Some weeks, it seems like every time we check our email or DMs, there’s a new preservation crisis brewing, and some desperate, caring, exasperated Angeleno who feels compelled to tell us what’s threatened in their corner of the city, and ask if there’s any hope at all. There is, but it can be hard to find.
When word got out that the wreckers had finally come for the long vacant, famously sleazy Sunset Pacific Motel (aka Bates Motel), we checked the LADBS portal for demolition permits, found none, and had the odd experience of the developer appearing in our Instagram comments touting the existence of a permit which was, most peculiarly, listed under an alternative address not the one previously used for the property.
That was weird. It’s hard enough to keep track of L.A.’s rampant development without it playing out as a real life shell game. Is it any wonder that citizens feel angry and powerless as they watch the landmarks and landscapes they love get scraped away for interchangeable mixed use multicolored boxes?
A Bates Motel neighbor, Rachel, drew our attention to the other threatened structures on the Effie side, including a lovely 1906 ranch house with an approved demolition permit. It was rumored to have been used by silent film legend Mabel Normand when the neighboring motion picture studio was her home base.
In the corner of the yard was a horse tether that could well have been used by cowboy star William S. Hart, the studio’s second namesake and subject of one of our preservation campaigns. Well, we certainly needed to see that, and over we went late last week to bid farewell to the remains of the motel and assess the early cinema site behind.
Shockingly, despite the still operating 1916 motion picture studio a few feet away, the Junction Gateway Project Historical Resource Evaluation Report produced by GPA Consulting in 2015 only mentions the local film industry once (on page 10), and entirely misses the cinema associations of the lovely house at 4300 West Effie (page 21). They did capture a nice color photo of how it appeared when still inhabited, though.
Developer Frost/Chaddock has been interested in Sunset Junction for more than a decade, generating ill will by tearing a storybook style community landmark down and refusing a buy-out offer from neighborhood icon Flea, but not yet breaking ground on any project.
The current trend for developers holding large Los Angeles parcels is to go through the lengthy and expensive process of getting their City Planning entitlements, demolish or vandalize the inconvenient old buildings on the site, then put the properties back on the market seeking big profits. We’ve seen that with 1111 West Sunset (oh, those lost Pereira sun screens!) and with Lytton Savings at Sunset and Crescent Heights.
We don’t know if this is the motivation behind the demolition of the long vacant motel and residential structures behind. Maybe Frost/Chaddock does plan to finally move forward with their massive Junction Gateway development soon. It would be good to have this parcel reactivated with housing and commercial tenants after so many years of blight. (The supposedly non-toxic whitewash that artist Vincent Lamouroux sprayed on the motel in 2015 still clots the palm trunks.)
But more than a decade after they demolished A Different Light to stymie its landmarking, and after so many contentious community meetings and so much organizing, what a gracious move it would be if instead of tearing down Mabel Normand’s Studio Bungalow, Frost/Chaddock extended an olive branch to the neighborhood and hit the pause button on demolition long enough to find a new home for this charming structure that was a witness to and quite likely a participant in early cinema history. Once you locate a new site, it’s actually pretty easy to move a wooden house (not to mention a horse tether), and it’s a thrill to see it done.
If you agree with us that this is a wonderful idea, please send a message to property owner Frost/Chaddock through their online contact form, and cut and paste what you’ve sent into an email to Council District 13’s Planning Director Emma Howard (firstname.lastname@example.org) and us (email@example.com).
It’s enough to simply write “Dear Frost/Chaddock, Please don’t move forward with plans to demolish Mabel Normand’s Studio Bungalow at 4300 West Effie Street, but instead work with the community to find a new home for this living piece of motion picture history.” You can say more if you’re so inspired. Be nice—good will goes a long way—be persuasive, and let’s see if they’ll show they’re ready to be a good neighbor and do the right thing by Mabel and by Sunset Junction.
We believe good and useful buildings that tell the story of Los Angeles should be treated like old friends, and given a chance to stick around and play a part in the future. We hope you do, too. Let’s try to save her.
Update March 15, 2023: Sadly, when our preservation pal Brett Loudermilk went over to see the house this morning, he found a pile of rubble. In honor of this pretty place destroyed, we are going to fight harder to change the way Los Angeles does business with developers.