39c – Cuzner Residence – 2091 S Harvard Blvd


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39c – Cuzner Residence – 2091 S Harvard Blvd
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39 – James M & Mary Newbie Cuzner Residence. 2091 S Harvard Blvd. 1903. Abram M Edelman.

This mansion was commissioned by James M Cuzner, of the Kerchoff-Cuzner Mill and Lumber Company. James only lived at the house for two years, moving to the California Club, where he lived until his death in 1937. In 1905 his son Guy Luke & Irene Isabel Abel Cuzner, took up residence in the 8,000 square foot home. The reception hall is a gallery measuring nearly 30 x 30 feet. Under the grand staircase, through the coat closet, is a secret room, hidden behind a built-in bookcase. In the rear of the house is a large billiard room with a full walk-in safe. The attic at one time contained a massive tin cistern. It remained in the Cuzner family until the early 1940’s. It then became home to the infamous I Am Foundation, whose leaders, Edna and her son Donald Ballard, were convicted of fraud and tax evasion. By the end of the century it was a boarding house for people with mental disabilities. The house was almost lost in 1998, when it was gutted by a mysterious fire, after the family running the boarding house lost the property to foreclosure. The edifice sat empty for several years, and then sold to an artist and architect from Arizona. Thankfully, the house wasn’t raised even though it was more than 50% destroyed. The new owners recognized the house’s historic value, loving the romanticism of the Mission Revival style. Today the house has been fully restored at great expense, including re-installing massive crystal chandeliers.

West Adams Heights

“Nowadays we scarcely notice the high stone gates which mark the entrances on Hobart, Harvard, and Oxford streets, south of Washington Boulevard. For one thing, the traffic is too heavy, too swift; and then, again, the gates have been obscured by intrusions of shops and stores. At the base of the stone pillars appears the inscription “West Adams Heights.” There was a time when these entranceways were formidable and haughty, for they marked the ways to one of the first elite residential areas in Los Angeles. . . In the unplanned early-day chaos of Los Angeles, West Adams Heights was obviously something very special, an island in an ocean of bungalows—approachable, but withdrawn and reclusive—one of the few surviving examples of planned urban elegance of the turn of the century.”

– Carey McWilliams, “The Evolution of Sugar Hill,” Script, March, 1949: 30.

Today West Adams Heights is still obviously something special. The past sixty years, however, have not been kind. In 1963 the Santa Monica Freeway cut through the heart of West Adams Heights, dividing the neighborhood, obscuring its continuity. In the 1970’s the city paved over the red brick streets and removed the ornate street lighting. After the neighborhood’s zoning was changed to a higher density, overzealous developers claimed several mansions for apartment buildings. Despite these challenges, however, “The Heights,” as the area was once known, has managed to regain some of its former elegance.

The West Adams Heights tract was laid out in 1902, in what was then a wheat field on the western edge of town. Although the freeway now creates an artificial barrier, the original neighborhood boundaries were Adams Boulevard, La Salle Ave, Washington Boulevard, and Western Avenue. Costly improvements were integrated into the development, such as 75-food wide boulevards (which were some of the first contoured streets not to follow the city grid), lots elevated from the sidewalk, ornate street lighting, and large granite monuments with red-brass electroliers at the entrance to every street. These upgrades increased the lot values, which helped ensure the tract would be an enclave for the elite.

One early real estate ad characterized the neighborhood stating: “West Adams Heights needs no introduction to the public: it is already recognized as being far superior to any other tract. Its high and slightly location, its beautiful view of the city and mountains make t a property unequaled by any other in the city.”

The early residents’ were required to sign a detailed restrictive covenant. This hand-written document required property owners to build a “first-class residence,” of at least two stories, costing no less than two-thousand dollars (at a time when a respectable home could be built for a quarter of that amount, including the land), and built no less than thirty-five feet from the property’s primary boundary. Common in early twentieth century, another clause excluded residents from selling or leasing their properties to non-Caucasians.

By the mid 1930’s, however, most of the restrictions had expired. Between 1938 and 1945 many prominent African-Americans began to make “The Heights” their home. According to Carey McWilliams, West Adams Heights became known “Far and wide as the famous Sugar Hill section of Los Angeles,” and enjoyed a clear preeminence over Washington’s smart Le Droit Park, St. Louis’s Enright Street, West Philadelphia, Chicago’s Westchester, and Harlem’s fabulous Sugar Hill.

West Adams Heights, now also known as Sugar Hill, played a major role in the Civil Rights movement in Los Angeles. In 1938 Norman Houston, president of the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company, and an African-American, purchased a home at 2211 South Hobart Boulevard. Legal Action from eight homeowners quickly ensued. During that period, other prominent African-Americans began to make Sugar Hill their home – including actress Hattie McDaniels, dentists John and Vada Summerville, actress Louise Beavers, band leader Johnny Otis, and performers Pearl Baily and Ethel Waters, and many more. On December 6, 1945, the “Sugar Hill Cases” were heard before Judge Thurmond Clark, in LA Superior Court. He made history by become the first judge in America to use the 14th Amendment to disallow the enforcement of covenant race restrictions. The Los Angeles Sentinel quoted Judge Clark: “This court is of the opinion that it is time that [African-Americans] are accorded, without reservations and evasions, the full rights guaranteed them under the 14th Amendment.” Gradually, over the last century people of nearly ever background have made historic West Adams their home.

The northern end of West Adams Heights is now protected as part of the Harvard Heights Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ). The Historic West Adams area of Los Angeles (which includes West Adams Heights) boasts the highest concentration of turn-of-the-century homes west of the Mississippi, as well as the highest concentration of National Historic Landmarks, National Register of Historic Places, National Historic Districts, State Historic Landmarks, Los Angeles Cultural-Historic Monuments, and Historic Preservation Overlay Zones in the city. The entirety of West Adams Heights should be nominated as a National Register Historic District, for the quality of homes, the prominence of the architects, notoriety of the people who lived in the neighborhood, and the role it played in civil rights.

Perhaps a quote adapted from a fireplace mantle in the Frederick Rindge mansion best symbolizes the optimism which exists in West Adams: “California Shall be Ours as Long as the Stars Remain.”

DC: Delano Roosevelt Memorial – Bread Line
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"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, dedicated on May 2, 1997, is spread out over 7.5 elaborate landscaped acre along the Cherry Tree Walk on the Western edge of the Tidal Basin as part of the National Mall. Designed by Lawrence Halprin, it traces 12 years of the history of the United States through a sequence of four outdoor gallery rooms–one for each of FDR’s terms of office– defined by walls of red South Dakota granite.

The idea for a memorial originated in 1946. In 1955, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Commission was established by Congress. The current plot of land was secured in 1959 with design competitions following in 1960 and 1966. It wasn’t until 1978 that the committee finally approved a design by Halprin and authorized construction in 1982. Ground was broken in September of 1991.

Running water is an important physical and metaphoric component of the memorial. Each of the four "rooms" representing Roosevelt’s respective terms in office contains a waterfall. As one moves from room to room, the waterfalls become larger and more complex, reflecting the increasing complexity of a presidency marked by the vast upheavals of economic depression and world war.

The first room introduces Roosevelt’s first term as President (1932-1936). Robert Graham’s relief sculpture depicts his first inauguration. Tom Hardy’s a bronze sculpture depicts The Presidential Seal and a Roman-American eagle. In this room, the single large drop of water symbolizes the crash of the economy that led to the Great Depression.

The second room, Social Policy, details Roosevelt’s second term from 1936-1940 and the impact of the New Deal, which created social security, worker’s compensation, unemployment insurance, welfare, and fair labor standards. Three sculptural groups by George Segal–Breadline, The Rural Couple, and The Fireside Chat–represent Americans during the Great Depression. The wall opens to an open area with five tall pillars and a large mural, created by Robert Graham, representing the New Deal. The five-panelled mural is a collage of various scenes and objects, including initials, faces, and hands; the images on the mural are inverted on the five columns. In this room, the multiple stairstep drops symbolize the Tennessee Valley Authority dam-building project.

The third room, The War Years, covering the period from 1940-1944 and World War II, explodes to a destructive presence, as giant granite blocks line the path, and a chaotic waterfall rushes down. On the wall, one of 21 inscriptions carved by John Benson, is Roosevelt’s famous "I have seen war" quote. To the left of the waterfall sits a Neil Estern’s 10-foot tall sculpture of Roosevelt, seated in a dining room chair with roller casters and wearing a floor-length cape, with his dog Fala seated nearby.

The fourth room, Seeds of Peace, covers the period from 1945 to 1955, including Rosevelt’s final term, his passing and beyond. It includes Leonard Baskin’s Funeral Relief and Neil Estern’s sculpture of Eleanor Roosevelt, standing next to the United Nations emblem. In this room, the still pool represents Roosevelt’s death.

In the forecourt is Robert Graham’s life-size bronze portrait statue of Roosevelt, seated in a wheel chair, facing the Washington Monument. This statue was added in January, 2001, after advocates objected to Estern’s depiction which concealed Roosevelt’s disability. Though Roosevelt suffered from paralysis as a result of polio, he went through great pains to hide his ailment from the public.

National Register #01000271 (1997)

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