Ken Bernstein’s new book, “Preserving Los Angeles” couldn’t come at a better time. As the subtitle notes, “How Historic Places Can Transform American Cities,” Bernstein believes that preservation can actually help Los Angeles and other cities grapple with homelessness, the severe shortage of affordable housing, and climate change. He points out that historic neighborhoods are more dense, more diverse and more green because the greenest building is the one that’s already built.
Convinced that preservation does not stop change, that it is instead a positive force for change that honors communities and their shared history, Bernstein told us, he hopes his book will “bring the Los Angeles historic preservation story to a larger public, both locally and nationally, detailing how preservation has become an engine of positive change across our city.”
A comprehensive field guide of LA history that everyone should read often and have on their bookshelf, the book also tells the story of how preservation helped transform the city we enjoy today from the perspective of someone how has lived the experience. Currently, Bernstein oversees the Los Angeles’s Department of City Planning Office of Historic Resources, and before that he was director of preservation issues for the Los Angeles Conservancy, the largest local non-profit historic preservation organization in the country, when the organization was responsible for the revitalization of downtown and the preservation of some of the city’s most important buildings.
“Preserving Los Angeles” was a two-year long weekend project of Bernstein’s, motivated by his desire to “bring the Los Angeles historic preservation story to a larger public, both locally and nationally, detailing how preservation has become an engine of positive change across our city,” explained Bernstein. “The book showcases preservation rescues through historic designation, historic districts that have sparked neighborhood revitalization, adaptive reuse projects that have created a downtown renaissance and new affordable housing, and ground-breaking historic preservation frameworks that are elevating the social and cultural history of the city’s diverse communities.”
Under Bernstein’s leadership at the city, Los Angeles has developed one of the most successful historic preservation programs in the nation, culminating with the completion of SurveyLA, the nation’s most ambitious citywide survey of historic resources.
The book is illustrated with over 300 stunning photographs culled from nearly 19,000 images shot by architectural photographer Stephen Schafer.
Looking ahead at future preservation efforts, Bernstein told us he’s working toward making sure preservation efforts are more inclusive of diverse communities. For his part, he’s donating the proceeds of the books to organizations working toward greater inclusion and representation in the historic preservation of African American, Asian and Latino communities.
“Historic places really tap into human needs,” explained Bernstein. “They give us a sense of authenticity, the materials in old buildings are really beautiful, they build community and often serve as a gathering place, and they provide continuity and connection with our past, present and future. We are anchored and connected by these historic places.”
Nearly 500 people joined Bernstein for his virtual book launch last week, hosted by publisher Angel City Press. This Wednesday, April 28, at 7 p.m., Bernstein will present his book virtually at Chevalier’s Books in our very own historic neighborhood of Larchmont.