Life in the Past Lane: Stepping into California History


Heritage Square Park, CaliforniaEvery destination has its hidden treasures – even Los Angeles – and Heritage Square is one of them. Located approximately three miles north of downtown L.A., the living history museum is a family-friendly venue that invites visitors to experience what life was like in an earlier era of Southern California.

Each of the museum’s authentic homes was moved from other locations to this central site in Lincoln Heights. The result? Visiting this museum is like walking into a time portal. The homes were built at various times, from Civil War years up to the 20th century.

Along with the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board, the Museums of the Arroyo allow thousands of visitors each year to explore history through guided tours, decorative arts, photographic and cultural displays and seasonal theatrical performances in which local actors and volunteers portray some notable personalities who helped transform El Pueblo de Los Angeles into the prominent city that it is today.

Here are a few of the historic buildings on site:

The William Perry House constructed in the mid-1800’s by lumber baron William Perry is the largest of the Heritage Square homes. It reflects the social success of its original owners and the Greek Revival and Italianate styles that were popular in 19th century America. The Perry’s daughter, Mamie, of course, had no objection to the Italian influence; her dream was to study opera at the music academy in Milan. Although Perry himself escorted her to Italy and was present when she made her successful public debut in Petrella’s Contessa d’Amalfi, he nonetheless maintained the strict view that the stage was absolutely no place for a proper young lady.

The Longfellow-Hastings Octagon House takes its name, not surprisingly, from its very odd shape. The builder, Gilbert Longfellow, was inspired bythe 1848 writings of a progressive thinker named Orson Fowler. Fowler believed that eight-sided dwellings were not only less costly to construct but also less costly to heat, cool, and illuminate, given the presence of so many windows. Drapery makers were probably pleased with this development as well.

The interior of John J. Ford House is currently being restored to its original floor plan. Its woodwork was the product of Ford himself, a man whose imagination and attention to detail were expertly tapped for California’s State Capitol, Hawaii’s Iolani Palace, and millionaire Leland Stanford’s railroad car. This house is the forerunner of middle-class suburban housing in the 19th century.

French architect N.F. Mansard influenced the Valley Knudsen home, nicknamed the Garden Residence. Because French tax collectors collected payments based on physical living space, architects manipulated attic roof lines to disguise the actual square footage within. This carryover to American home design also contributed to the widespread use of armoires for one’s clothing, given the fact that real closets—no matter how small—were taxed as individual rooms.

Throughout the year, visitors have further opportunity to learn about California’s heritage through its extensive art exhibitions, period fashion shows, historical media presentations and outdoor events such as family fun days where parents and kids can make crafts, play vintage games, and have picnics on the park’s beautifully landscaped grounds.

If You Go

Heritage Square is located at 3800 Homer Street in Lincoln Heights.

For more information on upcoming tours and family-oriented activities, visit their website at www.Heritage.Square.Museum or call them at (626) 796-2898.