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Historic Preservation in Architecture and the Built Environment: Researching the History of a Property or a Home

A selective guide to researching the history of built environments, landscapes and buildings, with special emphasis on sources related to Los Angeles. It was created in support of the Heritage Conservation Program at the USC School of Architecture.

Locating Records and Information

Researching the history of a property can be complicated.  Below are suggestions on some resources to start your search.  Please note that these research recommendations relate to resources on buildings in the Los Angeles metropolitan area; however, other cities have similar resources.


Find legal description and parcel number of property from the office of L.A. County Assessor in the Hall of Administration, 500 W. Temple Room, 225, tel: 1-888-807-2111, or by using their online Property Assessment Information System.

The current owner, tract and lot number, date of last change in ownership, year built, number of units, etc. may be obtained using the Land Use Planning and Management Subsystem (LUPAMS), available in the Business & Economics Department at the Los Angeles Central Library, tel: (213) 228-7100. Additionally, the Business Department has LUPAMS records available on microfiche dating back to 1991.


Find original construction date on building permit at Los Angeles City Building and Safety Department - Construction Services Center, 201 N. Figueroa .  (888) LA4-BUILD.  The building permit may give name of Contractor, Architect, and original owner.  Southwest Builder and Contractor, available from 1920-1965 in the Architecture and Fine Arts Library at USC, might also list building permit information.   


If you cannot find the building permit, contact the Los Angeles County Assessor to find year of construction and name of original owner.

Records of grant deeds can be used to trace the ownership history of a property. In Los Angeles County, official deed records are maintained by the Land Records Division of the County Clerk's Office in Norwalk (562) 462-2133.

When the owner's name has been obtained, try searching local newspapers for death notices or, more rarely, an obituary. The California Death Index for 1905-1994 is available in the Los Angeles Central Library’s History & Genealogy Department, and selected years are available online through Rootsweb. You may also search county probate records at LA County Hall of Records, Room 212.

A compilation titled Street Names of Los Angeles by Bernice Kimball at the Los Angeles Central Library’s History Department reference desk (call number 979.41 L881Kim folio) may clarify street name changes.

The Los Angeles Conservancy maintains a page of research suggestions for researching properties in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles City Directories (there are reverse directories for the years 1900-1905) can verify addresses and residents. Los Angeles city directories for select years are available through the USC Libraries Special Collections department, tel: (213) 740-5900 or  Some directories are available in digital format through the Los Angeles Public Library’s website.


Additional sources:


ZIMAS (Zone Information Map Access System) displays the zoning information on parcels within the city of Los Angeles.


Historic Aerials - an interesting source that presents aerial images of places over time.