The Story of Heritage Square

The 1880s…It was the height of the Industrial Revolution.  A world of knowledge and ideas was rapidly unfolding, mixing old and new, foreign and familiar.  European design ideas were embraced wholly and without reserve.  Transportation technology improved and expanded at a fantastic rate opening the door to the West to people from all around the globe.  Factories utilizing recent advances in industrial technology were turning out mass produced goods at prices affordable to the growing “middle class.”  This, combined with the great Southern California Land Boom of the 1880s, resulted in a proliferation of elaborate and eclectic architecture throughout Los Angeles.

It was this architecture, characterized by gabled roofs, windowed turrets and intricately detailed woodwork that was threatened with extinction by a densely developing urban community in late 1960’s Los Angeles.  In reaction to the almost daily destruction of irreplaceable buildings, a group of prominent citizens (among them former Southwest Museum director, Carl Dentzel), with the assistance of the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board, began planning a new home for endangered structures.

However, the city-sponsored agency was limited as to the amount of public funding it could give the new project.  In order to raise funds in the private sector, the Cultural Heritage Foundation of Southern California, Inc. was established.  A non-profit organization exempt from federal income tax, the foundation began raising funds to relocate endangered buildings to Heritage Square, their new home along the Arroyo Seco in Lincoln Heights.

The original site plan envisioned an “uptown” residential area complete with homes, a church, railroad depot and bandstand and a “downtown” commercial area with some of the proposed buildings being a bank, general store, ice cream parlor, firehouse, beer-garden restaurant, trolley barn and transportation museum.  All landscaping, public amenities and the like would reflect the time.  These elements would strive to balance historical authenticity with entertainment—a museum-quality experience but more lively and fun.  The founders of Heritage Square Museum believed that Los Angeles needed both a place to preserve this important era of our history for future generations, and a means to relate its past to the concerns of the present and future.

Over the past four decades, Heritage Square Museum has acquired and begun the restoration on eight historically significant buildings along acres of period appropriate landscaped grounds.  As the initial vision for the Museum site has evolved to address the changing needs of our community, so too our mission has evolved.  Today, it reads:

To Preserve, Collect, and Interpret the architecture, physical environment, and culture of Southern California during the first 100 years of statehood, (1850 to 1950).

Let us begin our journey…