Important Preservation News Concerning Landmark L.A. Buildings!

Important Preservation News Concerning Landmark L.A. Buildings!


First, a Bit of Background
You might be surprised to learn that, contrary to popular belief, Los Angeles adopted a historic preservation ordinance in 1962. Not only was this earlier than most major cities in the U.S., it was also considerably more comprehensive than most large cities have even today.

Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources (OHR), housed within the Department of Planning, had set out create a more comprehensive ordinance that sought to further strengthen the 1962 ordinance as well as clarify ambiguous language within the document.

The Back-Door Deal
Two meetings were held for owners of HCM (Historic-Cultural Monuments): one for owners of commercial properties; the other for private property owners. At these meetings HCM owners aired many concerns. The OHR then revised the Draft Ordinance with input from a very select group. During this time the Central City Association (CCA), a group of commercial property owners with holdings in the downtown core, had struck a separate deal with the Los Angeles Conservancy (LAC) that was adopted into the Draft Ordinance. This “agreement” literally traded the Denial of Demolition on any HCM for the stripping of any interior of any building to be declared an HCM.

The implications of this deal are positively chilling for historic properties in Los Angeles. For example, under the language agreed upon by the CCA and the LAC, any historic theater, say the Hollywood Pantages, could have the entirety of its interior demolished, provided that the exterior remained intact. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how the ripples from this change can impact any of our city’s architectural gems—properties designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra, or the John Lautner house; the Central Library, Bullocks Wilshire, the Bradbury Building, even City Hall itself. This particular deal would also have allowed demolitions of any HCM in the case of a stated financial hardship on the part of the owner. It is not hard to see where this would have lead especially in a major recession like the one we are currently experiencing.

Preservation Community Pulls No Punches at Commission Hearing
News of this new language in the Draft Ordinance reached other preservation groups on the afternoon of July 3rd of this year. Because of the three-day weekend, this meant that preservation advocates had only two business days to rally forces to refute the new language before the July 9th Planning Commission hearing. Dozens of preservationists came to speak to the Commission bolstered by hundreds of letters from others who could not attend.

Then something extraordinary happened. In order to take a vote on any planning issue a simple majority of the nine (9) commissioners must be present for the vote, there were only 5 in attendance. But in order for an ordinance to pass there must be five (5) votes. Four (4) of the commissioners were so moved by the passion and reasoning of the preservationists’ arguments outlining the vital importance of preserving both interiors and exteriors of L.A.’s HCMs that they voted to not only uphold the Draft Ordinance language, but also to supersede the closed-door deal struck by the CCA and the LAC!

The fifth commissioner, however, could not be moved (indeed, in a particularly telling moment he asked, in all seriousness: “Who is this Secretary of Interiors anyway?” Hopefully he has since done his homework to know why all in attendance laughed at him). And the ordinance vote was postponed to the September 10th mtg.

Where We Are Now
The objectionable portions of the ordinance have since been reviewed by two separate groups: Preservation advocates, including The Art Deco Society of Los Angeles, West Adams Heritage Association, Highland Park Trust, Hollywood Heritage, the LAC and others; and business owners and their team of lawyers, notably the Los Angeles Athletic Club and the CCA. The biggest point of contention was the insistence by the business faction that ONLY single-family residences should have their interiors protected, a point unequivocally opposed by preservation groups, because, if enacted, would leave remove all protections of the interiors (including lobbies) of any multiple-family dwelling like the El Royal, or hotels like the Biltmore, or movie palaces like the Wiltern. Complicating matters still further, how would a property that has undergone changes between commercial and residential be handled? This would include large mansions that may now be used as churches, schools or offices, as well as any of a number of commercial and industrial buildings that have undergone the transformation to loft housing.

After exploring a wide array of potential solutions to interior designations, the group came to a broad consensus around a preferred approach: Review of interior work would not be subject to a Certificate of Appropriateness under the new ordinance. Instead, the review of interior work would remain under the control of the current Cultural Heritage Ordinance.

Permits for interior work would continue to be referred to the Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC) and the Office of Historic Resources for review. However, the CHC could not deny approval of interior work altogether; it could only object to the issuance of the permit for no more than 180 days, with a possible 180-day extension of the objection period upon approval of the City Council.

The ordinance would require a Certificate of Appropriateness only for exterior work, or for additions or new construction; a Certificate of Hardship would be required for approval of demolition of a Historic-Cultural Monument.

This new consensus brings us very close to what the 1962 ordinance had established which by in large worked for all parties for close to 50 years.

All interested parties will have the ability to have their voices heard once again at the next Planning Commission Hearing on September 10th.

We Need Your Help

Please try to show up at City Hall on September 10th (time yet to be determined) for the Los Angeles City Planning Commission hearing and voice your opinion. Remember, in a democracy every voice counts, but you must speak to be heard!

What You CAN Do

Please write a letter stressing your support for the current (Aug 28th) Draft Preservation Ordinance.

Include your name, and any preservation organization with which you may be affiliated.

Important issues that you should stress in your letter include:

* Interior spaces of all HCMs are intrinsically important to the history of the building/structure, commercial as well as residential.
* The CCA and other Downtown interests are not representative of all of Los Angeles.
* Saving Los Angeles’s built past for future generations to study and enjoy will ensure that those who made our city great will not be forgotten.
* Feel free to include specific examples of historic interior spaces which would diminish Los Angeles should they be lost forever!

Address your letters to: William Rauschen, President of the Planning Commission and email your letters to the following:

By writing a letter in support of historic preservation, you will show that the citizens of Southern California care about our history. Please pass this info on to others to help save our historic and cultural past for future generations.