Residents Object to Craftsman Designation of Eastside Homes

There was anger and outrage at Wednesday night’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) meeting as West Hollywood’s Eastside residents protested the city’s plans to create a “thematic grouping” district of Craftsman-style homes in the area east of Fairfax Avenue and west of Plummer Park.

In early 2016, the West Hollywood City Councilmember John Duran proposed that the city conduct a survey of homes in the area bounded by Genesee Avenue on the west, Norton Avenue on the south, Gardner Street on the east and Hampton Avenue on the north. That survey found that 30 homes out of 164 were eligible for inclusion in the historic survey. These 30 homes are not clustered close enough together to create a historic district. However, the homes do quality for a “thematic grouping” designation since they all have common character-defining architectural features, in this case, Craftsman homes built in the early 20th Century.

craftsman house
Craftsman-style house

A building determined to be in the Craftsman style would be considered a cultural resource and could not be demolished unless its owner could prove that keeping it as it is will cause him or her financial hardship. Any proposed alterations to such buildings would have to be reviewed by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.

A standing-room only crowd gathered to object to the survey, citing concerns that a thematic grouping district would lower their property values and mean city interference in their ability to renovate their homes. They argued that potential buyers might not want a house in such a district given the city restrictions connected to it. Some residents earlier had launched a website to promote their opposition to the designation.

“I don’t want any part of this, period,” said homeowner Shirley Ray.

“What’s clear here is we’re all opposed to being cultural resources,” said homeowner Matthew Valenti.

“While we’d like to protect the neighborhood, this is not the way to do it,” said resident Adam Goldworm.

“Why were my tax dollars used to commission this report, and I still haven’t heard what the benefit is to doing this?” asked resident Andrew Reback.

historic preservation, craftsman, thematic, west hollywood
Standing room only at WeHo’s Historic Preservation Commission meeting Wednesday. (Photo by James Mills)

Residents urged the HPC to put a stop to the thematic grouping, but the commission was acting last night only as an advisory commission. The commissioners explained that the survey was just a first step toward creation of the thematic grouping district, and only the City Council can stop it. HPC’s job on Wednesday night was to decide whether the survey was properly conducted and the commissioners all agreed it was well done.

“I have absolutely nothing but praise for the methodology of this study,” said Commissioner Ed Levin. “I think it is done absolutely correctly. I think it gives City Council the information that they need from this standpoint to be able to make a decision whether to move forward or not.” Levin added that property values are a legitimate concern, but the City Council is the governmental body that would deal with that issue.

However, the commissioners also agreed that the public outreach regarding the thematic grouping was poorly handled, suggesting another public meeting be held on the matter before it goes to the City Council on April 17.

“Had the community gotten all the information that is out there in terms of policy, I don’t know that it would have swayed anybody. I just know there wouldn’t have been so much fear and anxiety,” said Commissioner Cathy Blaivas.

Levin also favored another community meeting, saying, “Council would benefit from an informed community as well as a passionate community.”

City staffers reported that two such neighborhood meetings had been already been held – one on Jan. 25 and another on Feb. 8, each drawing about 30 people. Many attendees reported they did not receive notification of any meetings, saying they only learned about the city’s plans for a thematic grouping district and Wednesday’s HPC meeting from their neighbors.

The Historic Resources Group, the consulting firm that conducted the survey, admitted the survey was limited in scope. Because it was done from the sidewalk, the surveyors only considered what they could see as grounds for inclusion. They didn’t look in backyards or behind hedges to see what might be there.

Resident Micki Mars favored the thematic grouping, reminding people what set this situation in motion in late 2015 was the neighborhood’s concern about the scheduled demolition of a single-family home at 7701 Lexington Ave. A six-unit complex was planned for the lot, and residents were concerned about its impact on parking in an area where street parking is exceptionally difficult to find. In response to those concerns, the City Council commissioned the survey and issued a moratorium on new construction until the survey was completed.

The West Hollywood Preservation Alliance also favored the thematic grouping, but recommended another town hall meeting be held.

The city already has several other thematic districts – the Old Sherman Thematic Grouping on the Westside, consisting of homes that originally housed workers of the Pacific Electric Railway; the Courtyard Thematic Grouping in Center City consisting of courtyard-style apartments; and the Plummer Park Thematic Grouping consisting of several homes and apartment buildings surrounding Plummer Park.

Commission Recommends Four More Commercial Buildings Be Considered for Historic Designation

The commission also discussed ten commercial properties which the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance is recommending for inclusion in the city’s historic commercial properties survey. These ten properties were deemed ineligible for inclusion in the historic commercial property report presented to the City Council in September 2016, but the preservation alliance was urging reconsideration.

A number of residents demanded the Macha Theatre at 1107 N. Kings Rd. at Santa Monica Boulevard, be included, citing the history that had happened there and its interior architecture, as well as the fact it is one of the last remaining buildings in the city constructed out of corrugated steel. Built in 1947, the building was originally a warehouse, but it was converted to a 99-seat theatre known as the Globe Theater in 1973. The name changed to the Macha Theater in 2008.  The commission agreed the Macha might be culturally significant and was worthy of further consideration.

The commission also recommended the Viper Room music club at 8850 Sunset Blvd., at Larrabee Street, be considered because of “the events that have happened there have made it an iconic structure,” as Commissioner Yawar Charlie phrased it. It also recommended the Streetcar Commercial building at 9091 Santa Monica Blvd., at Doheny Drive, and an auto repair shop at 7496 Santa Monica Blvd., near Gardner Street, might be worthy of further study.

The commission declined to recommend the Spanish Colonial Revival style building at 8225 Sunset Blvd, near the Chateau Marmont. That building was famous for housing the Players Club supper club in the 1940s and now houses the Pink Taco restaurant. While the commission felt some of the building’s original architectural features might still be intact and merely covered by walls or additions over the years, it does not have the power to force an owner to alter a building back to the way it was, so it could not be considered.

Despite several public commenters recommending that the mid-century modern Ritts Company building at 8445 Santa Monica Blvd., beside Barney’s Beanery, be included, the commissioners agreed it had been altered significantly over the years and did not have its original architectural integrity.

They also declined to recommend the car wash at 7617 Santa Monica Blvd. (near Curson Avenue), the auto repair shop at 7935 Santa Monica Blvd. (at Hayworth Avenue), the Holloway Motel at 8465 Santa Monica Blvd. (at Holloway Street), and the Hamburger Haven at 8954 Santa Monica Blvd. (at Robertson Boulevard).

The Historic Preservation Commission held this special meeting on Wednesday because its normal meeting date of the fourth Monday of the month falls on a city holiday this month, Cesar Chavez Day.

  1. This neighborhood is NOT Spaulding Square (which is just north of it). It is mostly interspersed by large apartment buildings from the 70s and the potentially designated homes are mostly not contiguous. The tax benefits touted for historic districts are mostly negligible unless you have very recently purchased your home. Many of the homeowners in my neighborhood are long time owners who would not see any tax benefits from historic designation.

  2. Chris – I think the residents of my neighborhood would have had a lot to say had there been more outreach and input from them prior to enacting a moratorium and conducting a survey. We would have preferred to discuss all available options (e.g. design standards possibilities?) than having a single option (thematic grouping) shoved down our collective throats. The homeowners in opposition to this effort are not anti-preservation (we like our homes and want to stay) – we just want to be able to change our doors, paint colors, update the curb appeal of our home without having to go through the red tape and extra hoops that a thematic grouping historic designation would entail.

  3. If Spaulding Square can be an example – with tax benefits included for the homeowners, then I’m in. As an owner of a one of the few remaining Colonial Craftsmans in West Hollywood I appreciate the city’s attempt to save us from complete destruction.

  4. The wenesday night was a waste of time.
    The commissioners could do nothing and they just had praise for the group that did the survey.
    Their attitude was blatantly pedantic toward the property owners, suggesting that we are misinformed and we need to be more educated on this matter.
    They should know that no matter how much information we get we will still be against
    This proposal.
    I’d like to thank Antonio and the commissioner lady that questioned the lack of outreach to the community for Having the courtesy of being presentable and well mannered.

  5. Also to clarify, the homeowner who wanted to tear down his home at the corner of Spaulding & Lexington was going to replace it with TWO units, TWO individual homes with four parking spaces. Not six units as is stated in this article.

  6. I was unable to attend the meeting this week but below is the letter I sent to City Council, the Historic Preservation Commission and City Staff:
    Dear Honorable Mayor, Councilmembers, Commissioners and City Staff:

    I am writing to express my thoughts and concerns as they pertain to the proposed “Early 20th Century Residential Thematic District”. I am not saying I am in favor or nor am I saying I am opposed to the proposed district, but I have concerns.

    I am a 16+ year resident of the Eastside (1233 Genesee, outside the boundaries of the proposed district) and have spent a lot of work, elbow grease…. and heavy check writing to restore the two 1922 Craftsman bungalows on my property, so I “get” the value of historic preservation. I served on the Eastside Project Area Committee, have served as a member of the Disability Advisory Board, as a member of the Human Services Commission, I currently serve as an at-large appointee to the Rent Stabilization Commission and also volunteer at the West Hollywood Sheriff’s station. I think I can say with confidence that I am deeply invested in West Hollywood and in particular, to the Eastside.

    First, some background. This area is not Spaulding Square (although it’s entirely possible the Craftsman homes were built by the same builder or at least around the same time), which is almost entirely comprised of Craftsman bungalows. Our Eastside runs an entire architectural gamut from bungalows to Charlie Chaplin/English Tudor (the Curson Lodge) to Spanish/Mediterranean to non-descript stucco boxes from the 1960’s. While there are groups of several bungalows together on one street, it doesn’t even begin to have the preponderance of bungalows that are on Greenacre and Poinsettia.

    My concern is that if Council approves this district, The City will be dictating to existing (and future) property owners what they can and cannot do with their properties. Now perhaps all, or at least a majority of the 30 property owners that would be affected are in favor of the district, or perhaps not. I have spoken to Councilmembers, City planners and staff on several occasions to suggest that there should be targeted, one-on-one outreach to each and every property owner to explain to them what this would mean, what it wouldn’t mean and then get their written consent or disapproval, with that document to be filed at City Hall. Being realistic, it’s only 30 property owners and it ought not to be that difficult for The City to allocate staff to do this targeted outreach. The results for approval should be more than what we require to add a permit parking district (51%) and I think should be at the 75% threshold of property owners to determine the outcome. I am not in any way discounting the voices of those who live in the area but who are not property owners, but their “votes” should not be given equal weight as to those who’s property rights will be materially affected. As I said, I have brought this up with Council and City Hall staff and planners and the response has been a rather vague “we are doing outreach”. I think it’s critically important that one-on-one personal outreach is done with the results in writing not only to help determine the outcome of this proposed district, but if it is indeed approved, to have on file in perpetuity the written consent from those property owners so that there could be no question later on of “I didn’t know anything about it”. I would further suggest that if it is approved that The City find some way to legally “cloud” the titles of all the affected properties so that if in the future a property would be placed for sale, any and all prospective buyers would know the limitations on the property well prior to the close of escrow. In addition, perhaps City Hall could provide resources to the affected property owners to assist those who may want to file for Mills Act approval on their properties.

    In closing, I wanted to tell you about a 10 year plus resident family that would no longer be residents if this thematic district had been in place just a few short years ago. A young married couple bought a two-bedroom bungalow on the East side of Spaulding, between Norton and Lexington. Over time they started their family and had first one child and then a second. At that point, their beloved home no longer fit the needs of their now larger family, but they loved the area, loved West Hollywood and didn’t want to move. What they did was to totally remodel the home into a two story rather striking contemporary (or at least in my opinion!) home that their family happily continues to call home. Is it now a bungalow? Of course not. But nearly every other building on their block, as it is on almost all of the Eastside, is of a different architectural style and theirs is but one more. If this district had been in place, West Hollywood would have lost this wonderful family.

    I apologize for not being able to attend tomorrow night’s Historic Preservation Commission meeting where this it to be discussed, but I am out of town. If any of you have any questions that you’d like to ask, please feel free to contact me (although for the commissioners, remember that pesky Brown Act!)

    Very truly yours,
    Rob Bergstein
    1233 N. Genesee Avenue

  7. Does anyone think that had their been outreach in advance it would have changed the reaction? People who decry the lack of preservation in the city (a lot of those in Steve Martin’s circle) need to realize that when it effects people’s real estate values they will recoil. That’s reality. The idea that the city mishandled this is nonsense as usual and avoids the real problem that would have existed had it come after an extensive survey.

  8. Is “thematic district” a Trump word? If the residents, the home owners are not FOR this, then why is the City trying to shove it down their throats? Is there not a better way to spend TAX DOLLARS? How about feeding the elderly? Medical care for the elderly?

  9. The problem with the Craftsman thematic district is that City Council launched it with minimal outreach from the impacted homeowners. Indeed it appears that their input has been something of an after thought in this process. The impacted homeowners feel that they are not notified until after the train left the station. This sort of “governance” only undermines the public’s confidence in “the process”, which City Hall touts as being open and inclusive.

  10. Nearly everyone that attended the meeting was against the thematic grouping and against adopting the survey. The Historic Preservation Commission questioned why there was not more community outreach PRIOR to conducting the survey at issue, as even being potentially designated on the survey has potentially serious ramifications to the property rights of owners – irrespective of whether a thematic grouping is ultimately approved by the city council or not. The Historic Commission was visible surprised when they learned that fact from city staff. The frustration and anger in the room from homeowners and residents was palpable. It’s one thing to impose a historic district on an unwilling neighborhood – it’s another to impose those restrictions on homeowners even if a historic district isn’t adopted. It’s unfair and inappropriate.

  11. Cher lived in my house.. does that qualify me for designation?
    This is an overboard encroachment on peoples property rights and without naming names its real clear the people pushing these items are in the minority. They are the same people that complain about overdevelopment. It feels like they don’t like progress.. even if they think they are open-minded keep your noses out of other peoples business.

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