John Duran and Lauren Meister are asking their fellow City Council members to support a proposal that the City of West Hollywood hire a consultant to conduct another study of possible uses of Laurel House and that the city’s Arts Division explore consider the feasibility of artist-in-residence programs there.
Laurel House, more popularly known as Tara, is a 7,177 square foot house and an adjacent chauffeur cottage and garages that is on a 30,000 square foot city-owned lot at 1343 N. Laurel Ave.
Original portions of the buildings were built in 1917, and in 1941 the original single family residence was converted into four apartment units. The property was designated as a local cultural resource by the City of West Hollywood in 1994.
The property was donated to West Hollywood in 1997 by its owner, Elsie Weisman, with an oral, but not written, stipulation that the city preserve it. After Weisman died in 2000, the city announced plans to convert the house into apartments and build other apartments on the property, all to house low-income senior citizens for whom there is a shortage of affordable housing.
However, a group called “Save Tara,” organized by Allegra Allison, who lived there for 30 years, launched a campaign that went all the way to the California Supreme Court. In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled the city failed to get sufficient public input before proceeding with plans for the property. The City Council eventually agreed to halt its plans and preserve the property. The grounds surrounding the Colonial style house now are used as a public park.
Since the Supreme Court decision, progress has been slow on figuring out what to do with the property. In March 2010, the City Council voted to open the grounds on a temporary basis for public use. In 2013 and 2014, City Hall reached out to community members for input on the best use for the property.
What city staffers heard from that study was that community members wanted:
— Access to more community gathering spaces.
— Use of the property as an arts and cultural center.
— Maintenance or enhancements of the property to preserve its perceived peacefulness and beauty.
— Preservation of the house and gardens, but putting them to use with various community programs and activation through new features, and
— Continuing use of the property dog walking.
At its meeting in February 2018, the City Council received a report forwarded an advisory committee that contained representatives from various city commissions and members of the public focusing on artist-in-residence programs, including consideration of the use of 1343 Laurel as a potential artist-in-residence site. This recommendation was forwarded to the City Council’s 1343 Laurel Subcommittee, which consists of Councilmembers Duran and Meister, for further review and consideration.
Duran and Meister have with commissioners from the Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission, the Planning Commission, the Historic Preservation Commission, and the Public Facilities Commission, to discuss the proposal to establish an artist-in-residence program that would include:
– Using part of the property as temporary residences and/or artist studio workspaces.
– Using the ground floor of the main house for community space (e.g., salons, art classes, gallery space, music recitals) and the outdoor space remaining as a neighborhood public park.
– Seeking an arts-oriented non-profit to manage the building and/or the program.
A report to the City Council states that while the property has sat empty, the city has made upgrades to the building to stabilize the existing structures and prevent the buildings from deteriorating. The city re-roofed the main house, cottage, and garages. A contractor also “mothballed” all the structures on the property, which means steps were taken to stabilize and protect the building as it currently exists. This included upgrading the existing security system, performing termite eradication, and re- establishing gas service to the main house to maintain temperatures within established limits necessary to properly protect the interiors.
The City Council will consider the proposal at its meeting on Monday, which will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the City Council Chambers, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., south of Santa Monica. Parking is free in the adjacent five-story structure with a ticket validated in the lobby.