April 29, 1957
One of my favorite adventures while working on the 1947project was revisiting old neighborhoods that I found in The Times real estate sections from 1907, a feature I called “Architectural Ramblings.” Exploring the city, I discovered street after street of 100-year-old homes in the Adams district, Monrovia, Sierra Madre (which is celebrating its centennial this year) and Angeleno Heights.
But since I grew up up in a 1956 split-level tract home, the ubiquitous and banal 1950s developments held no allure for me. Then I ran across ads for Rigoletto Village, which offered the prospect of comic relief from true crime. Did the “Gilda model” have a pool? Did the “Duke model” have an attached garage? (A close second was Rebecca Park at San Fernando Mission Boulevard and Haskell Avenue. Did the “Manderley model” have a boathouse? I suspect not).
First of all, Rigoletto Village is way out in the West Valley, 26 miles from the Times Building. That means it’s past Tampa, past Winnetka, past De Soto, past Canoga and past Topanga Canyon. And because the Ventura Freeway was still under construction, that meant commuting by car on surface streets.
Let’s stroll see if we can learn anything.
As for architectural significance, here’s proof that you can gut a 1950s tract home and no one will care. If this were a Craftsman bungalow, preservationists would be linking arms around the building and singing “We Shall Overcome.” But since it’s by architects Bert Ameche (yes, that Don Ameche’s brother) and Donal Engen, nobody is going to make a fuss. The owner is adding 1,146 square feet, just about doubling the size of the home.
As you’d imagine, some houses are in better shape than others. Many of the garages have been converted to living space. These houses (in a choice of “Contemporary” or “Hawaiian” design) originally cost $19,950 ($142,947.41 USD 2006) and range today from the low $600,000s to the mid-$700,000, according to Zillow, although the home at 22861 Calabash sold in January for $371,500. That’s Southern California real estate for you.
And then, in the middle of all these 1950s tract homes, there’s this. Would I want to live here? No, but at least it’s not anonymous.
This is what happens when you plant a palm tree too close to the garage.
As I get back on the Ventura Freeway for the drive home, I think about another aspect to the distance offered by the West Valley, for if Rigoletto Village is far from downtown Los Angeles, it’s even farther from communities like Compton, Inglewood and Leimert Park, which were slowly being integrated in the 1950s. Recall that when Mayor Tom Bradley and his wife bought their first home in Leimert Park, they had to use a white intermediary because of deed restrictions.
ps. Today, even here in the West Valley, you can find day laborers gathered on corners at undercrossings beneath the Ventura Freeway.