957, 963 & 967 Arapahoe, Koreatown

Nathan Marsak

Nathan Marsak

· 5 min read

So the other day the Determination came down from the City regarding 957, 963 and 967 Arapahoe.

And so, without further ado, these shall become that:

And what was said determination? In short, of course you’re exempt from CEQA! Of course you can have 109 units in a sixty foot building! Naturally you get a 70% increase in density, because zoning laws are an outdated concept, anyhoo!

It goes on from there, another 23 pages worth, which you may read in its entirety here. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t get any better.

Of the three structures being replaced, we’ll talk first about 957 Arapahoe.

It was built by famed gambler Joseph Zemansky in the summer of 1909.

Who was this Zemansky character that could afford to build such a lavish manse? Famed gambler, nightclub owner, casino developer, and the man behind Agua Caliente, that's who.

It was the scene of lavish weddings and much mention in the society columns.

The house was designed by Benjamin Cooper Corbett, who designed a number of grand houses in Los Angeles, including the O’Neill, the Fellows, the Denker, etc.

The Zemansky house, though, now just more landfill:

Now let’s look at its neighbor to the south, 961 Arapahoe:

This house was built by Frank A. Bowles, president of Bowles Brothers Co., the wholesale grocers. It was built in the summer-autumn of 1908.

Needless to say, as was the case with the Zemanskys next door, there were dozens of mentions in the society column, here’s just one. I'm extremely curious to know what remains of its Japanese tea room; oh well, to the landfill it goes.

Ah, and I should mention the architects of the Bowles house were Milwaukee Building Company, better known as Meyer & Holler, who are of stupefying importance. While the developers, I'm sure, have no idea they're tearing down houses by B. Cooper Corbett and Meyer & Holler, I'm sure the YIMBYs are doing a little dance, especially since they weren't able to get this one.

And next door to that, the similarly-doomed 967 Arapahoe. It was built by physician Edward Thomas Barber in 1904, who lived there till he passed in 1926; attorney Edward Thomas Barber Jr. lived there till he passed in 1946. Unfortunately, LADBS records don’t predate 1905, and the newspapers don’t indicate who the architect was, though they do mention that Barber acted as his own contractor. In any event, it’s a great house:

But yep, headed for the landfill, too.

I know, some people will say “oh Nathan, but there are SO MANY of these houses in the neighborhood, what’s wrong with tearing down just these three?” Because we’re losing all of them, and fast. No-one is tearing down the beige 1980s multi-units; no-one is building on the mini-malls; I don't see anyone building on all the vacant lots everywhere.

They NEED to tear down houses like these, for fear you are reminded of how people used to live, and how life used to be. You might argue that Shahram Shamsian and Behrouz Bozorgnia are only in it for the money. I’m coming to believe larger forces are at work. Some people say all war is about resources; I’d argue all wars are culture wars.

But I digress. You were mentioning there were plenty of houses on Arapahoe? Let’s look at this cool one RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET:

The Horace W. Skelton house, built 1905; the architect was Arthur L. Haley. Yes, the same prolific and important A. L. Haley who appears in Bunker Hill Los Angeles multiple times. The little lot that once held the Skelton house at 972 Arapahoe, slated for a four-story 12-unit.

Remember yesterday, when we took a look around West 35th Street? We could just as easily cruise Arapahoe, getting sadder and sadder. A couple highlights, er, lowlights, though—so, six blocks south at at 1500 Arapahoe, as mentioned by Esotouric here.

Two of the most important houses on Arapahoe, hell, in Los Angeles:

1430 Arapahoe, at left, was built in 1885! Now it's that thing. Its neighbor 1500, an amaaaaazing structure from 1902, demolished (seen here when it became an empty lot) for a forty foot high duplex. That's right, a three-unit became a duplex. Good thing we're building housing!

Or consider 1218 Arapahoe, the Frederick and Ana Gros house, built in 1900, which the owners allowed to be illegally occupied by the homeless, until it burned. IMAGINE MY SHOCK. Now the neighbors have this next door:

But I'll resist the urge to go up and down Arapahoe pointing out further examples. You get the point. And if you do, you’re apparently the only one, because nothing is stopping our beloved city from becoming...something...else.

Nathan Marsak

About Nathan Marsak

NATHAN MARSAK says: “I came to praise Los Angeles, not to bury her. And yet developers, City Hall and social reformers work in concert to effect wholesale demolition, removing the human scale of my town, tossing its charm into a landfill. The least I can do is memorialize in real time those places worth noting, as they slide inexorably into memory. In college I studied under Banham. I learned to love Los Angeles via Reyner’s teachings (and came to abjure Mike Davis and his lurid, fanciful, laughably-researched assertions). In grad school I focused on visionary urbanism and technological utopianism—so while some may find the premise of preserving communities so much ill-considered reactionary twaddle, at least I have a background in the other side. Anyway, I moved to Los Angeles, and began to document. I drove about shooting neon signs. I put endless miles across the Plains of Id on the old Packard as part of the 1947project; when Kim Cooper blogged about some bad lunch meat in Compton, I drove down to there to check on the scene of the crime (never via freeway—you can’t really learn Los Angeles unless you study her from the surface streets). But in short order one landmark after another disappeared. Few demolitions are as contentious or high profile as the Ambassador or Parker Center; rather, it is all the little houses and commercial buildings the social engineers are desperate to destroy in the name of the Greater Good. The fabric of our city is woven together by communities and neighborhoods who no longer have a say in their zoning or planning so it’s important to shine a light on these vanishing treasures, now, before the remarkable character of our city is wiped away like a stain from a countertop. (But Nathan, you say, it’s just this one house—no, it isn’t. Principiis obsta, finem respice.) And who knows, one might even be saved. Excelsior!””
Nathan’s blogs are: Bunker Hill Los Angeles, RIP Los Angeles & On Bunker Hill.

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