West Hollywood Councilmember John Heilman called for the immediate demolition of Plummer Park’s Great Hall-Long Hall at Monday night’s City Council meeting as the council voted to oppose the nomination of the buildings to the National Register of Historic Places.
“I think we should authorize to do what should have been authorized previously which is to authorize them to be demolished forthwith,” said Heilman. “Allowing these decrepit buildings to remain there … is not in the best interests of the community.”
While not disputing the historic aspects of the buildings, council members voted 4-1 to oppose the nomination, saying they want maximum flexibility as they decide how to renovate the park. The city’s current plan calls for the buildings to be demolished.
The state Historical Resources Commission is scheduled to vote on that nomination at its May 1 meeting in Anaheim.
“I don’t want to take the option off the table to remove the buildings,” said Councilmember Abbe Land.
Resident Stephanie Harker, who spearheaded the Protect Plummer Park movement, was shocked by the council’s comments.
“I can’t believe that four of the five council members will demolish the WPA structures, Great Hall-Long Hall, even if they receive historic designation from the state of California and are placed on the National Registry of Historic Places,” said Harker. “But that is what they stated flat out. Their reason? They do not like the buildings. It is truly an outrage.”
Under a plan approved by the City Council in 2011, Great Hall-Long Hall would have been razed as part of a $41 million makeover of the park. The city planned to dig a 179-space underground parking garage in the center portion of the park, forcing the demolition of the buildings along with the nearby Tiny Tots pre-school building.
Construction on that project was to begin in February 2012, but public outcry forced the city to delay those plans. Since that initial delay, funding for the park makeover has also come into question.
Built in 1935 by the Depression-era Work Projects Administration (WPA), the Spanish Colonial Revival-style buildings were originally called the Plummer Park Community Clubhouse. Great Hall-Long Hall are the only WPA buildings in the city, and two of just a few WPA buildings in Los Angeles County.
“[Great Hall-Long Hall] are significant buildings with history,” said long-time WeHo resident Jeanne Dobrin. “It would be criminal to take them down.”
Councilmember John D’Amico, who cast the dissenting vote, said the buildings deserve a thorough review by the state.
“We should allow the state to tell us what we have,” said D’Amico.
D’Amico noted the city had a similar situation when it wanted to build low-income housing on the grounds of Tara, the city owned estate at 1343 Laurel Avenue. That plan for Tara was ultimately voted down.
Mayor Jeffrey Prang said the most historic thing the city could do is restore the open space of the park where Great Hall-Long Hall sit.
“The buildings take up a great deal of space that could be used for a playground for children,” said Prang. “They could be used as a place for seniors to sit under the trees and play cards or for somebody to play sports or just a place for someone to sit in the sun.”
Even if the Historic Resources Commission does approve the nomination, which it seems poised to do, the city could still demolish the buildings by making a vote of “overriding consideration.”
In a related matter, the council voted to support State Assembly Bill 981, authored by Richard Bloom, who was elected in November to represent the state’s 50th assembly district, which includes West Hollywood.
Bloom’s bill would allow cities to use bonds taken out in 2011 for redevelopment projects. The use of those bonds came into question with the state-mandated dissolution of the redevelopment agencies.
In March 2011, West Hollywood took out a $30 million bond to pay for part of the $41 million Plummer Park makeover. While none of that money has been used, the city is repaying it at an 8 percent interest rate. Under the terms of the bonds, they cannot be voided for 10 years.
City Manager Paul Arevalo said the resolution is just a procedural first step and the bill has a long way to go before the state legislature approves it.