"You mean that place off the 110 with all the houses?"
Inevitably, that's what I hear when I mention LA's Heritage Square Museum.
It is a bit of an anomaly, tucked away at the end of what looks like an access road, abutting the freeway in Northeast LA. Its visitor center and gift shop is the old Palms Depot, originally part of the Southern Pacific Railroad and eventually along the Pacific Electric Railway, halfway between Los Angeles and Santa Monica.
It's full of vintage houses in one small concentrated area – something you don't see much in LA anymore. We have plenty of house museums, but this is a museum of houses. And unlike Oxnard's Heritage Square, these houses aren't privately owned or running businesses. Many are still being restored.
The Perry Mansion – once the largest house in LA – opens occasionally for events, like Victorian magic shows.
The Greek Revival / Italianate home of a former lumber baron was relocated here from its original location on Pleasant Avenue in Boyle Heights (earning it the nickname "Mount Pleasant").
The Hale House didn't have to travel very far to get to Heritage Square, having been relocated from the foot of Mount Washington at what is now Figueroa Street.
Built in 1887, it is a classic example of a Queen Anne / Eastlake style house, with fish scale shingles, iron grillwork, and a corner turret.
The dollhouse-like color scheme of the exterior is actually close to the original paint job, and was reproduced from paint uncovered during its extensive restoration after arriving at Heritage Square in 1970.
The Valley Knudsen Garden Residence was originally built by a cabinetmaker, Richard E. Shaw, in Lincoln Heights.
This is also a Queen Anne style house, without the Eastlake details. The unique roofline (which makes the second floor look like an attic) is French, and can also be seen along Paris boulevards.
The John Ford House is possibly my favorite, though it's far more middle-class than the others in its company.
Ford, the house's original owner, was a well-known wood carver...
...and the house's embellishments show off his handiwork both inside and out.
This house is very early in its restoration process, still recovering from its most recent use as a low income apartment building near Downtown LA before moving here.
Perhaps the most unusual of structures at Heritage Square is the Octagon House...
...a design which was hailed for its inexpensive construction costs, availability of natural light, and good air circulation.
A porch wraps around all eight exterior sides of the octagon...
...and a central interior staircase looks straight up to the pitched roof and lantern.
The octagon architectural style was popular briefly in the mid 1800s, but basically died out by the time of the Civil War. It always stood out in those rows of square boxes that other people lived in.
Most octagon houses were built back East, but this Octagon house was built in 1893 in Pasadena. Now it is the only Victorian octagon house in the state of California that hasn't been altered substantially.
The museum has renovated and repainted at least one room, but the kitchen and bathroom remain untouched, a time capsule of the early 20th century.
The Octagon was rescued from demolition and moved to Heritage Square in 1986.
Some of the on-site restoration work happens inside a Carpenter Gothic style carriage barn, which was relocated here from Pasadena...
...as was the Lincoln Avenue Methodist Church, built 1897 and moved in 1981.
Unfortunately, the last two remaining structures from Bunker Hill burned down only a few months after moving here – a reminder that not everything can be saved.
But it's worth a try. In a city known for its Modernist architecture, these Victorian era houses thankfully have found a forever home at Heritage Square, which has become a kind of Island of Misfit Toys for otherwise under-appreciated buildings that had fallen into disrepair and become an eyesore. And misfits attract other misfits...like me...and a couple of wayward roosters...
Photo Essay: Oxnard Heritage Square
Photo Essay: Doheny's Other Mansion
The Forbidden Haunted Mansion of Spadra Ghost Town
Photo Essay: Old Soldiers Home Chapel and Streetcar Depot, Closed