One Use Two Use Old Use New Use

on May 27, 2014

Have you ever wondered where you’re allowed to raise chinchillas in Los Angeles? How about where you can manufacture Babbitt metal? Open a numismatic (coin collecting ... we had to look it up too) store? The answer to those everyday questions and more can be found in the Use List—the companion document to the Zoning Code that identifies which land use activities are permitted in each of the various zones in the City.

Like the Zoning Code it supplements, the Use List contains many elements that have remained unchanged since 1946. To put that in perspective, in 1946, gas cost about 21 cents per gallon, Disney’s Song of the South, with its famous “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”, was the top-grossing film in theaters, and there were still fields of orange trees in Orange County. What this means is that in addition to (somewhat) modern uses like DVD sales, yoga studios, and recycling centers, our Use List still makes reference to phonographic record production, asbestos manufacturing, and typewriter repair.

But saying the Use List has remained unchanged since 1946 is not an entirely fair statement. Over the years, new items have been added to the list as planners have attempted to keep pace with our ever-evolving planet. Just think—ten years ago we were still renting videocassettes from Blockbuster rather than binge-watching entire series on Netflix! Yet in order to add new uses to the list, planners most often rely on the uses that are already in the document. Rather than having to start from scratch every time, this allows staff to identify uses that are similar to the one proposed, and use those existing precedents to recommend where a new use should be permitted.

Here are some of the most intriguing, unusual, and just plain comical examples that can be found in LA’s Use List:

Reducing Salon:

Essentially, this was the early twentieth century version of a day spa or fitness center. Clients would go to the reducing salon hoping to lose weight quickly—either through aerobic exercise, sweat sessions in the sauna, or special machines designed to whip pesky love handles into submission.

Rather than a treadmill, these salons might feature a ‘vibrating belt machine’ that clients would strap themselves into, expecting that the machine’s constant vibrating would help loosen up and shake the fat off their body. Another odd machine was a system that would run up and down a client’s body, ‘working’ and ‘stretching out’ the fat to trim the pounds.

While this all sounds strange and ineffective to us today, it’s possible that many of our current preoccupations (like juice cleanses, liposuction, and appetite suppressants) will seem just as amusing to future generations. The Use List is meant to be a user-friendly document, but as the world changes so quickly, it is always forced to play catch-up.

Earthworm Raising:

We know what you’re thinking—how do you zone for earthworms when they live in the ground? While you’re certainly right to believe that this would be a pointless venture, in this instance the Use List is regulating commercial earthworm-raising. Because earthworms help aerate and enrich organic soil, gardening and fertilizer supply businesses use them to improve soil supplies.

While most people think of Los Angeles as a bustling urban center, the City’s boundaries are extensive, and include many agricultural communities. With agricultural, in addition to commercial and industrial activities often taking place in close proximity to residential neighborhoods, it is important to designate which activities may take place in each of the City’s zones.

It may seem excessively detailed to enumerate ‘earthworm-raising’ as a use, but imagine if this category were simply called ‘animal raising.’ With that designation, your neighbors could raise dogs, chickens, and rabbits, or they could raise tigers, elephants, and chimpanzees. Most people would certainly feel more comfortable living next to the former group of animals rather than the latter, and the Use List helps protect stakeholders from such unfortunate land use pairings. In order to make that happen, however, the Use List needs to be oddly specific, by calling out relatively obscure uses (earthworm, nutria, pigeon, frog, ostrich, and chinchilla -raising included.)

Alligator Farm:

We have a sneaking suspicion this only found its way into the Use List because of the Los Angeles Alligator Farm, which between 1907 and 1953 was a landmark tourist attraction in Lincoln Heights. Visitors used to pet, dine beside, and even ride the alligators, often taking pictures of their children holding baby gators. Some of the alligators even found their way to Hollywood, where they served as ‘animal extras’ in Tarzan and other films. While this might not necessarily seem like the safest way to spend an afternoon, it just serves as a reminder of how much society can change.

Bathing Cap Manufacturing:

Hollywood Starlets: L to R: Phyllis Fraser, Rochelle Hudson & Mary Mason, Photoplay Magazine, September 1932.  Copyright The Bees Knees Daily (flickr).
"Hollywood Starlets: L to R: Phyllis Fraser, Rochelle Hudson & Mary Mason, Photoplay Magazine, September 1932.  Copyright The Bees Knees Daily (flickr)."

Don’t forget your bathing cap the next time you head down to Dockweiler or Santa Monica! While we know these are still in use (by Michael Phelps, water polo players, synchronized swimmers, etc.), we can’t help but feel that there’s something old-fashioned about them. Maybe the old photos of flappers in their bathing caps and bathing gowns have something to do with it….

Yet in addition to making us chuckle, seeing these on the list reminds us that things as obscure as bathing caps need to be manufactured somewhere, and that Los Angeles has historically been home to a diverse range of industries producing goods for local, national, and international consumption.

Egg Candling:

Naturally, this refers to the process by which eggs are held to a special light to check their quality before they’re sold to the market. (Again, we had to look that up.)

Baby Gym:


"... 997, 998, 999, 1,000! And now crunches ..."

This is a new addition this year, capitalizing on the recent trend for classes geared toward improving toddler motor, sociability, and cognitive skills. We can already sense that this will be to future Angelenos what the reducing salon is to us today.