Before Downtown L.A.'s High Rises, Bunker Hill Was Simply HomeHistorians in the News
tags: Los Angeles, urban history, urban renewal
In the fall of 1964, Gordon Pattison stood in the hallway of the Castle on South Bunker Hill Avenue, the house his family had owned for close to thirty years. The decorative glass in the front door was covered with plywood, the crescent moon-shaped window over the door had disappeared, and a few dusty beads dangled from a formerly ornate glass chandelier above his head. Gordon's grandmother Margaret Henderson Pattison, who in 1937 had initially leased, then bought the house was gone. So too was Ollie Harp, who lived in the front room and managed the property for the family when Margaret passed away.
After years of wrangling, the City of Los Angeles' Community Redevelopment Agency had officially acquired the property. The building's last remaining tenants had been evicted and shortly thereafter, the Castle was surrounded by a chain link fence and abandoned.
The neighborhood of Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles has been the subject of countless books, blogs and films. For Pattison and many others, it was home.
Located on a hill overlooking downtown Los Angeles, Bunker Hill was a tight-knit community of individuals who gossiped in parlors and chatted over garden fences. Kids walked together each day to Fremont Avenue Elementary School, played baseball in the streets on Saturday and bought cold Pepsi-Cola for a dime at the deli on Third and Grand Avenue.
The neighborhood had been laid out in the 1860s. However, as the city grew and the original owners moved away, new families occupied the large houses and apartment buildings. The Hendersons came to Bunker Hill from Indiana in the early 1920s. The family initially settled in the Colonial Arms on 312 South Grand Avenue where Margaret's mother worked as the building manager. Margaret joined her family in 1932 with her husband and son. Forced to quit school in the eighth grade to take care of younger brothers and sisters, Margaret had few options back East. In Los Angeles, she got a job at Bullock's Department Store downtown and, like her mother, began managing apartment buildings on Bunker Hill. In a few short years, Margaret was juggling more than 60 units on the hill.
In 1937, Margaret leased the Castle at 325 South Bunker Hill Avenue. Five years later, she bought the building. Built in the 1880s, the Castle was an elaborate Queen Anne with a tower, multiple gables and a wrap-around porch. It had been converted to a rooming house in 1902 and included fifteen individual units.
Margaret wasn't the only Henderson to purchase property on Bunker Hill. Her brother Willis bought a building at 339 South Bunker Hill Avenue called the Salt Box because of its similarity to an architectural style found in New England. Margaret's brother Lawrence owned the Crestholme Apartments on South Bunker Hill Avenue until the building was razed to make room for an extension of Fourth Street.
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