There's a neighborhood of century-old mansions tucked away amid the hustle and bustle of urban Los Angeles, and it isn't Windsor Square or even the newer Hancock Park. It's Country Club Park, southwest of Koreatown.
It's passed unnoticed by tens of thousands of commuters every day. Many scratch their heads after noticing blue city signs proclaiming “Country Club Park.” After all, there is no country club here, the nearest golf course is miles away, and the only public green space is a pocket park at Olympic Boulevard and South Wilton Place that's often occupied by homeless people.
Despite having some of the largest, most stately historic properties in the city, Country Club Park's business district is a gritty stretch of Pico Boulevard; to the east Western Avenue bustles with Korean barbecue restaurants, auto repair shops and taco vendors. LAPD helicopters are present almost nightly. Just to the southeast, buildings at Venice Boulevard and Western were torched during the 1992 riots. The community, bordered by Western Avenue to the east, Crenshaw Boulevard to the west, Olympic Boulevard to the north and Pico Boulevard to the south, has seen a lot over the years.
The area was developed in the 1910s and “matured in the 1920s boom years,” according to the city's Office of Historic Resources. Architectural styles include Craftsman, Tudor Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival, Colonial Revival and Mediterranean Revival. “It's lovely to walk the neighborhood because there's a great variety of architecture,” says Linda Dishman, CEO of the Los Angeles Conservancy.
So why the name Country Club Park? The Los Angeles Golf Club established a 9-hole course called the Windmill Links at Pico and Alvarado Street in Pico-Union in 1897. An abandoned windmill served as the clubhouse. Overcrowding inspired organizers to move west the next year, to Hobart Boulevard and 16th Street (now Cambridge Street), to set up another 9-hole course called Convent Links because a convent connected to the Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery was nearby. Again, overcrowding plagued the venue, and it inched west again in 1899, this time to the corner of Pico and Western. “The clubhouse was transported intact to the new site and was expanded there,” according to the club. And this time the course spread out for 18 holes.
The course remained for a decent stretch — until 1910, when club officials found the final home for what was to be called the Los Angeles Country Club in Holmby Hills, right on the western border of L.A. and Beverly Hills. But what to do with 250 acres of prime greens in the middle of Los Angeles? Businessman Isaac Milbank, with partner George Chase, subdivided the property for mostly large homes and mansions. (There are a few apartment buildings and more modest bungalows and Craftsman homes in the area as well).
Milbank built for himself one of the most stately structures, a 12-bedroom, five-bathroom, 10,000-square-foot mansion that still sits on about 2 acres at 3340 Country Club Drive. The mansion, along with homes at 1130 and 1120 Westchester Place, are some of the grandest historic homes in the city. It has also been said that the 27-room Milbank mansion is one of the largest pre–World War I homes in L.A.
The community is a city-recognized Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, which means that tearing down or even remodeling properties there is subject to city approval. “Most types of exterior changes or improvements to properties in an HPOZ area require written approval from the Planning Department,” according to the Office of Historic Resources.
The protections for nearly 700 homes in the neighborhood aren't foolproof, says Dishman of the Conservancy, but they do offer peace of mind for preservationists. The zone “helps to make sure the character of the individual house is preserved,” she says.
Dishman notes that the community was nearly fully developed by the time the Great Depression struck L.A. and dampened construction. During the subsequent decade, after World War II, the neighborhood played a key role in desegregation. “Prominent African-American families started moving there in the 1940s, spurred by a round of lawsuits over restrictive covenants,” she says.
In 1947 then–Superior Court judge Stanley Mosk ruled in favor of an African-American veteran, Frank Lloyd Drye, who challenged a race-restrictive covenant in Country Club Park that had white neighbors asking him to move out of the five-bedroom home he and wife Artoria had purchased. The next year the U.S. Supreme Court decided that covenants were unconstitutional.
The result was that Country Club Park became something of a neighborhood jewel for wealthy African-Americans. “It is true that the Country Club Park neighborhood was one of the first in Los Angeles to 'desegregate,' or to allow affluent blacks to reside there,” UCLA history professor Brenda Stevenson said via email. “Once segregated as a white-only residential locale, it then became famous for providing residences of some of the black community’s most visible and popular entertainers, including Mahalia Jackson, Hattie McDaniel [of Gone With the Wind fame] and Lena Horne.” Lou Rawls and Cindy Birdsong of The Supremes also lived there, according to the Country Club Park Neighborhood Association.
Today, gentrification rages in its overlapping but larger neighborhood of Arlington Heights as well as in neighborhoods to the north (Wilshire Park, Windsor Village) and west (Harvard Heights). But Country Club Park seems almost frozen in its majesty. It's a bit pricey for bargain hunters (even this relatively modest six-bedroom home is listing for nearly $1.2 million), and the grandest estates seem to change hands infrequently.
“It provides a sense of time and place in Los Angeles,” Dishman says.