Structural integrity: A walk through historic University Park

The terms of USC’s relationship with the neighborhood in which it’s situated are notoriously difficult to pin down.

Although university officials have long advocated for student engagement with the surrounding area, the pervasive paranoia many students experience when faced with the prospect of exploring their surroundings on foot — a feeling somewhat validated by the university’s eager provision of a Campus Cruiser service — keeps many members of the USC student body from ever truly experiencing some of the local architectural marvels that the North University Park area has to offer.

Hidden gem - The Stimson Residence on South Figueroa street is one of the many architectural highlights in the neighborhood. - Tim Tran | Daily Trojan

This sort of institutionalized isolation is unfortunate, if only for the reason that it’s easier to take in great architecture from a sidewalk than through the window of a car. The greater University Park neighborhood boasts a truly remarkable richness of sites, all of which are best experienced on foot.

And with one absolutely necessary exception, all of these often-overlooked structural wonders can be found south of West Adams Boulevard.

One of the area’s most prominent landmarks might well be the former Second Church of Christ Scientist (948 W. Adams Blvd.), which has only recently been occupied by The Art of Living Foundation (so recently, in fact, that the Google Map street view image of the edifice features “Available Location For Filming” banners stretched across chain-link fences in front of the entrance).

The enormous structure bears a discreet bronze plaque near the steps leading up to its main entrance that recognizes it as an historic site — it was completed between 1907 and 1910 and features Italian Renaissance architecture. An imposing arcade of Corinthian columns stands guard before the main entrance, but the most impressive part of the one-time church is its tremendous green dome, easily visible from nearby freeways.

Sunshine Mission-Casa de Rosas (2600 S. Hoover St.) is similarly high-profile but more for historic reasons than in the sense that its profile is a recognizable part of our neighborhood’s skyline. Built in 1892 as part of the burgeoning kindergarten movement, the Sunshine Mission has served as home to budding debutantes and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard at different times in its rich history.

It wasn’t until after World War II, however, that the building assumed its current role as a shelter for women who have fallen on hard times as a result of domestic or substance abuse. Every year, Sunshine Mission collaborates with USC occupational therapy students to provide residents a hot Thanksgiving meal.

As a matter of fact, the university’s Center for Occupation and Lifestyle Redesign has set up permanent shop right across Hoover in the historic Cockins House (2653 S. Hoover St.). The majestic Queen Anne Victorian residence was designed and constructed in 1894 by a noted Los Angeles architectural firm and, though three-stories high, it functioned as a single-family residence until it was converted into a duplex in 1911.

It’s rumored that Charlie Chaplin once stayed there while the building operated as a boarding house, and now a decidedly creepy effigy of the silent film star is situated on the balcony of one of the upper levels, presumably to scare the living daylights out of any reporters who might happen to be riding their bikes around at night to do research for an article.

Student-saturated 27th Street is a veritable repository for beautiful residences as well. For fear of issuing an unauthorized invitation to admire fellow Trojans’ living arrangements, specific house numbers won’t be mentioned, but the stretch of 27th between Orchard Avenue and Hoover is particularly dense with beautiful Victorian homes, including the SoCal VoCal house.

Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 212, the Stimson Residence (2421 S. Figueroa St.), is the last remaining mansion in a line of costly manors along Figueroa that was once adoringly referred to as “Millionaire Row.”

Declared an historic site in 1979, this structure is said to be the city’s last standing example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. The Los Angeles Times once called it “the costliest and most beautiful private residence in Los Angeles,” but the beauty of visiting a site in person is that you can make such judgments yourself.

Much of North University Park’s most impressive architectural gems have histories that can hardly be done justice in print. The Saint Vincent de Paul Catholic Church and the Automobile Club of Southern California Building — situated on the northwest and southwest corners of the intersection of Adams and Figueroa, respectively — are staggering when seen in person, but tours such as Angels Walk LA enhance the experience of seeing Los Angeles on foot by pairing sights with history.

Whether you bike or walk, exploring these architectural wonders is well worth the time spent out of the car.