West Adams Normandie

City Chops Down Magnificent Camphor Tree to Fix a Few Feet of Sidewalk

Jennifer Charnofsky

On July 25, 2014, a city crew showed up on the 2600 block of south Budlong Avenue in response to some bureaucrat's orders to solve the problem of tree roots pushing up a short segment of sidewalk. We don't know to what extent they explored ways to let the tree coexist with a new piece of sidewalk, but the first thing they did was bring out their chainsaws. It was a magnificent huge camphor tree, twice the height of the two-story 1909 Craftsman home it stood in front of. The tree was almost certainly planted when the house was built, long before anyone now living in this neighborhood was born. It was the treasure of the residents of the home it stood in front of. They were not consulted or given any warning or explanation. In an hour or so the wonderful tree was reduced to butchered scrap, which was carted away the next day, leaving the woman who heads the household in tears. This decision is a heavy blow to the residents whose home it graced, and to their neighbors for many blocks around.

Even though this part of West Adams is an old community, mostly built between 1903 and 1915, very few of the old giant trees remain. There is an even larger Morton Bay Fig in the next block south on the same side of Budlong, but it has escaped the city choppers because it is behind the fence on the house's front yard, while the victim on the 2600 block stood on the parkway.

Under current rules the city is supposed to plant two trees for every one it cuts down. We will see if, here in South Los Angeles, they follow through on that promise. But only the youngest of our neighborhood's residents can expect to live long enough for these replacements to even begin to approach the majesty of the tree that was destroyed.

Our sidewalks are now on a hundred year schedule for repairs. Surely in the few cases where something is done about sidewalks in our lifetime we shouldn't  have to pay for the repair by losing our finest trees.

We do not know what options the city considered in this case. There are often ways to save the tree while replacing a raised sidewalk. The city needs to explain their actions to the residents and to the local neighborhood association, the Van Buren Place Community Restoration Association. On the 2600 block of Van Buren Place as an accommodation for expanding roots the sidewalk was narrowed by about a foot as it went past a large tree. Roots can be shaved and covered, then topped with thinner than standard concrete. There are other possible measures that might have been applicable.

We would like to receive an explanation of why the Department of Public Works felt they had to cut down this tree, and some review of this policy to reassure our citizens that killing the tree is not the first option where sidewalks have been damaged.

The Van Buren Place Community Restoration Association has planted, or caused to have planted and raised funds for several years of initial watering, about 70 trees in our immediate area in the last 25 years. Even the oldest of these is a small sapling compared to the Budlong camphor tree, and we feel its loss  keenly.

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2615 Van Buren Place Is For Sale

It is rare that a home comes up for sale on the 2600 block of Van Buren Place. It is the original block of the city's Adams-Normandie Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, the city's name for its historic districts. Twelve of the fourteen houses on the block are on the Secretary of the Interior's Register of Historic Places. It is just south of Adams Blvd., halfway between Vermont and Normandie Avenues, very close to Downtown, and in walking distance to USC.

2615 is a smaller, and much newer (1983), house than the two-story century-old houses that give the block its character, but for that reason it is also much less money. The asking price is $379,900. The house, set back behind its garage, is one story, 1,001 square feet. It has three bedrooms, two baths, with a laundry setup in the garage. Behind the house there is a narrow garden strip that runs the width of the property, with two fruit-bearing fig trees and a banana tree.

The block is closed to traffic at the Adams Blvd side, with a decorative fence just at the end of the 2615 property line, which means there is very little traffic. There is an active block club, the Van Buren Place Community Restoration Association, founded in 1980, which maintains this website. We look forward to welcoming new neighbors to the block when the house is sold.

The real estate agent handling the property is Gloria Archila of Berkshire Hathaway:

562-760-5630, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.   Her website listing is:


Some photos of 2615:



LA's Flawed Oil Oversight System

Leslie Evans

Three oil company drill sites in the West Adams section of South Los Angeles, operating more than 100 underground wells, have been the center of recent citizen protests, ramped up government inspections, a City Attorney lawsuit, and complaints that the city's Zoning Administration has violated municipal code and possibly state law in fast-tracking oil company expansion plans. These events have raised broader questions as to the competence of the city's oversight of an industry that deals in toxic, explosive, and flammable materials but has been allowed, from the days in the late nineteenth century when there were few zoning rules, to establish thousands of wells in residential neighborhoods throughout the city. Since the early 1960s most of these have been slant drilled underground, with scores of pipes emanating in all directions from anonymous compounds hidden behind high walls.

The recent West Adams complaints first arose in 2010-11 around Allenco Energy's drill site at 814 W. 23rd Street in the University Park neighborhood north of USC, adjacent to Mount St. Mary's College. Allenco purchased the operation in 2009 and boosted production 400%. Soon, neighbors began experiencing chronic nosebleeds, respiratory problems, headaches, and nausea. By late 2013 the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) had received 251 complaints. Community protest meetings drew several hundred people. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent inspectors, who were made ill and determined that leaks of petroleum fumes from badly maintained equipment were the cause. Allenco voluntarily shut down on November 22, under pressure from U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer. On January 7, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer filed a lawsuit to prevent Allenco from reopening until they comply with all applicable health and safety regulations.

Subsequently, two drill sites acquired last year by the giant Freeport-McMoRan Oil and Gas company became the subject of community complaints.


West Adams Oil Blues

West Adams Oil Blues

Allenco Energy Co. drill site in West Adams' University Park neighborhod 


Leslie Evans, in consultation with Michael Salman

My neighborhood is the West Adams section of Los Angeles, just south and west of Downtown. Its miles of historic, century-old Craftsman homes, interspersed with sixties-vintage apartments, house a mixture of recent Latino immigrants, older African Americans, and a minority of whites and Asians. We've been in the newspapers a lot recently in disputes with two oil companies over three of their urban drill sites. At one of them, run by the Allenco Energy company, children have been getting sick. Nosebleeds, respiratory problems, headaches, and nausea have been chronic, leading finally to protest meetings, one attended by some two hundred residents, intervention by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the County Health Department, and a lawsuit by the Los Angeles City Attorney.

At the other two sites, owned by Freeport-McMoRan Oil and Gas, concerns began over ill-kept property, or fears that plans for new drilling would generate noise and pollution. As news reports of the health problems at Allenco spread, neighbors near the Freeport sites heard about a gas leak at one of the well sites and a few accounts of people who may have been sickened by fumes in the past. One public meeting drew more than 300 residents. City officials responded by temporarily closing the Allenco site entirely, while at the Freeport sites routine pumping continues but scheduled new drilling has been put on hold.