The West Hollywood Preservation Alliance surveyed candidates in Tuesday’s election for West Hollywood City Council to get their take on historic and cultural preservation issues. Below are the responses from ten of the 12 candidates (Brian Funnagan and Christopher Landavazo did not respond).
Q. If you could have been a decision maker on the city’s Historic Preservation Commission or City Council regarding a preservation issue in the past, which issue would it have been and what would have been your position?
John.Allendorfer: I would have regarded the former Tower Records on Sunset Strip as a very significant preservation issue. My position would have been not to preserve the building but through a new structure that would inform and educate the public on its significance and outstanding contribution to the music industry. I was pleased to see that Gibson has bought the building and is planning to renovate the space by erecting a showroom for musical instruments and electronics from Gibson Brands. And hopefully the new Gibson showroom will represent the same ideals as Tower’s and make a reference to Tower’s outstanding musical past.
Larry Block: I would have saved the Streamline Moderne Building, incorporated it into the Melrose Triangle Project. Also, saving Great Hall/Long Hall has been something that I advocated in the past.
John D’Amico: There is more work to do. Development pressures in West Hollywood are stronger now than ever before. And that puts many regular buildings and historic structures at risk. We do a lot in West Hollywood to protect important historic buildings, but we do not do enough. Having the commercial historic structure survey completed will make a big difference. It will help clarify what the community and the city consider potentially historic and give those structures a fighting chance in this development pressured environment.
Joe Guardarrama: As a Planning Commissioner, we often reviewed sites after the Historic Preservation Commission had already reviewed them, so I am familiar with the position your hypothetical suggests. The issue that I would bring up would be Tara, a building for which I voted “no” to the creation of a large building behind it, which would have taken away from its special character. The Tara structure was a great house that needed to be preserved in its original state, and I was relieved and vindicated when the Supreme Court sided with those of us who were for the preservation of Tara, helping to save one of the great pieces of history in West Hollywood.
John Heilman: I helped initiate and adopt West Hollywood’s Historic Preservation Ordinance. I also helped designate almost every building which has historic status in the City of West Hollywood. I would like to see us improve the objectivity of the standards for declaring a building historic so we minimize disputes about what should be designated a cultural resource and what should not qualify.
Lindsey Horvath: I would have liked to see Plummer House remain in West Hollywood. It seems a bit ridiculous to have it so far away from us, especially since the contextual history for the building is in our city.
James “Duke” Mason: That’s a very good question, as there are many examples of decisions I wish could’ve been made differently. I could list various popular examples that are well-known and close to the hearts of many in the West Hollywood preservation community, but I’ll use one that speaks to me on a very personal level. The Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset was a restaurant that my family had been going to since it first opened back in the 1960’s. Every celebrity imaginable used to frequent the place; Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Lucille Ball, and the list goes on. Its iconic Tap Room was a place of legend. I grew up going there, appreciating the historic legacy of the restaurant and considering many of its employees to be my family.
In 2011, in an abrupt announcement, the owners of the restaurant announced that it had to close down because, with its 20-year lease up, the Mani Brothers, the owners of the building, had decided to arbitrarily triple their rent without any consideration of the history of the restaurant or its history within the community. When I heard this news, I reached out to the City Council to see if there was anything we could do, even just to try and at least perhaps preserve the structures of the Tap Room. “There’s nothing we can do,” I was told, even though that clearly was not a real answer. Of course the Council wasn’t willing to do anything as the Mani Brothers had given $3 million in contributions to the West Hollywood Library project. That situation, in fact, is one of the main reasons I’m running for Council, because I don’t believe any of our city’s cultural resources should disappear because of the greed or influence of developers. We’re better than that, and if I’m elected to the Council, I’ll do everything I can to govern by that principle.
Lauren Meister: I would like to have been on the Commission when it was deciding on new windows for El Mirador. I would have voted for allowing the new windows. Perhaps we would have saved the building from being Ellised AND we would still have affordable rent-stabilized units. The way the Commission, and the city in general, handled El Mirador was a total fiasco.
Matt Ralston: The Tower Records building should have been granted preservation status. It truly is a historical monument in the sense of the word. Their excuse that it had been painted is lame in my opinion. They just want another development there. I would have voted to preserve it and rallied the community. Same goes for the Mirabelle Room and what is now the House of Blues, among others. Great Hall could have been fixed up long ago. It’s almost like they wanted it to get as shabby as possible to justify being torn down.
Tristan Schukraft: The two issues that stand out the most are Tara House and Plummer Park, both of which should never have been an issue. When Elsie Weisman donated Tara House to the city with the stipulation that the city preserve the property and do no further development on the site, those wishes should have been honored without debate. As far as Plummer Park, Great Hall/Long Hall can and should be preserved and plans can be changed to create open spaces in other areas.
What do you see as the biggest impediment to and the greatest opportunity for preserving West Hollywood’s historic, architectural, and cultural resources?
Allendorfer: The biggest impediment would be developers who ignore the past history of West Hollywood and the greatest opportunities also come from developers who respect the history of the city and to showcase that. Also the residents can in every election vote for candidates who want to keep a significant historical part of the city visible.
Block: The greatest opportunity is to find our local treasures and submit applications to preserve these buildings BEFORE the building is sold or a demolition permit is issued. The biggest impediment is that our Historic Commission is not pro-active. In my view the Historic Preservation Commission should be in the business of finding and preserving the buildings in the city that should be granted an historic status. Why wait?
D’Amico: Our big challenge right now is to create an environment at city hall and within the city council that makes it clear that we are a city that wants thoughtful policies and thoughtful development that does not destroy our interesting history – and in turn protects not just our historic buildings but our livable urban village. A council that was more interested in smarter development and adaptive reuse would immediately change the dialogue around what we preserve and what we allow to be removed.
Guardarrama: One of the great problems we run into in West Hollywood is that many believe that “progress” necessitates the demolition of our past. We tear down beautiful buildings that represent the history of this city (and this area as a whole, before it even became a city) rather than restoring and repurposing these buildings to preserve our architectural heritage. Instead, we need to be actively looking for opportunities to save buildings – whether they are officially designated as “historic” or not – and repurpose them to serve the City’s changing needs.
Heilman: Almost all of our really significant buildings are already designated. The biggest impediment to preserving these buildings is the significant cost to maintain historical properties. Adaptive re-use is an opportunity for some properties but re-use can result in displacement of existing tenants if the cultural resource is a rental property.
Horvath: I think our historic designation standards are confusing, so West Hollywood stakeholders might not have a clear understanding of the value of historic buildings. I would like to see more community education about preservation standards and guidelines, as well as the importance of our cultural resources that contribute to the richness of our community. One of the most pressing opportunities for preservation is El Mirador, which I will do everything I can to protect and preserve as a West Hollywood landmark.
Mason: I think, quite frankly, that the rising rents and overrun development are what is destroying the historic, architectural, and cultural integrity of our city. As outlined above, a lot of the longstanding institutions in our city have been closed down because they just couldn’t afford to stay open, from places like the Hamlet on Sunset to the Different Light Bookstore on Santa Monica Boulevard. There is zero limit or accountability when it comes to how much the landlords can increase the rent on these businesses when the lease is up, and it’s tearing at the fabric of who we are as a city. When it comes to development, so many of our city’s most historically significant buildings have been torn down by developers and a city government who are all too eager to build, build, build. Because West Hollywood is so small in size, it’s impossible to find anywhere new to build, and so they do away with many of the historic structures that in my mind are the very reason that many people choose to live in or visit West Hollywood in the first place.
In terms of our greatest opportunity, I think there are several. I think passing small business rent control would be an enormously significant milestone in terms of protecting our longstanding small businesses. I think having a Council member (such as myself!) who will appoint staunch historic preservationists to the Historic Preservation Commission and the Planning Commission would be a huge advantage. I think doing as much as we can to weaken the Ellis Act, and eventually repealing it on a stateside level, would be a big priority as it’s one of the main tools developers use to buy older buildings and throw out the tenants to make way for building new structures. Those are just a few of the things I would fight for if I were on the Council.
Meister: The greatest impediment is: (1) we have a Council majority that doesn’t seem to care about preservation; (2) we have no staff dedicated to preservation (only); (3) the city doesn’t budget enough money for preservation.
There are several great opportunities for preserving West Hollywood’s historic, architectural and cultural resources provided you have a Council majority that believes in preservation: (1) conduct more frequent assessments of historic resources; (2) the city could offer grants, low-cost and no-cost loans for historic properties to be maintained and upgraded to current standards; (3) if property owners want “out” of the rental business, the city could pursue finding a community housing partner or foundations (e.g., SAG) to buy the property and keep aging tenants in place; (4) with the rise of short-term rentals such as those found in AirBnB – being able to stay/vacation in a neighborhood rather than in a hotel on the Sunset Strip seems to be increasing in popularity, so, depending on the location and parking availability, converting a historic building into a bed and breakfast or urban inn to make it viable might also be an option; (5) educate property owners on tax benefits they can receive such as through the Mills Act.
Ralston: We need to incentivize the owners of the buildings to preserve. El Mirador had some issues because the Council essentially penalized the owner of the building for trying to preserve. We should also be working to grant status to buildings prior to the threat of demolition. That is how I feel, from my research I know it’s easier said than done, but I feel we (meaning the Commission) should be taking a more proactive approach.
I would work to appoint people aligned with your organization’s beliefs to the Commission. If we get the wrong people on the Council, they’ll be inclined to appoint people who say “bring out the wrecking balls.” With this election, and the one in June, I think our opportunities and impediments lie in the results.
Schukraft: West Hollywood’s rich history is one of the things that drew me here. Its historic landmarks drive tourism, film and more importantly make West Hollywood an inviting place to live and creates a sense of community pride. I recognize that with each building and/or district under review there may be a difference of opinion within the community, and each opinion must be heard with an eye to what is best for the people of West Hollywood.
I think the greatest impediment is property rights vs. historical significance and finally the cost associated with maintaining such landmarks. I am in full support of saving properties of recognized historic significance, which I think the city should identify now as well as creating programs to help property owners of such properties with the costs of preservation.
For those buildings that don’t meet the city’s preservation ordinances, I’d like developers to integrate the old with the new as the owners of Laurel Hardware have done.
Great Hall/Long Hall in Plummer Park have earned historic status at the federal and state level, but at the local level they have been threatened with either being moved or demolished. What do you think about this ongoing controversy and how would you resolve it?
Allendorfer: I believe Great Hall/Long Hall should be preserved and adaptive reuse of the historic structure put in place. I believe there should be an option for redevelopment of the park by naming a “design steering committee” and again strong community input.
Block: I think that the days or thought to demolish Great Hall/Long Hall are behind us. As you know the building is now going to be used once again for meetings. And, as you know we also lost the redevelopment dollars. I’m sure at some point in the future new plans will arise for Plummer Park but I’m also confident that the charm and character of the park will be part of the new plan. In addition, should it ever come down to it, a transparent, open, community-oriented visioning process would be something to help bring the whole community together in any new Plummer Park of the future. On top of that I am pro parking on the Fountain side. And I love the dirt road parking lot. Hope it stays that way.
D’Amico: There is plenty of park space for us to achieve our goals. Saving GH/LH and having more green space, a new space for the preschool and for grandmas and grandpas, keeping the tennis courts and having more parking, play areas and a dog park, having an open design and visioning process and acknowledging that there has been much work done in the past – all of this is possible and more. Once we have a full council in place in June we can move forward with the process for renovating the park. The struggles over the past years have been regrettable. With some new faces I believe we can get the work done in the right way.
Guardarrama: I am resolutely opposed to the demolition of Plummer Park. I have stated many times publicly, including at the Chamber’s candidates forum, that Plummer Park – specifically Great Hall/Long Hall – need to be refurbished and preserved, rather than moved. These buildings serve as a quintessential example of the Spanish architecture of the area’s founders, and we need to ensure that future generations can enjoy it. Additionally, I am adamantly opposed to any plan that would move or transplant any of the old-growth trees within the park. These trees are as much a part of the landscape as Great Hall / Long Hall, and it is essential that they are protected.
Heilman: I’ve been clear and consistent on my position regarding Plummer Park. Fiesta Hall is the most significant property in the P\park. It should be rehabilitated and upgraded. Great Hall and Long Hall are not worth preserving. The community needs more park space.
Horvath: The first step in protecting historic buildings is to make the standards for designation consistent and to help educate the community about what those standards are. Plummer Park has been an important cultural resource for the Eastside of West Hollywood, especially for Russian-speaking families. I’m quite frustrated by the current process, as it has caused a lot of fear and confusion for the neighborhood. The most recent plan for Plummer Park no longer has a funding mechanism, so it cannot move forward. Unless the city identifies available funding for park improvements AND the community wishes to move or remove the building, there is no reason to discuss the demolition of Great Hall/Long Hall. Should funding become available, I would support a process like The Avenues Streetscape Redesign, which included pop-up community events and engaged dialogue with the neighborhood, but would also be completely bilingual to make sure all voices are heard.
Mason: To put it simply: Great Hall/Long Hall should remain where they are and as they are. This is a debate that has gone on for way too long, and the answer from the community as to how they want to handle this is resoundingly clear.
Meister: I believe the city should preserve Plummer Park, and I thank the founders of Protect Plummer Park – Cathy Blaivas and Stephanie Harker – for their perseverance in protecting the park. What they advocated for was putting the brakes on plans to scrape the park, demolish historic Great Hall/Long Hall, and destroy 56 old-growth and heritage trees. I’m proud to have worked with Cathy and Stephanie on this effort as they organized the community to find its voice on this issue.
Plummer Park was designated a state historic landmark by the state of California nearly 60 years ago. More recently, the state of California officially designated the 1938 WPA “Community Clubhouse” — Great Hall/Long Hall — as historic, and it was subsequently placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C.
Great Hall/Long Hall are buildings with an abundant history. Not only did these buildings host the Audubon Society and the Russian Library for many years, but Great Hall/Long Hall was also the location where the Los Angeles chapter of the international advocacy group ACT UP met during the AIDS crisis.
According to our city’s general plan, “Historic preservation is an important component of West Hollywood’s urban landscape and culture… the City values and seeks to recognize its built environment, its history, and its culture.” These are three good reasons to preserve Plummer Park, and they’re not the only reasons… we also have the matter of the old-growth and heritage trees, which would have been destroyed had Protect Plummer Park not intervened.
Plummer Park is a true neighborhood park – and for all its supposed faults, this park works! Does this mean no changes for Plummer Park? Not necessarily. It’s up to the community to come up with a new plan — one that honors the history of Plummer Park, our historic buildings and our natural resources.
Ralston: I think it’s pathetic our state and federal government would recognize it and we in our own city can’t make it happen. I side with Protect Plummer Park. Again, unfortunately, it will either be preserved or immediately called for demolition depending on who is elected. Council should be lobbying hard to designate all of our iconic buildings as Monuments. We need to commission a new survey first of all so we can know that public opinion is on our side. This is something which has never been done properly.
Schukraft: People have been talking about modifying the park for 20 years now. It’s time to reach out to the community and get a consensus on what should be included and excluded. I think we can preserve the Great Hall/Long Hall and look for other areas for open space, and I believe the same is true for the proposed parking structure. I don’t think it makes sense to remove old-growth trees when talking about beautifying a park. The park is for the community, so it needs to meet the needs of the community.
The Factory, a site especially important to the history of West Hollywood’s LGBT community, is being slated for demolition and replacement with a large hotel and stores. What do you think about this plan?
Allendorfer: I first want to recall many happy years dancing at the Factory and before that Studio One. I believe the building should be slated for demolition. I could see replacing it with structures that would accommodate a hotel and stores especially being so close to the bars and restaurants in that part of town and overall a revenue producing site. Also there might be some avenue for expression in a structure for the performing arts, like live theater, dance, art gallery, etc.
Block: Ahh. This is a tough one. As you might remember at that meeting Jason Illoulian, the developer, agreed to put a “Studio One” club in the new structure and even agreed to preserve the tin tiles and re-use them as part of the new structure. This is a quandary because I grew up at the Factory. It has great history, but I’ve always thought that this building was going to fall down when all the boys were dancing – you can feel the floor shake. The space is legendary for its tenants and has some historic elements but the building is in need of great repair. This reminds me of the Tower Records building where it would have appeared that a portion of that space should have been preserved. I think as a city we can do more to honor the history of these types of structures. But in essence, development of these properties should keep in mind the history and incorporate as much of it as possible in the new plans.
D’Amico: I have seen some preliminary drawings and I think we need to be very careful as this will set the standard in both directions both for what should be preserved and what we can let go. LGBT history is notoriously easy to make disappear. It was only this year that the Department of the Interior announced the National Park Services LGBT History initiative, and I think we need to be very clear that the history of LGBT people and our historic spaces in West Hollywood are just as important as the recent gains in civil rights that we have seen.
Guardarrama: The Factory is an enormously important site which represents an important part of our cultural history. I would champion the idea of finding a way to maintain the Factory’s cultural integrity while still serving the needs of West Hollywood in 2015 and beyond.
Heilman: The Factory may come before the City Council in the near future. I do not want to prejudice any matter that might come before the City Council. The building which contained the Factory is not particularly significant from an architectural standpoint. The issue which will have to be decided is whether the activities that occurred in the building are sufficient to justify preserving the building itself or whether some other recognition of that history should be considered. As someone who went to the various nightclubs operated in the space, I understand the important memories that the site provides for many people in the community, especially members of the LGBT community.
Horvath: The Factory is a landmark for West Hollywood and the LGBT community. While I am not familiar with ALL of the details for the plan, I do know that anything approved for that site must embrace and honor the culture and history of that landmark. A lot of change has come to the Westside of West Hollywood , and I don’t want us to wake up one day to no longer recognize our community – or, even worse, realize that we’ve lost our culture.
Mason: I believe, at the very least, that we should make sure as much of the existing structure is incorporated into the new design as possible. The developers may say it’s too expensive or time consuming for them to do that, but that’s not an acceptable reason for me. If they want to build something that changes an establishment that has long been an iconic symbol of West Hollywood culture, then they need to satisfy our pragmatic, reasonable concerns.
Meister: There are many examples of historic and culturally relevant properties being incorporated into new development in other cities. Our city claims that historic preservation is a priority in the general plan and also advocates for adaptive reuse in its climate action plan, but, unfortunately, does not appear to encourage practice of what it preaches.
Hopefully the DEIR will analyze and assess the Factory fairly to determine its status as a cultural and/or historic resource. If it is found to be significant, then the developer should consider incorporating the building or some portion of the building into the plan for Robertson Lane AND the city should consider some incentives for the developer to do so.
Ralston: Tragic. If we continue demolishing our history, West Hollywood will have no heart or soul. We won’t be separated from any other city in America and will resemble just another drab chain store ghost town. People come here because we are unique. It is short sighted to think these developments will help us economically. Maybe a few dollars in the short term, but our city will cease to be a destination once it has been stripped of all authenticity. Only a handful of people benefit when this happens, and the people lose. We need to zone so small businesses can thrive. Not open our doors to outside developers who will simply suck the money out of our community. We need someone to stand up to them. I can say No. So I’d appreciate your vote.
Schukraft: I agree that something socially and culturally significant has happened at The Factory (several things), but it’s unclear at this point if the building has retained its original “integrity” to meet the city’s preservation ordinances, which states that it has to still look like it did when those culturally significant events took place.
The Factory represents a lot of fond memories for many. I never made it to Studio One, but I’ve had several memorable nights there, and nights I don’t remember at all. All kidding aside, I’d like to see it saved. If this is not possible then I would like to see the structure integrated into the plans with a permanent exhibit dedicated to its rich history.