The Gates of Berkeley Square


After William R. Burke decided to turn his barley field into the gold coast, he commissioned Alfred F. Rosenheim to design impressive gates for each end of Berkeley Square, entrances meant to be both welcoming and restrictive. The French Renaissance–inspired limestone-and-iron designs spread wide to include central vehicular drives flanked by pedestrian paths. Figurative gates to ownership in Burke's new subdivision, by the way, included a test of ethnicity and the requirement to spend, beyond the price of your lot, at least $20,000—about $500,000 today, which actually doesn't seem like much—to build your new house. According to a Square resident of the 1940s, as traffic on Western Avenue increased—indicating the need for the wider, faster arterials to points south and west of downtown that would eventually arrive in freeway form—the main gates at that end were kept closed to limit public access; other sources indicate that the gate closures alternated between east and west ends. In any case, it seems that the scourge of many American private streets had set in on Berkeley Square: It was becoming a popular cut-through for commuters living beyond the Square, late for work in the morning or in need of a martini in the evening. And no doubt Jim Stark and his friends found the Square's wide roadway an irresistible strip for popping wheelies and playing chicken.

Alfred F. Rosenheim was a nationally known architect of the era, born in St. Louis—birthplace of the American private street—in 1859. He practiced in Boston for nearly 20 years before returning to St. Louis in 1899. Soon after, he was commissioned by Herman W. Hellman to design the banker's eponymous building at Spring and 4th streets in downtown Los Angeles (Historic-Cultural Monument #729 and still extant). Rosenheim arrived in the city in 1903 to oversee its construction, so was just in time to participate as a local architect in the founding of Berkeley Square. Other West Adams landmarks by Rosenheim—ones that still stand—include the 1910 Second Church of Christ Scientist (HCM # 57) at 948 West Adams Boulevard (originally Adams Street) and the 1910 Eugene Britt house (HCM #197) at 2141 West Adams; the architect's own house (HCM #660) at 1120 Westchester Place in nearby Country Club Park is also still with us.

A drawing of the gates proposed for the Square appeared in the Los Angeles Times on September 25, 1904; at top is
the view slightly northeast through the southwest Gramercy Place pedestrian gate at time of  demolition,
1962. Seen through the arch and across the path of the coming Santa Monica Freeway is the
tower of the Armenian Gethsemene Congregational Church, which that year was purchased by
the Church of Christian Fellowship, still a presence at 2085 South Hobart Boulevard.

A view from 22nd Street west across Western
Avenue, 1931; the sign reads PRIVATE DRIVEWAY/
GRAMERCY GATE CLOSED. The south main gatepost is seen in the
distance to the right of the sign; the house behind it, built in
1908 and still standing, is 2229 South Gramercy Place. 

Above, the Gramercy Place gates, circa 1940below, the southeast pedestrian gate, circa 1940

view through the Western Avenue motor gates at the east end of the Square, circa 1913

Illustrations: Private Collection; Notables of the Southwest; LAT;
LAPL/Herman Schultheis; USCDL

Looking southeast, 1915


The Square is at center in the aerial photograph above, with several lots as yet unbuilt upon and palms still stubby. The 10 now plows between its main drive and the still-extant 21st Street a block to its left. Western Avenue is two streets below Harvard Boulevard, which curves to enclose the Rindge house, at the heart of what was later called Sugar Hill, at top center. The intersection of Washington and Gramercy is at lower left; that of Adams and Gramercy is at center right. The semicircular street to the right is Gramercy Park. And the eventual obliteration...

1954: The palms are now towering, but the bell has tolled for Berkeley Square.
 Gramercy Place is at the west end, left, Western Avenue at the east.
 West 21st Street is to the north, West 24th to the south;
 the rear property lines of the Square are marked by
 the subdivision's two private alleyways.



1972: The Square is gone, save for one house at the southeast corner (dark roof at right below the freeway) 
 that has survived all the rest, and the street itself, by nearly a decade, if only for a few months more....

Illustrations: USCDL 1, Historic Aerials 2-4

Set your GPS


While no physical trace of Berkeley Square exists on the modern landscape of Los Angeles—except, perhaps, for a short stretch of north roadway curbing—Brigadoon was here: above, an overlay of a 1921 Baist insurance map onto the modern city gives the position of the Square in relation to the highway that now plows through it. The Santa Monica Freeway—the swath of yellow across the top—condemned the northern half of the Square; the expansion of what was originally the 24th Street School (the blue rectangle at center) condemned the southern half. (The misspelling of "Berkeley" as "Berkley" dates from earlier Baist maps and went uncorrected despite the BERKELEY SQUARE tract designation on top of it.) Such was the cachet of the Square in its halcyon days that reference was often made to it in real estate advertising for houses outside of the gates, on property as far-flung as Adams Street to the south and 20th Street to the north.

Above, a more detailed view of the Square in relation to the immediate street grid appeared in the 1947 plat book issued by the Realty Map & Ownership Service of Los Angeles. Below is a 1961 highway department map indicating the Santa Monica Freeway under construction on its finalized route—the red circle indicates the doomed Square.

Interestingly, the original delineation of the central Berkeley Square roadway and those of the 15 south-side lots remain as ghostly, unrecognized lines on present-day Los Angeles Department of City Planning maps (which the department calls its Zone Information and Map Access System, or ZIMAS for short). The author-added red rectangle indicates the lost Square.

The green color above indicates current zoning for public facilities, such as government buildings, public libraries, and, in this case, public elementary and secondary schools. The Twenty-fourth Street School—indicated by the red-roofed building seen at center below in a 2012 satellite view—remains where it has been since 1904, the year the gates of Berkeley Square were completed. The large building at left within the Square is the J. P. Widney High School. The magenta color above indicates zoning for commercial purposes; the purple, for parking.

Illustrations: Historic Map Works; Mark Leggett; UCLA;
Los Angeles Department of City Planning; Google