There was anger and outrage at Wednesday night’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) meeting as West Hollywood’s Eastside residents protested the city’s plans to create a “thematic grouping” district of Craftsman-style homes in the area east of Fairfax Avenue and west of Plummer Park.
In early 2016, the West Hollywood City Councilmember John Duran proposed that the city conduct a survey of homes in the area bounded by Genesee Avenue on the west, Norton Avenue on the south, Gardner Street on the east and Hampton Avenue on the north. That survey found that 30 homes out of 164 were eligible for inclusion in the historic survey. These 30 homes are not clustered close enough together to create a historic district. However, the homes do quality for a “thematic grouping” designation since they all have common character-defining architectural features, in this case, Craftsman homes built in the early 20th Century.
A building determined to be in the Craftsman style would be considered a cultural resource and could not be demolished unless its owner could prove that keeping it as it is will cause him or her financial hardship. Any proposed alterations to such buildings would have to be reviewed by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.
A standing-room only crowd gathered to object to the survey, citing concerns that a thematic grouping district would lower their property values and mean city interference in their ability to renovate their homes. They argued that potential buyers might not want a house in such a district given the city restrictions connected to it. Some residents earlier had launched a website to promote their opposition to the designation.
“I don’t want any part of this, period,” said homeowner Shirley Ray.
“What’s clear here is we’re all opposed to being cultural resources,” said homeowner Matthew Valenti.
“While we’d like to protect the neighborhood, this is not the way to do it,” said resident Adam Goldworm.
“Why were my tax dollars used to commission this report, and I still haven’t heard what the benefit is to doing this?” asked resident Andrew Reback.
Residents urged the HPC to put a stop to the thematic grouping, but the commission was acting last night only as an advisory commission. The commissioners explained that the survey was just a first step toward creation of the thematic grouping district, and only the City Council can stop it. HPC’s job on Wednesday night was to decide whether the survey was properly conducted and the commissioners all agreed it was well done.
“I have absolutely nothing but praise for the methodology of this study,” said Commissioner Ed Levin. “I think it is done absolutely correctly. I think it gives City Council the information that they need from this standpoint to be able to make a decision whether to move forward or not.” Levin added that property values are a legitimate concern, but the City Council is the governmental body that would deal with that issue.
However, the commissioners also agreed that the public outreach regarding the thematic grouping was poorly handled, suggesting another public meeting be held on the matter before it goes to the City Council on April 17.
“Had the community gotten all the information that is out there in terms of policy, I don’t know that it would have swayed anybody. I just know there wouldn’t have been so much fear and anxiety,” said Commissioner Cathy Blaivas.
Levin also favored another community meeting, saying, “Council would benefit from an informed community as well as a passionate community.”
City staffers reported that two such neighborhood meetings had been already been held – one on Jan. 25 and another on Feb. 8, each drawing about 30 people. Many attendees reported they did not receive notification of any meetings, saying they only learned about the city’s plans for a thematic grouping district and Wednesday’s HPC meeting from their neighbors.
The Historic Resources Group, the consulting firm that conducted the survey, admitted the survey was limited in scope. Because it was done from the sidewalk, the surveyors only considered what they could see as grounds for inclusion. They didn’t look in backyards or behind hedges to see what might be there.
Resident Micki Mars favored the thematic grouping, reminding people what set this situation in motion in late 2015 was the neighborhood’s concern about the scheduled demolition of a single-family home at 7701 Lexington Ave. A six-unit complex was planned for the lot, and residents were concerned about its impact on parking in an area where street parking is exceptionally difficult to find. In response to those concerns, the City Council commissioned the survey and issued a moratorium on new construction until the survey was completed.
The West Hollywood Preservation Alliance also favored the thematic grouping, but recommended another town hall meeting be held.
The city already has several other thematic districts – the Old Sherman Thematic Grouping on the Westside, consisting of homes that originally housed workers of the Pacific Electric Railway; the Courtyard Thematic Grouping in Center City consisting of courtyard-style apartments; and the Plummer Park Thematic Grouping consisting of several homes and apartment buildings surrounding Plummer Park.
Commission Recommends Four More Commercial Buildings Be Considered for Historic Designation
The commission also discussed ten commercial properties which the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance is recommending for inclusion in the city’s historic commercial properties survey. These ten properties were deemed ineligible for inclusion in the historic commercial property report presented to the City Council in September 2016, but the preservation alliance was urging reconsideration.
A number of residents demanded the Macha Theatre at 1107 N. Kings Rd. at Santa Monica Boulevard, be included, citing the history that had happened there and its interior architecture, as well as the fact it is one of the last remaining buildings in the city constructed out of corrugated steel. Built in 1947, the building was originally a warehouse, but it was converted to a 99-seat theatre known as the Globe Theater in 1973. The name changed to the Macha Theater in 2008. The commission agreed the Macha might be culturally significant and was worthy of further consideration.
The commission also recommended the Viper Room music club at 8850 Sunset Blvd., at Larrabee Street, be considered because of “the events that have happened there have made it an iconic structure,” as Commissioner Yawar Charlie phrased it. It also recommended the Streetcar Commercial building at 9091 Santa Monica Blvd., at Doheny Drive, and an auto repair shop at 7496 Santa Monica Blvd., near Gardner Street, might be worthy of further study.
The commission declined to recommend the Spanish Colonial Revival style building at 8225 Sunset Blvd, near the Chateau Marmont. That building was famous for housing the Players Club supper club in the 1940s and now houses the Pink Taco restaurant. While the commission felt some of the building’s original architectural features might still be intact and merely covered by walls or additions over the years, it does not have the power to force an owner to alter a building back to the way it was, so it could not be considered.
Despite several public commenters recommending that the mid-century modern Ritts Company building at 8445 Santa Monica Blvd., beside Barney’s Beanery, be included, the commissioners agreed it had been altered significantly over the years and did not have its original architectural integrity.
They also declined to recommend the car wash at 7617 Santa Monica Blvd. (near Curson Avenue), the auto repair shop at 7935 Santa Monica Blvd. (at Hayworth Avenue), the Holloway Motel at 8465 Santa Monica Blvd. (at Holloway Street), and the Hamburger Haven at 8954 Santa Monica Blvd. (at Robertson Boulevard).
The Historic Preservation Commission held this special meeting on Wednesday because its normal meeting date of the fourth Monday of the month falls on a city holiday this month, Cesar Chavez Day.