Researching Your Home’s Past

By Dennis Sullivan

When was your house built? When did the garage get added? Who was the first owner? You’re sure it’s a bungalow but is it California or Craftsman? Being the owner of an historic home presents a great opportunity to dig into the past. Most of us buy our historic home without any detail knowledge of its history. At some point, we become curious and start looking for information that will build a better understanding of our house and its part in Redondo Beach’s past.

Researching your home’s history can be a fascinating project as you follow family trees, scrutinize city documents, quiz neighbors, or poke around your attic looking for clues. You can make this research as extensive and comprehensive as you wish. Having a history book on your house can bring personal satisfaction as well as providing a valuable document for future owners and the community.

Look around the house
Take this survey with a critical eye for clues such as building materials, utility systems, floor plan modifications and add-ons that might give you some idea of how things have changed over the years. Unusual patterns in wood flooring might indicate where walls or built-ins have been removed, suspended ceilings often hide original ceiling details, and a careful examination of interior walls might reveal hints of the original floor plan.

Ask other people about the house
Someone once remarked that Redondo Beach residents tend to stay in their homes for many years. Consequently, many homes have only had a limited number of owners. If you can find family members of previous owners you may be rewarded with photos and stories from their days in the house. Neighbors often have memories of the house and the previous owners. They might even help find survivors of former owners or suggest others who can give you leads. Don’t be shy; most folks enjoy reminiscing about the old days and the people they knew along the way.

Spend some time at the Redondo Beach Historical Museum
Located at Dominguez Park in Heritage Court, this is a good resource for documents and research materials. You can find old Redondo Beach phone directories from several years beginning with 1906. Some have a cross-reference section where you can look up a street address to get the resident’s name and then you can look up the name itself. Entries often include the spouse’s name, occupation and homeowner vs. resident status. The same directories are available at the Main Public Library on PCH.

If you have your block and parcel numbers from your tax bill you can examine the handwritten city permit book of sewer, plumbing, gas and building permits from 1908 to
1921 (partial). Call for appointment.

You can also look through the Gloria Snyder collection that includes miscellaneous files on prominent citizens, families, events, buildings, permits, etc. This can be hit or miss depending on the prominence of the house’s past residents. Call ahead for appointment.
Contact Paula Manusa at 372-1171, extension 3417.

Check city documents
The city has some survey information available to the public. The 1986 Historic Resources Survey is a windshield survey that ranks properties with a letter/number rating system. “A” and “B” rated structures have a separate Historic Resources Inventory sheet. A 1996 survey also includes the north Redondo Beach area. A 2001 survey has not been compiled but is available for photocopying.
At the building department counter you can pull your house’s permit card. The information is not 100% reliable for dating a structure but does provide some history of major alterations.

Contact City Planning at 310-372-1171.

Visit Los Angeles County offices
The LA County Tax Assessor’s office in Lomita has records reflecting building alterations, dates and owner’s names for properties in our area. Ask to see the packet for your property.

L.A. County Tax Assessor’s field office
24330 Narbonne Avenue, Lomita. 534-6100
For archives, visit the archives room at the downtown L.A. Assessor’s office. These are the old handwritten books of tax assessor’s records. You will need your tract/block/parcel number.

L.A. County Hall of Records/Archives
227 N. Broadway (at Temple) Los Angeles. (213) 974-3429
To make a backward title search on your property through microfilm and old books of deeds visit the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk office in Norwalk. Bring cash if you want to make copies, which run from $3.00 to $5.00 per page depending on quantity.

L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk
Real Estate Records Division Pre-1958 – Room 1001,
1958 to present Room 2207
12400 Imperial Highway, Norwalk.
(562) 462-2133

Look at other available documents and resources
Research can be addictive and you may want to continue uncovering bits of the past. The Daily Breeze in Torrance has a library complete with microfilm. Call ahead to make an appointment at 540-5511 as their library hours are limited.
Old maps can be both fascinating and informative. The Sanborn Fire Insurance maps were drawn for the Redondo Beach vicinity several times. Map dates are Feb. 1891, May 1895, June 1904, Nov. 1908, Apr. 1912 and Dec. 1916. These maps are available through public libraries and academic institutions in microfilm and digital format.