ACT UP is joining the fight to save Great Hall-Long Hall in Plummer Park from demolition.
Members of the long dormant Los Angeles chapter of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power turned out at Wednesday night’s meeting of the Public Facilities Commission to protest the possible destruction of the Great Hall-Long Hall buildings. The international advocacy group was instrumental in pushing the United States government to act on the AIDS crisis and find effective treatment medication in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Its LA chapter met at Great Hall-Long Hall weekly from 1987 to 1996.
“I will chain myself to the building before a wrecking ball hits it,” said ACT UP member James Rosen, evoking images of one of the public protest methods ACT UP used in the past.
“We packed Great Hall every Monday night,” said Helene Schpack, another ACT UP member who said that 250 people often showed up each week and that the city waived all fees for use of the space. “An enormous amount of social history happened in that building.”
The ACT UP members, along with other members of Protect Plummer Park and the newly formed West Hollywood Preservation Alliance, were responding to Councilmember John Heilman’s call for the immediate demolition of the 77-year-old buildings during the April 1 West Hollywood City Council meeting.
The Public Facilities Commission reviews proposed development at all West Hollywood parks. However, at this point the park’s future is up to the City Council, whose plan to renovate the park, despite protests from community members, stalled earlier this year when redevelopment funds were denied from the state.
During a discussion about a possible designation of the Great Hall-Long Hall to the National Register of Historic Places, Heilman called the buildings “decrepit” and “horrible” and called for their destruction “forthwith.”
“The lack of respect that John Heilman had the other evening is appalling to me,” said ACT UP member David Reid, who added that Heilman is his friend. “There’s a lot of dead bodies in this town that had meetings in those halls. It’s historic to West Hollywood. It’s historic to Los Angeles. ACT UP LA was founded there. To say that ACT UP had no influence in our society is an insult to a lot of souls that have passed this way.”
On April 1, the City Council voted 4-1 to oppose the Historic Register nomination. Council members said they want maximum flexibility to decide how to renovate Plummer Park.
“I would think it’s an honor to have the nomination,” said resident Chloe Ross. “Turning it down is kind of like refusing an invitation to the White House.”
However, even if the state commission approves the designation at its May 1 meeting in Anaheim, that doesn’t guarantee protection for the buildings. The City Council could still demolish the buildings by voting for an “overriding consideration.”
Many people who spoke during Wednesday’s public comment period ridiculed Heilman’s statement that the courtyard between the buildings “smells of urine.” Some said that the stairwells of the new parking deck in West Hollywood Park also reek of urine and that homeless people are routinely seen peeing in public.
“The city has a much bigger urination issue to address than the demolition of Great Hall-Long Hall,” said resident Laura Boccaletti.
A number of residents also said that the city has failed to perform needed upkeep on Great Hall-Long Hall, the only two buildings in the city that were built by the Depression-era Work Projects Administration (WPA). Boccaletti claimed the city was using “intentional neglect” to justify the demolition.
Public Facilities commissioners Elyse Eisenberg and Cole Ettman said they were upset by Heilman’s comments and urged residents to write letters directly to the state Historic Resources Commission supporting the nomination.