Peaceful Times at Heritage Square

The historic buildings of Heritage Square can be glimpsed from the 110 Freeway, a quick blur of patterned brick chimneys and Queen Anne turrets as the car whizzes by Avenue 43 north toward Pasadena. But to really experience this living history museum, it’s necessary to exit the freeway and follow the signs past a long row of tract houses and chain-link fencing to its formidable entrance gates.

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Behind the gates sit a cluster of beautifully restored 19th-century houses, along with a Southern Pacific train depot and a steeple-topped 1897 Gothic church that was moved here, piecemeal, from Pasadena in 1981. Framed by mature trees and well-tended gardens, Heritage Park is a sweet respite from L.A.’s busy urban landscape and a reminder that there is a strong preservation effort in this city working to protect its past, rather than replace it with McMansions and high-density condos.

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This past weekend, Heritage Square hosted its annual vintage fashion show and tea,  one of many events it throws throughout the year. I was lucky enough to be invited to sell my books along with other exhibitors like the Grier Musser Museum, Sew Cranky, and the International Printing Museum. It wasn’t hard labor, sitting in the shade with a view of the church’s massive stained-glass window, a blooming rose garden, and what is perhaps L.A.’s only remaining octagon house.

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Docents cloaked in period costume lead tours of the grounds and homes every Friday through Sunday. Also coming up on May 15 is Museums of the Arroyo Day, when admission and tours are free all day at Heritage Square and other nearby museums like the Lummis Home and the Southwest Museum.

One more thing: Heritage Square is surprisingly kid-friendly — there’s lots of wide-open space, a red boxcar rescued from the Tucson, Cornelia, & Gila Railroad, and a turn-of-the-century pharmacy with a marble-topped soda fountain and fascinating displays of snake-oil potions, leech pots and vintage tools.

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