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Lost Monuments: "The Salt Box" and "The Castle"

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, August 03, 2010, at 06:10AM
'The Castle' and Union Bank Los Angeles Times / UCLA Library

1880s structures "The Castle" (right) and "The Salt Box" (partially visible; left) stand in front of construction for the new Union Bank tower on Bunker Hill.

Since the City of Los Angeles started designating Cultural Historic Monuments in 1962, approximately one thousand buildings have been given the protected status. With formal designation come strict rules about when a building can be altered or demolished.

Still, the city's rules can't provide perfect protection. Seven Downtown buildings designated as monuments were demolished between 1969 and 1988. Over the next two weeks, we'll tell their stories.

On October 9, 1969, fire took just minutes to destroy a pair of buildings that Angelenos had struggled for years to save.

"The Salt Box" (HCM #5) and "The Castle" (HCM #27), both constructed in the 1880s, stood nearly adjacent to each other on the 300-block of Bunker Hill Avenue for about eight decades, but in the 1960s the two ran up against the Community Redevelopment Agency's plans to redevelop the hill as a home for high-rises.

Funding for the renewal project was approved in 1959, but it wasn't until 1961 that the agency started to buy up the first of the 396 structures that would need to be cleared.

The Salt Box, a white building named after its 19th-century-style of New England architecture -- was the first to be made a city monument, receiving its designation on August 8, 1962. The Castle, a more ornate 20-room Victorian, was designated on May 8, 1964.

Even so, the question of how to save the two structures was complicated.

The Cultural Heritage Board called for the creation of a 1.7-acre "Heritage Park" at the top of Angel's Flight, then still located along 3rd street.

In March of 1966, Councilman Paul H. Lamport called for The Castle to be left in the middle of the skyscrapers, receiving a $200,000 renovation and being made into the city's official mayor's mansion. "Nothing doing," Mayor Samuel W. Yorty told the L.A. Times.

At the last second, city departments teamed up for a plan that would move the two buildings up the 110, creating Heritage Square on city-owned land at Avenue 43. That move took place in March of 1969.

Only seven months later, the two were gutted by an early morning fire. Neighbors told the Times that vandals and youths had broken into the structures and been using them for parties since the move. The wood-frame buildings burned were wiped out in minutes.

Want more Bunker Hill? Be sure to watch this 1956 documentary made in the years before redevelopment started.


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