Sunday, March 6, 2022

Romaine Grand and the Brick Victorian

1030 East Cesar Chavez Avenue is tucked away in an odd little pocket of industrial Los Angeles fenced in by the 101, the 10, some rail yards, and the river. Is it Boyle Heights? Is it Lincoln Heights? Is it Aliso Village? Sources disagree. Heck, Zillow thinks it's in "North Alamo".

That odd little pocket is mostly made up of auto shops and auto parts vendors. The presence of a nightclub and a high-end linen store on the same block hint at the possibility of encroaching gentrification. 

Halfway down the block, 1030 hides behind a mature tree and a black brick-and-metal fence. This house, a very rare single-story brick Victorian built in 1890, has been Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #102 since 1972. It was landmarked not for its long-ago owner, but for its architectural significance.

The house's long-forgotten owner was Romaine Grand, a French blacksmith born in 1844. By 1875, the city directory listed him as both a blacksmith and a wagon maker on New Aliso Street (or at 106 Aliso, later at 476 Aliso). 

Romaine, sometimes written as Romain, Roman, or Ramon, was married to Gracieuse (sometimes written as Gracious or Grace) Bayonne, a French speaker from the Basque provinces. It's rumored that the Grands had a longer, Basque surname and changed it, but I have not found conclusive evidence of this.

Romaine's letters and advertisements in La Cronica indicate that he could speak Spanish well enough to cater to Spanish-speaking customers. 

Advertisement for Romaine Grand's wagon works in La Cronica, 1883.
Side note: in modern Spanish, "carroceria" means "bodywork".

In 1890, the little brick house went up at 1030 Macy Street. No, it didn't move - the street name changed in 1994.

The house isn't big - 5 bedrooms and one bathroom in 1736 square feet. The oldest Grand children were already young adults when it was built, and census records suggest at least one was living in a boarding house. It's rumored that the Grands originally intended to build a two-story house, but ultimately only built the ground floor. A single-story Italianate house is highly unusual for Los Angeles, and it is one of only a few surviving brick Victorian houses in the city.

There are a few other residential buildings on this block, but all of them date from the early 20th century and don't have the same charm.

1030 Cesar Chavez Avenue, Google Maps, January 2022

Comments on an old Big Orange Landmarks post suggest that the house's current owner intended to convert it into apartments, which conflicts with the house's landmark status. The house, as you can see from Google Maps, is currently fenced off and not in the best repair. Blogger Floyd Bariscale's photos of the house, taken in 2007, show it in much better condition.

I wonder what Romaine Grand, who owned a successful carroceria, or wagon works, would think of his house being surrounded by modern-day carrocerias - body shops - and auto parts stores. Grand passed away in 1900, before Los Angeles became overrun by automobiles.

If anyone out there has current information on Romaine Grand's poor little house, please let me know. It pains me to see this house facing such neglect.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

The Barn is Back!

The Le Mesnager barn, long closed to the public, is finally reopening.

The stone barn, built long ago by Georges Le Mesnager, was converted into a house after it was damaged by a fire and a flood in the 1930s. Members of the Le Mesnager family lived in the converted barn until 1968.

The barn has been adapted into a nature center, and will reopen on March 19.