LOS ANGELES — The ghosts of architecture past are being summoned in the latest trail offered by Friends of Residential Treasures, or FORT: LA.
It’s called "Witch Houses 2: Fairytales, Castles and Cottages." Imagine Hansel and Gretl or the Sanderson sisters from Hocus Pocus relocating to West Hollywood. These dwellings would allow them to feel right home.
“These are things…you don't mention when you're with your other architecture friends,” Siddhartha Majumdar said with a chuckle.
Majumdar is a board member with FORT: LA, a serious architect with a secret soft side for storybook-style structures. For him, the houses featured on the tour are more than residential units — they are testaments to someone’s imagination.
“I love the whimsy,” he admitted. “You know, something like this is sort of the most accessible and fun. And you know, we all need fun in our lives.”
The folks at FORT: LA are experts in architecture. Majumdar likes to imagine someone at their drafting table sketching out the folly-filled features of these homes, like the extremely thin, pointy roof on one of the cottages that make up Village Court on North Formosa Avenue.
“This kind of really pointy roof is often done late at night when you're on the drawing board,” he joked. “Not a morning thing.”
Trained architects can recognize a lot of the style choices that went into these homes, but for this trail, FORT: LA knew they needed a special touch so they turned to Amber Benson.
In her past life, as she put it, Benson played a witch on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." She is now the author of the Echo Park Coven novels, among other haunted tales.
She says when the team at FORT: LA approached her to curate a Halloween-themed trail, she jumped at the chance.
"I was like, 'I know all about Halloween! I know all about witchy houses! I think I'm the perfect person for this!'"
She’s the first to admit that she doesn’t know the architectural vernacular but more than makes up for it with a keen eye for fantastical features and a very active imagination.
“The Argyle Apartments is haunted by cats!” she said of the 1929 castle that features an actual drawbridge out front. “Ask anybody else with the Argyle Apartments; they will say that that is not true. Well, I'm telling you, it's totally true!”
Benson’s tales of the houses may be more fiction than fact, but that’s part of the fun. The descriptions in the guide read like one of her novels, but the stories aren’t just on the page.
This is the second Witch Houses Trail but the first to feature a companion selection of audio recordings, with actors reading snippets from Grimm’s fairy tales to set the mood.
If you want the true stories, you’ll find that as well as historic or interior photos of the properties in the guide on FORT’s website, your best bet for a closer look. These are inhabited homes, after all, so guests are asked to admire them from afar and not disturb the occupants — whomever they may be.
“They might be doing like a witchy ritual,” Benson said with a conspiratorial air to her voice. “Or maybe they're having like a vampire hangout. You know, we don't want to like intrude.”
In addition to "Witch Houses 2," FORT: LA has an entire collection of themed trails. It’s a program they launched during the pandemic and one that recently won a California Preservation Design Award.
“FORT specifically wants to, for lack of a better word, democratize the access to what's called Architecture with the capital A, and we really don't make that distinction,” Majumdar said. “Our mission is really to make you know of all these beautiful buildings that were built all these years back and that, you know, are all around you.”
“It brings people from the east side to the west side, from the west side to the east side,” he explained of the trails. “Just to have more pride in your own neighborhood and an interest to go and sort of explore the large city that you live in.”
In what he describes as a diverse and sometimes disconnected city, something as fundamental as the types of homes we live in can tell a history all its own and allow natives and visitors alike to view LA through a different window.
Looking for something spooky to do this October? Get into the Halloween spirit with a creepy trail I curated with FORT:LA (https://t.co/vUHgIuyxVX) pic.twitter.com/z491jSV0QY— Amber Benson (@amber_benson) October 8, 2021