy England she always dreamed of living in sunny California, saying swimming pools were central to the concept of the California Dream.

Swimming pools in private homes didn’t start appearing until the 1920s since they were extremely expensive to build. Thus the home swimming pool symbolized luxury, explained Jim Heimann from Taschen Books, publisher of coffeetable books on art, architecture and design.

Changes in technology in the mid 1950s made it cheaper and quicker to build swimming pools. In Los Angeles, where courtyard apartment buildings were already common, including a swimming pool in the courtyard area was just a natural progression, Heimann said.

The Hollywood Riviera, built in 1954, was one of the first apartment buildings to feature a pool as the courtyard centerpiece. Designed by famed architect Edward Fickett, FAIA, the Riviera is considered a mid-Century architecture masterpiece.

Chris Nichols from Los Angeles magazine and former chair of Los Angeles Conservancy’s Modern Committee, said that when the Hollywood Riviera was built in 1954, it was a luxury building with rents going for $150-$255, when the average monthly mortgage payment was about $75.

Historic Properties

Guests attending the party marveled at the stunning building, many saying they’d always wondered what the Hollywood Riviera looked like on the inside.

Historic Preservation Commissioner Bruce Kaye, who organized the event, told Weho Patch that one of the most amazing things about the Hollywood Riviera is that standing at the pool, you can’t see another building in any direction.

“For almost 60 years, this building has survived in the middle of West Hollywood without one other building breaking its sight line on pool level,” Kaye said. “When you’re standing there, all you see are trees, palm trees and skies. So you could be in Palm Springs or Miami Beach, you actually don’t know you’re in the middle of a densely populated place.”

Earlier in the day, the city sponsored a media tour to 16 of the 82 buildings which the city has designated as a “local cultural resources.” The tour pointed out unusual architectural features which made these 16 buildings worthy of that designation.

Many of the reporters on the tour commented that they’d been by these buildings hundreds of times but never knew the history or noticed the design features.

Historic Preservation Commissioner Gail Ostergren told Patch that was the point of the tour.

“I want you to get a sense of the range of the historic resources we have in West Hollywood,” Ostergren said. “We have a really rich collection of historic buildings and the city is working to preserve them. We wanted the media to come and get a sense of what we’ve got. And it was only the tip of the iceberg.”

Commissioner Ed Levin explained to Patch why historic preservation is important.

“All we have is the history of any place. To the extent that we forget that, we lose the soul of the city,” Levin said. “What we do by designating properties [as historic or cultural resources], is to sort of memorialize the collective memory of the city and find a way to maintain that so it’s not lost.”

Sheila Lightfoot May 23, 2012 at 07:16 PM
RE: Historic Preservation Commissioner Bruce Kaye’s remarks, “one of the most amazing things about the Hollywood Riviera is that standing at the pool, you can’t see another building in any direction. For almost 60 years, this building has survived in the middle of West Hollywood without one other building breaking its sight line on pool level. When you’re standing there, all you see are trees, palm trees and skies. So you could be in Palm Springs or Miami Beach, you actually don’t know you’re in the middle of a densely populated place.” First of all, thank you to Bruce Kaye and the other Commissioners for giving us the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate the significance of those sightlines that are, of course, a big part of the Riviera’s beauty. Too bad the City’s policies don’t recognize that as being part of the historic preservation. The shame is that all the design proposals to date for a new four story condominium complex replacing the two story apartment building to the south would not only dominate the sightline on the southern side of this gorgeous two story historic building, but likely overwhelm it to the point of blocking out the sun during part of the day.
Sheila Lightfoot May 23, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Cont - Apparently West Hollywood’s only restriction on building next door to our historic buildings - and the only thing the Historic Preservation Commission was really allowed to consider - is that a new adjacent building cannot cause foundational damage to the historic structure. What a shame if the beauty, not only of this building, but also this lovely 1300 block of Hayworth were diminished in the name of “progress.”
Stephanie May 23, 2012 at 07:38 PM
This was a lovely event. Thank you all who worked so hard to make it a success. I did have the feeling of history there, It is sad to think a towering building to the south might block the sun. I just recently had confirmed by city staff, a somewhat shocking statistic...that the City of West Hollywood owns only ONE out the 82 historic buildings, "Tara", and that was fought for by the citizens. Now the City has plans to demolish and/or alter the only other structures we own; the WPA structure, originally called The Hollywood Community Clubhouse, now, Great Hall/Long Hall and Henry L. Gogerty's Fiesta Hall. The Eastside will "lose its soul" , as Mr. Levin said. Plummer Park is the soul of our early Californian history. When it comes to historic preservation it seems that "Do as we say, not as we do" is the City's rule of thumb. It is all very distressing to think we could lose that part of our history forever.
allegra May 23, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Hooray Bruce Kay & the Historic Commission for a lovely event! And, I have to say since, we’re finally going to start looking at uses for Tara...that last night was a perfect (but, pool less) example of the type of event that could happen at Tara. There was parking at the corner lot but, many of us walked. There was good music & nothing that interfered with anybody’s quality of life in the hood. Maybe next year.
allegra May 24, 2012 at 03:39 AM
Yikes, I almost forgot... Thank you to those gracious hosts, the residents of the fabulous Hollywood Riviera.
Evan Atkinson May 24, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Nice article James, thanks for the fill-in! Mid-century modern architecture is interesting to me, and I know WH has much of it. Never thought much about the swimming pools!

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