NOTE: An earlier version of this story failed to note the opposition at an earlier meeting of three Historic Preservation commissioners to the proposal to designate a building on Norton Avenue as historically significant because it was said to have been the home of Jim Morrison. Those who opposed that designation were Allegra Allison, Edward Levin and Gail Ostergren. They agreed to let the proposal go forward to the West Hollywood City Council, which will decide whether to approve the designation. The story has been updated to reflect this additional information.
Members of the West Hollywood Historic Preservation Commission last night expressed doubts about whether a plan to incorporate the building housing the former Irv’s Burgers into the adjacent Beach Nation would adequately preserve the culturally designated burger stand. And several expressed doubts about whether that historic designation is still deserved.
Beach Nation is an outdoor cafe on the northeast corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Sweetzer. Its owners asked the Commission for permission to build a storage area, enclose part of the outdoor patio and build an outdoor dining counter at Irv’s Burgers, effectively making Irv’s a kitchen for Beach Nation. They had to seek the Commission’s approval because West Hollywood in 2005 designated the hamburger stand as a cultural resource, noting that it was one of the last such stands on the historic Route 66. The burger stand was built in 1947.
The features of Irv’s Burgers that were determined to define its character included its corrugated roof, open patio and lunch counter and a large sign that now says “Irv’s Burgers.” The Beach Nation proposal included restoring the corrugated roof and keeping a sign identifying the building as a burger stand. But several Commission members questioned whether other changes would integrate the burger stand into Beach Nation so much that it would lose its separate identity.
“If you want to make cohesive site here, you don’t do it by trying to make Irv’s into Beach Nation,” said Commissioner Edward Levin. “In the proposal, Irv’s won’t be a freestanding burger joint with an automotive feel. on Route 66. If this proposal succeeds the building no longer should be designated historic.”
Commissioners Allegra Allison and Gail Ostergren also said that some of the proposed changes would reduce the burger stand’s integrity as a freestanding structure. Ostergren cited adding the storage area and the enclosure of the open patio as well as using material such as stainless steel for the burger counter, which now is made of tile. Allison, newly appointed to the Commission, said she likely would never have voted to designate the building historic, given the changes that have been made to it since its original construction. “This really was a ‘feel good’ designation,” Levin said. “I don’t think that it’s the worst possible outcome to delist the building.”
The Commission agreed to continue its consideration of the proposal to its regularly scheduled meeting in October to give the Beach Nation owners time to come back with a revised proposal that addresses their concerns.
The Hong family, owners of Irv’s Burgers, were evicted last year by Standard Oil Investment Management, the owner of the lot on which both Beach Nation and the burger stand sit. Standard Oil had proposed increasing the Hong’s rent from $4,250 to $7,000 a month and making them pay for improvements to bring the property up to city building standards.
The eviction was controversial, leading to protests among local residents and an objection by City Councilmember Jeffry Prang. Early this year Irv’s moved to 7998 Santa Monica Blvd. near North Laurel.
In other matters, the Commission approved a petition by the owner of the Fountain Lanai apartment building at 1285 Sweetzer Ave. at Fountain to reduce his property taxes for ten years while he renovates that building, which has been designated historically significant.
That building was designed by Edward Fickett. Fickett, who died in 1999, designed more than 60,000 houses in a style that came to be known as California Modernism. The Fountain Lanai is one of only five of the 37 Fickett buildings still standing in West Hollywood.
According to a document presented to the Commission, the owner plans to spend $542,00 over the next ten years repairing the building’s balcony parapets, repair or replacing decks, repainting exterior walls and replacing damaged siding as well as installing new plumbing and a new electrical system. By granting his request, which was made under the provisions of a state law known as the Mills Act, he will save $275,000 in property taxes over that ten-year period.
The Commission also agreed to designate an apartment building at 8214-8218 W. Norton Ave. between Fountain and Santa Monica as an historic resource. With that designation the owner will be able to evict her current rent-controlled tenants and turn the five-unit building into a four-unit bed and breakfast inn, which otherwise is not permitted in that residential neighborhood.
Cheri Woods, the building’s owner, had applied this spring to have the building designated an historic resource, claiming that Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, and his girlfriend, Pamela Courson, lived in the building from the summer of 1969 to March 1971.
According to stories published in the Los Angeles Independent and the Los Angeles Times in 2005, Woods already was renting out a two-bedroom apartment in the building for short stays that she claimed had been inhabited by Morrison. In an interview with the Independent, Woods said she rented the bedroom for $200 a night. Such rentals would be a violation of the city’s zoning ordinance.
In that interview Woods also contends that Morrison, who was found dead in 1971 in Paris of an apparent drug overdose, actually is still alive and is hiding with the help of the FBI.
“Jim Morrison really is alive,” Woods told the Independent. “He is living with his girlfriend in the middle of nowhere. He still smokes pot and drinks beer. The last time I talked to him, he told me he wanted to meet Billy Idol and that he liked the way Val Kilmer portrayed him in the film The Doors.”
While Woods’ proposal was approved by the Commission, three Commissioners at a previous meeting — Allegra Allison, Edward Levin and Gail Ostergren — had argued against it. Questions were raised about Morrison’s actual connection with the building and about the importance of that in designating it as an historical or cultural resource. The proposal now will go before the West Hollywood City Council for final approval or rejection.