As we slam the door on 2018, it’s time for that annual Esotouric tradition: our very opinionated list of the past year’s Top Los Angeles Historic Preservation Stories.
Because preservation is never as simple as buildings being lost forever or rescued from the brink, the list is split into three sections: the Gains, the Losses, and those Bittersweet moments that hover somewhere in the middle, and keep us up nights. We hope you find the list by turns thought-provoking, infuriating and inspiring, and that 2019 will see some of the Bittersweets tip over onto the Gains side of the fence.
Los Angeles Historic Preservation Gains of 2018:
G1. A Modernist Master Recognized: It began with an impassioned plea from Zev Yaroslavsky to preserve William Pereira’s endangered CBS Television City, an architectural and cultural treasure that supports high paying professional jobs. Then the Los Angeles Conservancy brought in architect and historian Alan Hess, our partner in the Pereira in Peril campaign, to write the successful landmarking nomination. Also involved, property owner CBS, who came to the table to craft a preservation solution for the future of its historic broadcast production campus. The campus just sold, and will be subject to preservation guidelines in any future alterations.
G2. Rock On: If you love music history, Hollywood history, civil rights history and great architecture, then Musicians’ Union Local 47 matters to you. Founded in 1897, its members have shaped motion picture soundtracks since the dawn of the talkies, and uncountable hit records. The handsome Vine Street union hall, master architect Gordon Kaufmann’s last commission, became one of the first integrated performance guilds in America in 1953. The union recently sold the building and moved to Burbank, but the future of the old union hall is secured now that it’s been declared an Historic Cultural Monument. Cheers to John Girodo of Hollywood Heritage for writing a terrific nomination.
G3. Won’t Be Doggone: When Tail o’ the Pup, one of the last programmatic oddball architectural dining attractions standing, became a museum piece, we felt blue. But somehow, the iconic storefront is coming back as a commercial enterprise in the hands of the historically-minded 1933 Group, who are presently restoring the Formosa Café. And that’s a shaggy dog story we don’t mind waiting out.
G4. Bank On It: Downtown’s gorgeous Bank of Italy (Morgan, Walls & Clements, 1923) was shuttered for decades, so when Kim set part of her mystery novel The Kept Girl inside, she had to imagine everything. But this year, the NoMad Hotel completed an elegant adaptive reuse project, transforming a sober commercial building into a sweet social space.
G5. Spinning Wheel (redux): In 2016, on a hot day in sleepy Arcadia, where the last Googie-style Van De Kamp‘s Holland Dutch Bakery restaurant (Harold Bissner, 1967) stands proudly on Huntington Boulevard, Denny’s executives were on hand to throw the switch on the restored, spinning windmill sign, a beloved local landmark brought back to life through the Quixotic efforts of former mayor George Fasching. But months later, the blades snapped and fell through the restaurant’s roof. The future of the landmark sign again seemed uncertain, but happily, the sails are now spinning anew.
G6. Give Me Liberty or Give Me… WHAT?!: Neighbors rallied when Liberty Park (Peter Walker, 1967), a beloved privately-owned modernist landscape in the heart of park-poor Koreatown, was threatened with high-rise development. Tempers flared, culminating when property owner Dr. David Lee of Jamison Services terrorized attendees of a City Hall meeting by threatening to turn his assault rifle on citizens. That creepy stunt backfired, and Liberty Park became a protected Los Angeles landmark soon after.
G7. Landmarking Makes All the Difference: After official designation was granted to the derelict clothing-store-turned-trade-paper-HQ, the Crossroads of the World mega-project now plans to incorporate the Hollywood Reporter building. The adjacent 1930s garden court apartment block, encompassing 80 charming rent stabilized homes, won’t be so lucky (see B18 below).
G8. Exile on San Remo Drive: Thanks to the advocacy of thousands of writers and curators, the German government raised funds to purchase Thomas Mann’s Pacific Palisades home in exile, a modernist gem (J.R. Davidson, 1941) which had been listed for sale at a tear-down price. Slated to become a center for exploring ideas of cultural openness and international values, the first step is the recreation of the writer’s lost library.
G9. Developer, Please: In 1936, William Kesling designed a perfect streamline moderne residence for actor Wallace Beery in the flats of Hollywood, and for eight decades, lucky Angelenos kept the landlocked ocean liner ship-shape. Late last year, property developer Ilan Gorodezki announced his intent to knock the lovely thing down to build condos. But preservation people were paying attention, and drafted a successful landmark nomination. Thanks to the efforts of Charles J. Fisher and Steven Luftman, one of the coolest houses ever built in L.A. might survive to see its centennial.
G10. Heirloom Roses: For a decade, the landmark city-owned Casa de Rosas campus (Sumner Hunt, 1893) sat shuttered and decaying, a target for vandals or squatters, and a sad sight from the window of our Weird West Adams crime bus tours. We’re encouraged to see L.A. finally investing resources to reactivate this fascinating place as much needed low-income housing.
Los Angeles Historic Preservation Losses of 2018:
L1. A Long Goodbye: The Mission-style Heather Apartments (Charles C. Rittenhouse, 1910) was one of Westlake’s loveliest old apartment hotels. But after the owner was cited for unpermitted renovations a decade ago, she was boarded up. Despite L.A.’s housing crisis, no law compelled Louis C. Gonzalez to make the 26 rent stabilized apartments available. It’s called demolition by neglect: no need to file for a demo permit, just let time and squatters do their worst. Two fires later, the old gal was doomed and soon demolished.
L2. Last O’Call: Although neglected by the city, a lousy steward of its historic resources, Ports O’ Call Village (1963) remained a beloved South Bay landmark, a place to socialize, promenade and feast on fishy treats. But with a development-focused administration in City Hall, a plan was hatched to erase the village and its small business tenants, leaving a clean slate for a generic corporate complex. Broken promises led to tragedy that the San Pedro community won’t soon forget. Have we learned nothing from the mistakes of Bunker Hill?
L3. Lights Out: Serial landmark wrecker Jason Illoulian hasn’t even got permits for his Sunset Boulevard mega project, and neighbors are organizing to save the block, but the uncertainty has had a killing effect on the row of small businesses. The saddest loss came when Parisian Florist moved away, and gave their signs to the Museum of Neon Art. The destruction of Hollywood’s finest mid-century storefront breaks our heart.
L4. Last Man Standing: Once upon a time, Los Angeles had two thriving book shop districts, one on Hollywood Boulevard, the other in Downtown’s warren of streets south of Central Library. In Hollywood, only the Larry Edmunds Bookshop remains, a favorite stop on our Raymond Chandler tours. Caravan Book Store, the last survivor on Downtown’s Book Row, closed this year, not due to landlord greed or redevelopment fears for once, but because second generation proprietor Leonard Bernstein was ready. Stifling sobs, we rushed down with our photographer pal Craig Sauer to capture the time capsule for posterity in explorable 3-D.
L5. Hollywood’s Silent Movie Theater was gutted as the owners attempt to rebrand the venue, which became toxic after Cinefamily staff spoke out about abuse. It’s not a protected landmark, so there’s no requirement to preserve historic resources, but it would have been cool if they tried.
L6. Clean Slate: RIP Alhambra’s Valley Cleaners, an obsolete bit of roadside signage that made us happy every time we waited to make a left turn up Fremont and now has disappeared.
L7. R is For Rats: Shame on the Los Angeles School Board for voting to demolish the historic “R Building” at Roosevelt High, at a time when community pride and cultural history is more important than ever for Boyle Heights. Don’t be fooled: the so-called “preservation settlement” is a demolition, which is why no legit preservation group seeking to save Roosevelt’s history signed off on it.
L8. Scorched Earth: The fast-moving Woolsey Fire took the Western Town at Paramount Ranch and the nearly-restored Sepulveda Adobe, but reports of the destruction of the M*A*S*H set were premature.
L9. Sad Trombone: By the time a silent film fan raised the alarm after noticing the demolition permit on the 1904 Tabor House, which had a memorable cameo in the 1927 Our Gang film Dog Heaven, Councilman Paul Koretz had already put through a motion seeking to designate the early westside landmark for preservation. But after the property owner illegally demolished the facade, Koretz’ office says there is no recourse. If you think this gross behavior merits a revised city ordinance that punishes people for knocking down historic-but-unlandmarked buildings, tell your councilperson.
L10. Very Sour: Preservationists fretted, but for a brief moment (see Chapter 2.0.), it looked like Metro would save the Arts District’s beloved Pickle Works warehouse, after all. And then the gorgeous old thing burned down, amidst reports that the city-owned building contained a well-known homeless encampment. Demolition by neglect is always ugly, but especially so when it’s a public asset lost.
L11. Joe Friday Wept: Before the FBI showed up to empty his City Hall office and home of unspecified documents, Councilman Jose Huizar was the one-man wrecking ball sacrificing Los Angeles landmarks to his political ambitions. His (hopefully) last act was the rushed demolition of Parker Center (Welton Becket & Associates and J. E. Stanton, 1955), the world’s first modern police administration building and the finest International Style structure in L.A.’s portfolio, which for all its controversial history, remained an architecturally distinguished and potentially useful structure. But Huizar, who never met a lobbyist he didn’t lick, was determined to clear the east side of the Civic Center in order to privatize and turn it into “a 24-hour destination,” no matter the cost. While that sketchy idea and Huizar’s future might be toast so, regrettably, is Parker Center.
Los Angeles Historic Preservation Bittersweet Moments of 2018:
B1. Infrastructure’s Victims: Caltrans has long been a crummy steward of the historic houses where the 710 won’t go, among them Julia Child’s girlhood home. Now that the freeway project is officially kaput, we hope these gems aren’t too far gone for longtime tenants to purchase and restore.
B2. To All My Friends: Tom Bergin’s, a Miracle Mile gem that’s fallen on hard times, has many pals seeking to make its landmark status official lest it be knocked down for redevelopment.
B3. Imitation Is Better Than Nothing: Renderings have been released for proposed redevelopment of William Pereira’s Metropolitan Water District HQ: much demolition, but also partial recreation of the low-rise building at the heart of the 1963 complex.
B4. Summer Coming: It’s been a wild multi-year ride as preservationists and members of the Japanese-American community seek an option to purchase the time capsule buildings and farm at Historic Wintersburg, a nationally significant Japanese-American landmark in Huntington Beach. Will it become a garbage dump, self-storage facility or an interpretive center telling the rich story of an immigrant community? No news is good news, we hope.
B5. Cop Caper: A recent 3-D photoshoot with Craig Sauer revealed the disappearance of Skid Row’s own American Gothic, the painted fire door that we discovered in the King Eddy speakeasy basement more than a decade ago. A reward is offered for its safe return.
B6. C’est la Morte: C.C. de Vere, historian of French Los Angeles, just wanted to know where her beloved statue of Joan of Arc had gone. She ended up uncovering some troubling data about the disappearance of one of the city’s oldest charities, and many millions of dollars. At least she found Saint Joan! Forget it, Jake: it’s Chinatown.
B7. Poor Pedigree: After a fatal arson fire at Dr. Jones Dog & Cat Hospital (Wurdeman and Becket, 1938), developer Arman Gabaee pursued plans to built a glass and steel mediocrity on the site, despite the dogged efforts of citizen preservationists Kate Eggert and Krisy Gosney which were picked up by the Los Angeles Conservancy. But then Gabaee was arrested on Federal bribery and public corruption charges. Tough luck for him, but a lucky break for the legacy of Dr. Jones.
B8. The Landmark Cudgel: Things get weird when politicians make preservation policy. Although Pico Boulevard’s wee Googie-style Orange Julius-turned-L.A.-Burger stand (Armet and Davis, 1963) wasn’t ultimately landmarked, the folded plate roof will be saved, and inspired the retro re-styling of the planned redevelopment project. Bonus: the neighborhood is spared another faux Tuscan slab, and gets its burgers back. That’s better than the Algemac’s project in Glendale, where a beloved Googie diner’s bones were saved, but not its kitchen.
B9. Pu Pu Platter: Tiki-lovers gasped at news that the sprawling Don the Beachcomber (originally Sam’s Sea Food and Hawaiian Village) was closing, its large PCH lot slated for unspecified redevelopment. The interior fixtures might be salvaged for use in a new venue, but there’s no way to replicate the sense of space and creativity of an original mid-century exotica environment on the coast highway. For now, the historic complex still stands, with Art Snyder’s restless spirit gnashing invisible teeth within.
B10. Museum Grow: The clock is ticking on the ambitious proposal to demolish William Pereira’s 1965 LACMA campus and its unfortunate additions for an amoeba-shaped new museum spanning Wilshire Boulevard. Chinese steel tariffs might break the bank.
B11. Machine Rage: A “preservation” hustle unfolds in West Hollywood, as serial landmark wrecker Jason Illoulian gets city approval to move and carve National Register landmark The Factory into a meaningless morsel. But it gets sleazier: Illoulian co-opted the name used by the community activists who fought to save this icon of early Hollywood camera manufacturing and gay culture for his own PR blitz. Cheers to Councilwoman Lauren Meister for taking a lone stand against this dishonest and destructive project.
B12. Spoiled Span: After approving the construction of affordable housing and a children’s park below a bridge that’s long been synoymous with suicides, Pasadena erected unsightly chain link panels blocking access to seating alcoves on the National Register Colorado Street Bridge, then extended the fence the length of the bridge. Historically sensitive design recommendations are promised. They can’t come soon enough.
B13. String ’em Up: Designation as an official city landmark is supposed to offer some protection, but don’t bother telling that to “developer” (this appears to be his only project) Eli Melech, who has been threatening for years to demolish the Bob Baker Marionette Theater and replace it with a puppet-themed apartment building. With a too tiny performance space on offer, the troupe made the tough decision to move on. You can find the road show in historic places like the Pasadena Playhouse and Santa Monica Pier, and chip in to help them plant new roots.
B14. Cooler Than Its Critics: This summer, after decades of neglect and derision, thousands came, like moths to the flame, to the derelict Los Angeles Mall to see Joseph Young’s Triforium come to life with flashing lights synced to live music. It’s a civic artwork, but this wasn’t a city production. Kudos to the grassroots team who pulled it off. Yet despite the great success of the Triforium Fridays series, the fight to save the Triforium is just beginning. The city has a plan to demolish the very plaza it sits on. At least now Angelenos are paying attention.
B15. Gehry the Vandal: Shame on Frank Gehry, who has gone to the courts to secure permission to demolish rather than integrate Kurt Meyer’s lyrical, landmarked Lytton Savings Bank. Meyer put his architecture career on hold to save Central Library; this fine architect and Angeleno deserves better than this.
B16. No Beano: Hideous blob proposed to obliterate Barney’s Beanery, a rare example of a Route 66 roadhouse in the heart of Los Angeles. The scraps of Barney’s facade propped under this mess add insult to injury.
B17: Location Location Location: Another landmarking designation promoted by an L.A. politician is Silver Lake’s streamline moderne steel Texaco station, a proposal that generated a great deal of anti-preservation sentiment before Mitch O’Farrell announced his real plans: to dismantle and ship the station out of the neighborhood. Frogtown has its own architectural landmarks; it’s silly and ahistorical to move one of Silver Lake’s character defining buildings down to the river.
B18. Abuse of Power: A few months before scandal-plagued Councilman Jose Huizar was removed as head of the PLUM Committee, he helmed a shocking meeting during which his crew struck down four newly-declared Hollywood landmarks, all of which conveniently stand in the path of the proposed Crossroads of the World mega project, and made snide remarks about the quality of the Cultural Heritage Commission’s work. We’ll take the CHC’s thoughtful dedication to preserving buildings of merit over PLUM’s development cheerleading any day. With the FBI now investigating Huizar, perhaps all his land use decisions deserve a fresh look?
B19. DOA: Landmark buildings are never more vulnerable than when tenants are evicted ahead of a redevelopment project. In October, Pierce Brothers Mortuary (1924), the crown jewel of West Adams’ Mortuary Row and until recently occupied by a church, was badly damaged by fire. But because the complex is a designated city landmark, the property owners can’t demolish everything, but must work with preservation experts to determine how to best to retain surviving elements and rebuild.
B20. The Best of Times: Because nobody else was doing it, we stepped up and landmarked The Los Angeles Times buildings, then watched as City Council’s PLUM Committee deferred to the wishes of disgraced ex-chair Jose Huizar and Canadian developers Onni Group and carved out the portion of the landmark that would be most profitable to demolish. But although this was an upsetting setback, Times Mirror Square isn’t done for at all. We will continue to shepherd the landmark through any proposed redevelopment, and with each step forward our preservation forces grow, and see clearly the kind of people who run Los Angeles and for whom. With the whole world watching, let’s see what they can get away with now.
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And that’s our report on the state of Los Angeles preservation for 2018. To see past years’ lists, click here: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012. And to stay informed all year round, see our Los Angeles History Happenings group on Facebook, subscribe to our newsletter and visit the Los Angeles Historic Preservation Hotspots map, where you can find nearby trouble spots.
Our guided bus tours return with The Real Black Dahlia on January 5, on the crest of the 72nd anniversary of Beth Short’s disappearance and an especially haunting date to walk in the footsteps of this fascinating and mysterious lady. This tour is nearly full, so reserve soon if you’d like to ride, then stay tuned as we kick off our 12th Anniversary Year of loving, preserving and telling the stories of Los Angeles. See you on (or off) the bus!
Kim and Richard