Heritage Square Museum
Eight historic buildings from the Victorian heyday of Los Angeles are preserved along the banks of the Arroyo Seco in Montecito Heights.
In 1969, to help stop the widespread destruction of historic Victorian homes across Los Angeles, a group of preservation-minded folks formed the Cultural Heritage Foundation at the request of the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission. This group, in turn set up the Heritage Square Museum, a place where buildings of significant historic value could be preserved, restored, and showcased.
From 1969 through 2005, eight such buildings have found a new lease on life at the Heritage Square Museum, along with a vintage box car named “Maintenance of Way” that hauled sugar for the Southern Pacific and Tucson,Cornelia, & Gila Railroads — plus an historic trolley car and a corner drugstore that’s been re-created in exacting, period-appropriate style, complete with original fixtures.
Here’s a sneak preview of what you’ll see when you visit the museum.
The Palms Depot is the first building visitors enter at Heritage Square. The building was initially constructed around 1875 at the halfway point between Los Angeles and Santa Monica in a part of town that’s known today as Palms.
Originally the station was a stop on the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad — which was so named because it was initially conceived to go all the way to Independence, California 200 miles to the north of Los Angeles. Today that same location is a stop along the Metro E Line that runs from Downtown to Santa Monica.
Despite the railroad’s long-range plans, the rails never left Downtown and the whole system — including the Palms Depot— was eventually purchased by the Southern Pacific Railroad, only to be later leased to the Pacific Electric Railway (Red Car Line) in 1911.
Over time the Palms Depot fell into a severe state of disrepair and was scheduled to be demolished. It was moved to the grounds of Heritage Square in 1975 thanks to the efforts of a grassroots Save Our Station (SOS) campaign.
It now serves as the Heritage Square Souvenir Shop and the domain of the museum’s cat-in-residence.
The Palms Depot is Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument Number 22, inducted on August 9, 1963.
Probably the the most recognized building at Heritage Square — and certainly the most colorful — the Hale House dates back to 1887. Built for land baron George W. Moran, it was originally located at 4501 North Pasadena Avenue (now known as Figueroa Street) on the border of Highland Park and Mount Washington — not too far from where it sits today.
But it’s called the Hale House after its second owners, James and Bessie Hale, who bought it at its second location at 4425 North Pasadena Avenue. According to the museum’s pamphlet, James and Bessie split after a few years. Bessie kept the house, opened it up to boarders, and became something of a real estate maven in early 20th century L.A.
The house, built in the Queen Anne-style and decorated with varying shades of green, red, and yellow, includes fish-scale shingles, turret, and iron grillwork. It was moved to Heritage Square in 1970.
The Hale House is Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument Number 40, inducted way back on June 15, 1966.
Longfellow-Hastings Octagon House
Gilbert Longfellow become enamored with the idea of octagonal housing after reading the Orson Fowler book, The Octagon House: A Home for All, in the mid-19th century. Longfellow bought in to Fowler’s octagonal philosophy and built his first eight-sided house in Maine. But after he lost his wife and a son to tuberculosis, he packed up moved the rest of his family west for the more favorable climate.
Naturally, after he bought a piece of property along San Pasqual Street in Pasadena, he built his second octagonal house, now known as the Longfellow-Hasting Octagon House, on this lot in 1893. The house was moved to Allen Avenue in 1917 where it stayed until 1986, when it avoided demolition by moving, again, this time to the Heritage Square. According the museum’s pamphlet, it’s the only “substantially unaltered Victorian-era house in California” and one of fewer than 500 octagon houses left in the United States.
The Octagon House is Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument Number 413, inducted on January 20, 1989.
John J. Ford House (Beaudry Avenue House)
The John J. Ford House is also known as the Beaudry Avenue House because it was built at the corner of Beaudry and Mignonette Street in Downtown Los Angeles in 1888. By itself it’s somewhat unremarkable — at the time it was part of a tract of middle-class homes.
But this particular house is noteworthy because it was owned by one John J. Ford — a well-regarded woodcarver of the day. His work is on display in the California State Capitol and at Hawaii’s Ioliani Palace on O’ahu — as well as the private railway car of one Leland Stanford (yes, that Stanford). The exterior and interior of the house is richly adorned with much of Ford’s unique carving work.
The Beaudry Avenue House is Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument Number 108, inducted on January 3, 1973.
Lincoln Avenue Methodist Church
The Lincoln Avenue Methodist Church was designed by George W. Kramer in the Methodist non-axial style — where the entrance opens on one corner of the building, directly across from the pulpit (some would call it L-shaped). It was built in 1897 at the corner of Orange Grove and Lincoln Avenue in Pasadena. Its first services were held on April 17, 1898.
In 1967, after the original congregation merged with another, the building served as a community center before being moved to Heritage Square for preservation in 1981.
The Lincoln Avenue Church Building is Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument Number 245, inducted on June 4, 1981.
Valley Knudsen Garden Residence
Also known as the Shaw House (after cabinetmaker Richard E. Shaw), the Valley Knudsen Garden Residence, constructed in 1883 and built in the Second Empire style, was the home of Valley Knudsen (wife of creamery owner Tom Knudsen — yes, that Knudsen), the woman who founded Los Angeles Beautiful, a group dedicated to keeping Los Angeles filled with trees and free of litter.
Notable for its distinctive mansard roof, a design Napoleon III utilized when creating the roofs of buildings along Parisian boulevards, the house first stood on Mozart Street in Lincoln Heights. It later moved to 1926 Johnston Street before it made the journey to Heritage Square in 1970.
Its also notable for the coral tree, the official tree of Los Angeles, that stands in front of the house and made the journey to Heritage Square from its original location on Johnston Street.
The Valley Knudson Garden Residence is Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument Number 65, inducted on April 15, 1970.
Perry House (Mount Pleasant)
Built in 1876 for William H. Perry, lumber magnate, organizer of the Los Angeles Gas Company, and eventual president of the Los Angeles Water Company, The Perry House house stood at Pleasant Avenue (hence its other known name of Mount Pleasant) in Boyle Heights. In 1888 the house was purchased by Stephen Hubbell, the first treasurer of Los Angeles and a founder of the University of Southern California — and the man who donated the property now known as MacArthur Park to the city.
An example of Greek Revival style, Mount Pleasant is the largest house at Heritage Square. It was moved to the grounds in 1975 and donated to the museum in 1995 by the Colonial Dames of America.
The Mount Pleasant House is Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument Number 98, inducted on March 15, 1972.
The Carriage Barn arrived at Heritage Square in 1981. The Queen Anne-meets-Carptenter Gothic cottage was built in 1899 at the Huntington Memorial Hospital for one Dr. Osborne and was designed to hold two horses and one carriage. Today it serves as the museum’s workshop, but there are plans to restore it as a working carriage barn.
Colonial Drug is a a recreation of an actual Highland Park drugstore owned by George W. Simmons. The original Colonial Drug was located at the corner of Avenue 57 and Figueroa Street (then Pasadena Avenue), the same spot where Owl Drug once operated (and is now home to Owl Bureau, a bookstore/advertising agency). Simmons’s shop opened after World War I and served the community well into the 1970s.
This recreated building contains the original fixtures, a vintage soda fountain, and many unique products sold by the drugstore when it was open — a collection made up of more than 80,000 different items, all generously donated by the Simmons family.
Visiting Heritage Square
Heritage Square Museum is a wonderful place to visit — especially if you’re a Los Angeles history buff.
Under normal conditions, visitors are allowed to enter the buildings to view the interior designs and craftsmanship. These days, due to Covid restrictions, the doors of the houses are currently closed. However, you can still wander the grounds and take in the fantastic architecture. It’s also a great place to have a picnic.
If you’re looking for more of an immersive historical experience, museum docents, often dressed in period-appropriate Victorian garb, are more than happy to provide walking tours of the grounds, complete with stories from the rich history of the houses on display at the museum — as well as some stories of their often eccentric former owners.
Admission prices are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, and $5 for children ages 6-12. But when we visited recently, we opted to simply stroll the grounds on our own self-guided tour instead of taking the docent-led tour. We were only charged $7 per person.
Heritage Square is open on Saturdays & Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more details visit heritagesquare.org.
The entirety of the Heritage Square Museum is listed as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument Number 1009. It was inducted on December 16, 2011.
Heritage Square Museum
- 3800 Homer Street, Montecito Heights
- GPS Coordinates: 34.08855, -118.20798 [ Google Maps ]
- what3words: ///holds.pots.scan
- Parking is available in a small lot at the end of Homer Street, adjacent to the museum entrance.