An element in the continuing debate over whether to preserve Great Hall / Long Hall and other aspects of Plummer Park is its historic and cultural significance. Protect Plummer Park, a citizens group advocating for a sensitive rehabilitation and restoration of the existing park, successfully lobbied for inclusion of Great Hall / Long Hall (Plummer Park Community Clubhouse) on the National Register of Historic Places. Here WEHOville presents an excerpt (edited for space considerations) of the explanation of the park’s cultural and historical significance written by Jen Dunbar of the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance for presentation to the National Register.
The Plummer Park Community Clubhouse provides an excellent example of the regional impact of Works Progress Administration‘s funding in Los Angeles County.
Across the country, the WPA program was administered by a partnership between the federal government and “sponsors,” who tended to be local and regional governments that controlled and oversaw a project at a local level. Sponsors could determine the style, materials and construction type of their particular projects. This allowed for schools, post offices, community and recreational centers and other such public facilities to be built as well as for upgrades to transportation and utilities infrastructure.
The social and economic conditions of Los Angeles County (in the 1930s) made it a prime candidate for such WPA projects. The county saw a substantial population increase during the Great Depression because of an influx of people looking for jobs in the entertainment industry, health services and agricultural and oil resources. As the population swelled, so did pressure on infrastructure, transportation, housing, and social services. Los Angeles had a serious problem with unemployment, second in the country only to New York, of white collar workers (often referred to as “soiled collar workers”).
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors seized every opportunity to implement projects through WPA funding, seeing them as an opportunity to help the unemployed by giving them jobs and “getting them off the dole.” County WPA projects from 1935 to 1943 ranged from street and infrastructure improvements, land use planning and documentation, parks and recreation facility improvements, development of public school curricula and public building construction. This was in addition to the WPA Federal One program focusing on art, writing and music, which also flourished in Los Angeles County.
The creation and development of recreational facilities accounted for a considerable amount of money spent on county WPA projects. A county Department of Recreations Camps and Playgrounds survey in 1937 found that Los Angeles had 19,051 acres devoted to recreation and over two million dollars in federal funding allocated to recreation projects. One reason for the focus on recreation was that it was seen as a formal field of study and a way to create jobs. From 1933 to 1937, the Department of Recreations Camps and Playgrounds oversaw a massive training program for unemployed men and women in recreation supervision to address a rising public interest in recreational activities. With county residents’ enthusiastic interest in outdoor recreation, there also was a need for more parks and facilities as well as operators and administrators.
As a result, the county Regional Planning Commission, which reported to the Board of Supervisors, sought to turn “every piece of odd area in the county, whatever its size; every bit of unutilized land isolated by street intersections” into a recreational center, picnic ground, or park, according to a 1939 story in the Los Angeles Times.
In the Spring of 1937, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to lease, with an option to purchase, land from Eugenio “Captain” Plummer to increase its public parkland holdings and relieve pressure for much needed community gathering space. The four acre park was the last remnant of undeveloped land amidst a growing residential community on its north, east, and west borders, and the busy retail and light industrial thoroughfare of Santa Monica Boulevard on the south border. Plummer sold the property to the County later that year to avoid foreclosure.
Even prior to the county’s purchase, the land was considered a “unique” park. In 1877, Plummer was deeded the land from Senora Francisca Perez, who had occupied it since 1869. Previous to Senora Perez, the land was part of the original Rancho LaBrea tract. The original parcel consisted of one hundred and sixty acres and included the hillside where the Hollywood Bowl now sits. Plummer built a house on the land in 1878 and lived in the house with his mother until her death, and later his wife, until her death. Plummer and his property were regarded as the social center of the county during the area’s early settlement years. Captain Plummer, a charismatic environmentalist and a pioneer of Los Angeles who had lived on the land since childhood, fueled a romantic and nostalgic imagery of early colonial life in Southern California. His addition of numerous rare plants and trees to the land contributed to the distinctiveness of its natural park setting.
As a condition to selling the last remaining acres of his property to Los Angeles County. Plummer was allowed to live in his house until his death at 91 in 1943. At the dedication of the Clubhouse, Plummer was designated as the historical guide for the park. Under the direction Recreation Camps and Playgrounds Superintendent James K. Reid the park was specifically set up to remain in its “romantic” state.
In the fall of 1937, $720,000 in federal funds were allocated to various projects throughout Los Angeles County, with Plummer Park receiving $22,000. In total, the Plummer Park building project cost $60,000 when completed. (By the Bureau of Labor’s Statistics CPI inflation calculator, that would be close to $1 million in today’s dollars). It consisted of a new community “clubhouse” that would provide a much needed meeting space for various recreational and service clubs, activities and social events for local residents.
Because the county had direct control over the project as its sponsor, it could decide the style of the building. Edward C.N. Brett, the county’s chief architect, decided it should reflect a prevailing public sentiment for “Old California.” The single story building with its low gabled tile roof, sited in the center of the park amid lush plants and trees, complemented the quaint single and multifamily homes lining the streets around the park.
Modest details such as the exterior shutters, casement windows, an interior rounded corner fireplace, thick decorative scrolled ceiling beams and flagstone- patterned concrete pavers added to the architectural charm.
The craftsmanship, plan and details of the Community Clubhouse reflected the inspiration and simplicity of the colonial missions and adobes built throughout California, characteristics of Spanish Colonial Revival style. Its Spanish Colonial Revival style also distinguished it from the WPA-era Modern style of many buildings found throughout Los Angeles.
The clubhouse’s use as a gathering center married well with the courtyard configuration often employed by buildings of this style. As these building types were often a response to the environment, spaces needing natural light were placed along the east-west axis, while those that did not ran along a north-south axis. Long Hall, intended as a reading room, sat along the east-west axis, while Great Hall, an entertainment space, followed the north-south axis. The low flat ceiling of Long Hall with its thick scrolled beams marching down the length of the room recall the Romanesque style nave, a feature often found in the missions.
Great Hall, with its stage and rustic, open trussed ceiling was a performance space to replace the “Old Rancho Barn Theater.” The courtyard provided a gathering space for barbeques and picnics, with shaded spaces under the surrounding arcade. Long Hall provided a space to house exhibits. Hernando G. Villa, who was known for his illustrations for the 1932 Olympics and for creating the “chief” emblem for the Santa Fe Railroad, as well as paintings of early California scenes, exhibited his work at the Clubhouse in 1939. That same year, the California Bear Flag was presented to park director Florence Lewis Scott and raised over the building as a symbol of “our endeavor to carry forward the charm and spirit of Old California to enrich our present day lives.”
From 1938 to 1984, the park and the clubhouse remained under the supervision of Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation. In 1984, Plummer Park and all of its structures were turned over to the City of West Hollywood with its incorporation. The Clubhouse operated continuously as a gathering space for local organizations and, until recently, also housed the 75-year-old Los Angeles Audubon Society. ACT-UP/LA sees the Community Center as part of its history. This AIDS activist organization held its weekly meetings there for nine years and supports its designation as a historical resource both for its previous and recent historical association.