Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 10, 2018

L.A. Survivor: West Adams Bungalow Courts

I like to tell myself I’ve done a good job of rambling over the greater Los Angeles metropolis in my 25 years here. That’s true to some degree. Although I think of myself as an Angeleno now, I was well into adulthood before I arrived. I’m always cognizant that I’ve had fewer years to get to know the place than longtime residents the same age as I am. The place is vast, seen in this view from a vantage point near my house, looking north across 30 miles of city. The skyscrapers of downtown are a speck against the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance.

roof view northward to Los Angeles

That’s a lot of territory to cover, and it’s just one slice of the city.

All I have to do to be reminded that I haven’t even made a dent in the task of knowing L.A. is to take a freeway exit I’ve never used, or go to an appointment in a new part of town.

It happened recently when I drove into downtown on a Sunday morning to visit a relative who was here for the recent World Series. I knew where his motel was, but my freeway exit and all the streets I’d planned to take were closed to traffic for a street race. It took me twenty minutes — including driving east on a freeway in order to turn around to go west — before I cleared the obstacles and exited the freeway a few blocks from his motel. I was in a part of town I’d never visited, called the West Adams District.

The moment I reached the end of the unfamiliar exit ramp, there it was— an unexpected discovery.

Bungalow Court Brad Nixon 2664 680

It was a happy coincidence for me. That old apartment complex is a version of the “bungalow court,” a form of architecture I wrote about recently in the post at this link. There are several hundred bungalow courts still in existence, scattered across L.A. West Adams has a few of them.

The Old City

West Adams is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, dating from the 1880s — once one of the most desirable parts of town. It’s full of Victorian, Craftsman and Spanish Revival houses, as well as some genuine mansions that show what a grand place it once was — home for the city’s bankers, merchants and businesspeople. No longer a prosperous neighborhood, today it might be called “working class,” as inadequate and vague as that term is.

Less than a quarter mile to the east of the structure I photographed is an area of West Adams called the 20th Street Historic District. The houses in that district were all designed “early in the 20th century,” according to Wikipedia, by an architect named W. Wayman Watts. There’s a bungalow court similar to this one in that area. I haven’t done enough research to know if Mr. Watts had a hand in either of the buildings.

Bungalow Court Brad Nixon 2663 680

Much of West Adams is better-kept than the impression you get from this building, and there are some impressive old estates. This court’s on a busy cross street next to a freeway exit, and is obviously down-at-heels.

Bungalow Court Brad Nixon 2662 680

This is a large example of a bungalow court. I guess it’s from the 1920s or early 1930s, in a variety of Mission Revival style architecture, common in L.A. then.

Bungalow Court Brad Nixon 2661 680

I’ll do some digging. If I find information that might be interesting, I’ll write more about this place.

Today’s Lesson

Although I know it’s there — immediately north of the University of Southern California campus —  I’ve never explored West Adams at all. Happenstance sent me there after I’d driven past it on the freeway for 25 years. One more reminder you can never know a place inside-out; you can only keep looking. And have your camera with you, ready to pull over and shoot the gosh-darned picture, even if you’re running late for an appointment.

Do you know a town like the back of your hand and still have it surprise you? Leave a comment.

© Brad Nixon 2018


  1. Great post 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much. I’m happy you visited Under Western Skies.


  2. These days I feel a little dig of shame because I rarely get out of the South Bay and I loved greater LA as a youngster. Being a second gen Angeleno, we had family “all over town”, as the saying went. We also drove all over town in the days when driving was still a thoughtless pleasure we took for granted. When I do venture out I find the old haunts that were flavorful in their states of run down have been gentrified to a point of sometimes no recognition. I guess that is good news for my beloved LA but I miss a bit of the old grunge.
    Thanks Brad, for a glimpse of West Adams still in its ungentrified state.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dana, you and T. grew up in an L.A. I can never see, because — as with every town no matter its size — there’s constant change. You have another advantage over me: you can feel a nostalgic identification with places that, for me, are simply interesting, sometimes historic places, but lacking that personal resonance. Every one of the 10 million or so residents has their own L.A., unique to them. I heard some of my favorite L.A. stories from a woman who came here to attend UCLA — in the 1920s. She was already an adult when she experienced the 1933 earthquake, and turned 100 when M. and I knew her. Imagine the city she remembered!


  3. Hope you’re not affected by the devastating forest fires Brad. Take care.


    • Thank you. We are more than 30 miles in a straight line from the fire in Malibu. Some smoky skies for a couple of days until the wind shifted is the only impact on us. It is devastatingly bad up there, and I can’t minimize how terrible the destruction and disruption is, as you see on your news reports. Impossible to predict where else something could happen, but this one is away from us. Thank you for your concern.


  4. When it comes to being a flaneur, my focus is much narrower than yours. Actually, that’s not quite right. Your focus is not narrow at all. You’re a megaplex; I’m a microscope slide. I tend to go to familiar places, but look for details of small changes.

    Thanks for broadening my perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A better analogy might have you be an art cinema, if I’m a megaplex. Mostly French films, I trust.


      • Merci, mon ami.


  5. Your mention of West Adams reminded me of Ansel Adams, which reminded me that I’ve never mentioned to you the collection of Ansel Adams photos of L.A. in the 1940s. Have you seen them?

    You can find an album of the images here. If you click on the “Show more” link on the page that opens, you’ll get the history of them. I had no idea that Adams ever roamed Los Angeles. I thought he always was out in the redwoods or rocks, so it was fascinating to come across them through Gerard Van der Leun.

    I suspect you know many of the places that are shown. There may even be a bungalow or two; I need to go back and take a look. Flickr’s going through some sort of re-organization, so if there are any photos in the set you want to save, it might be good to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. No, I had no knowledge of that elfin lad traipsing around L.A. with a Speedflex. A great deal of “looking” required. I’ve been through quite a few. Many comments by other viewers extremely helpful, and then I know where I am. Most impressive is the identification of the interior of a restaurant, Philippe’s, originator of the French Dip, from a single photo. Once they pointed it out, I can see it — the place still in operation. Also irresistable is Mr. Van der Leun’s link to the Library of Congress collection Adams’ Manzanar photos. Some I’ve seen, many I have not.
      What’s really missing is the Master’s printmaking. Although he could expose film as well as anyone, the prints were his pinnacle achievement, and these aren’t his work. Still, priceless.
      Man! Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yeow. Adams photographed a funicular going up and down Bunker Hill named Court Flight. That is different than the one I’ve written about (and ridden), Angels Flight. Court Flight’s no longer extant. I’d never even heard of it. Fascinating.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Comment. I enjoy hearing from readers.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: