Visiting time capsule mansions of Redlands, in the footsteps of Leo Politi
Greetings from your friendly historic Los Angeles sightseeing tour company, now offering digital programming until we can again organize groups to gather and explore the city we love.
For our latest post that’s hidden from the rest of the internet, we’d like to take you along on an architectural treasure hunt through historic Redlands, California down the old Inland Empire citrus belt.
We recently were given a copy of illustrator Leo Politi’s 1983 book Redlands Impressions, a charming little volume which is very much in the spirit of his 1965 classic Bunker Hill Los Angeles: Reminiscences of Bygone Days. (We call it a little volume because although both are tall hardcover books, there are just 11 paintings and drawings in the Redlands book, compared to Bunker Hill’s 22.)
Leo Politi loved Bunker Hill, and knew as he was painting her streets and gardens, stained glass and turrets, that the whole beautiful neighborhood was soon to fall to the forces of redevelopment. Perhaps that’s why the book feels so melancholy and otherworldly, as if he was painting ghosts just as they left their physical bodies.
There are many ways for those of us who never visited to understand what Bunker Hill was like—through George Mann’s photographs, Nathan Marsak’s book and Gordon Pattison’s memories—but there’s no better way to feel as if you’re visiting that lost neighborhood than to lose yourself in one of Leo Politi’s paintings. It’s our dream that one day the large collection of his Bunker Hill work held by Central Library will be on permanent display, as was the artist’s wish and the library’s promise to him.
But even after Bunker Hill was flattened, Politi was driven to document architectural treasures of past generations. He haunted libraries and newspaper archives, learning the history of Southern California and seeking out the obscure and interesting places that had managed to avoid the bulldozers.
We think of him as a fellow traveler—though instead of spending hours capturing a landmark in pigments for book projects, we snap a few cell phone camera views for our social media and future webinars and move on.
Which brings us to this Redlands treasure hunt.
We can’t ride Angels Flight up Bunker Hill and compare Politi’s paintings to the physical buildings, because every one of them is gone. But it turns out all the landmarks featured in Redlands Impressions are still standing. We couldn’t resist hopping on the 10 to seek them out. It’s only an hour away!