In a surprising move, the West Hollywood City Council voted 3 to 2 Monday to proceed with plans to demolish the historically designated Great Hall / Long Hall buildings in Plummer Park .
The vote came as the council considered a proposal by Councilmember John D’Amico to perform emergency repairs to the buildings and reopen them for public use until a final decision could be made about their fate.
Instead the council directed the city manager to come back at its Jan. 21 meeting with a plan for demolishing Great Hall / Long Hall as well as the Tiny Tots pre-school building. At that meeting the council will take a final vote on the demolition.
Residents attending the meeting criticized the council for not giving the public notice that demolition of the building would be considered.
“You just voted on something that was not brought before us,” said Stephanie Harker, who heads a citizen group called Protect Plummer Park, during a public comment period following the vote. “The entire community has been left out.”
“This is a very strange process, one that you will have a very hard time explaining to your constituents,” said Steve Martin, a former council member. “You should be embarrassed.”
D’Amico was equally surprised by the turn of events.
“I don’t think it was our finest hour,” he told WEHOville after the meeting. “It shows how hostile some members of the council are to the community. The thing I’m most surprised about was how hostile it was. I’m really sad that the community process once again was aborted. I’m not sure why.”
About 20 residents spoke in favor of D’Amico’s proposal to reopen Great Hall / Long Hall, which was closed to the public in November 2011 in preparation for the city’s plan to build a 179-space underground parking garage in the center of the park as part of a $41 million park renovation. That redesign called for the demolition of Great Hall / Long Hall as well as the preschool building. The redevelopment plan also called for renovating the Spanish Colonial Revival-style Fiesta Hall as a performance center with futuristic architecture.
Under D’Amico’s proposal, the city would have used Great Hall / Long Hall as a rehearsal space for local non-profit theatre companies, as a meeting space for local community groups and as individual studio spaces for up to 10 artists with West Hollywood ties. D’Amico also proposed that an art gallery be created in the hall and that the city install a plaque on the 75-year-old building commemorating its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
The city’s redevelopment plan suffered a setback in February of last year when the State of California dissolved local redevelopment agencies, removing a source of funding that West Hollywood was counting on to help finance the project. The city planned to finance the Plummer Park renovations with $14 million in redevelopment money and $27 million in bond money. In March 2011, the city issued $30 million in bond for the project at an 8 percent interest rate to be paid back over 30 years ($3 million of that bond money was set aside for the cost of issuing the bonds and for repayment of the debt not covered by the redevelopment funds). The state Department of Finance in December denied an appeal by the city of the decision.
Council members John Duran and John Heilman and Mayor Abbe Land voted for the demolition on Monday night, saying the park needs more green space. Council members D’Amico and Jeffrey Prang voted against the demolition. During much of the discussion, the council members avoiding using the word “demolition,” instead saying they were in favor of proceeding with the creation of the “Great Lawn” proposed in the park master plan. That Great Lawn would be in the area where Great Hall / Long Hall now sits.
D’Amico pointed out what they meant. “To be clear, you’re talking about the demolition of the buildings,” he said.
In April, Heilman called for the immediate demolition of the buildings, saying they were decrepit, an embarrassment to the city and reeked of urine.