5 questions for Highland Park historic preservationist Charlie Fisher

Feb 19, 2014

Charles Fisher | Photo by Marni Esptein

By Marni Epstein

Charlie Fisher has watched Northeast L.A. change around him over his lifetime. He grew up in Mt. Washington and has lived in Highland Park for more than two decades. While the evolution of neighborhoods  is a large part of what he loves about Los Angeles,  Fisher has been disturbed by the demolition of some of the city’s old and beautiful buildings and residences. As a kid, Fisher remembers watching as the historic homes of Bunker Hill were torn down, one by one. It is that event which propelled Fisher into the life and business of preserving local heritage and history.  The now 60 year-old Fisher has since made it his life’s work to ensure that Los Angeles’ heritage is remembered through its buildings – highlighting not only the people and characters who built them, but those who lived in them as well.

Fisher  has helped preserve such landmarks as the Arroyo Seco Bridge, the Echo Park branch of the Bank of America, and the Purviance Residence (an R.M. Schindler home) just to name a few.  He helped create one of city’s largest historic districts – the Highland Park-Garvanza Preservation Overlay Zone – and also represents clients who seeking historic landmark status and protection for  properties and sites.  In fact, the 1908 bungalow that Fisher has called home for 21 years is also a historic monument.

How would you describe historic preservation?
Historic preservation is essentially guarding our history. And the history of the built environment is every bit as important. As preservationists we dig up stuff and sometimes you find that the myth [surrounding a building’s history] that has been out there for so many years just isn’t the case. We have to determine whether we’re dealing with the truth or with a myth.

How do you reconcile historic preservation with progress?
Progress is interesting because sometimes we think it’s a great step backwards. I mean to tear down an architectural specimen and put up a piece of crap is not going forward. We had a lot of that in Highland Park in the ‘80s. And the big thing was, we were losing our heritage.

What are your feelings on the gentrification of Highland Park?
I don’t really consider it gentrification as much as people moving into the area. We had a lot of old-timers that were still living in the area at the time we bought our house, many of them have unfortunately passed on. There was a link to the pre-war period that existed then. And the area underwent some challenges … It’s an evolution.

What’s your favorite Eastside building or structure?
There are so many cool buildings. If I was going to pick a Victorian, I would probably pick The Hale House at Heritage Square. I’ve written several nominations on Modernist homes, a couple of Schindlers, including one in Silver Lake which nobody knew about. It’s on Maltman, a house he designed in slab-cast in 1922.

Which people most commonly seek historic cultural monument status?
Most of my clients are the property owners. They seek it because they want to preserve what they have but they also want a Mills Act [tax credit]. And the Mills Act is probably, in California, one of the best things to happen to preservation. Any historic property can fall under a Mills Act. You get a tax savings based on the restoration work you put into the property.

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Marni Epstein Epstein is an entertainment, music, and lifestyle Journalist and resident of Echo Park. She has previously worked in the film and digital media industries with FOX and Sony Pictures Entertainment. She is currently also pursuing a Masters in Historic Preservation.

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