City Council Leans Toward Artistry Rather Than Senior Housing for Laurel House

Tara Laurel Park
“Tara” at 1343 N. Laurel. (Photo by Jon Viscott)

With a 3-1 vote Monday night, West Hollywood’s City Council approved conducting a feasibility study on possible uses for Laurel House, the city-owned house at 1343 N. Laurel Ave., just south of Sunset Boulevard. The 102-year-old house has sat vacant for the past 15 years, although the property’s front and side yards have been used as a public park since 2011.

With that the vote, the Council also instructed the city’s arts division to investigate arts programming and a potential artist-in-residence program for the house.

“[This item is] an attempt to balance historic preservation along with public park space along with utility and community use space and to come up with something so the property doesn’t languish there without providing any benefits to the community,” said Councilmember John Duran, who serves on a council subcommittee about the property along with Councilmember Lauren Meister.

Community visioning workshops held in 2013 and 2014 suggested the house might best be used as an arts and cultural center or a community gathering/meeting space, but the city never moved forward with those ideas. Instead, the city opted to “mothball” the house until it was ready to reopen the community discussion about uses for the house. 

Reopening the discussion seems likely to reignite the controversy that ripped through the city in the mid-2000s about the property.

Back then, one side vigorously pushed to build senior-citizen, low-income housing there. Meanwhile, the other side pushed equally hard against the housing, saying that went against the original owner’s wishes when she donated the property to the city.

Elsie Weisman gave the 7,000-square foot house and surrounding property to the city in 1997 with the verbal stipulation the property not be developed. Although Weisman never put that stipulation in writing, the late Councilmember Sal Guarriello, who was mayor at the time of the property transfer, confirmed those were Weisman’s wishes during a 2006 council meeting.

By that point, the city had moved ahead with plans to construct two buildings with 21 units plus underground parking at the rear of the property and also transform the main house and chauffer’s cottage into seven more units for a total of 28 apartments on the property. The city had even received a $4.2 million grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to build the project.

However, Weisman’s son, Richard Weisman, along with Allegra Allison, a longtime resident of the house affectionately known as “Tara” (because that was the name of the house in Elsie Weisman’s favorite movie, “Gone With the Wind”), filed a lawsuit against the city.

That lawsuit went all the way to the California Supreme Court, which in 2008 ruled the city had not gotten sufficient public input into the project. The city had already applied for the HUD grant before holding the first public meeting regarding the property; therefore the court ruled the public process was merely a justification for a pre-determined decision.

Monday night, the reignited sides of the “Tara controversy” were already evident during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Resident Manny Rodriguez called for the Council to put low-income housing on the site, calling the earlier push to block the senior housing there one of the “great failures of local activism in West Hollywood.”

“It’s because of local activists, some of whom we’ve never heard from again, that this valuable and grand property has remained dormant, useless and sad for the last 15 years,” said Rodriguez.

He also called community visioning workshops of 2013 and 2014 “misguided” and “ill conceived.”  

“The vision expressed in that survey isn’t worth the paper it’s written on,” Rodriguez said.

Meanwhile resident Steve Martin praised the Council for moving forward with plans to figure out what to do with the Colonial Revival style house.

“We seem to be still fighting old battles and we’re just not allowing our imaginations to be used in ways that are really productive here,” said Martin, who suggested an artist-in-residence program could work beautifully there if is properly administered.

Councilmember John Heilman, who cast the only vote against the feasibility study, said he was in favor of housing on the site (he was a proponent for senior housing there from the start), but didn’t see why it should be limited to artists.

“Prioritizing artists over social workers or teachers or disabled, long-term residents of the city doesn’t seem to make sense given the amount of money that we’re likely going to have to spend to rehab this property,” said Heilman.

Heilman suggested getting input about uses for the property from other boards such as the Senior Advisory Board or the Disabilities Advisory Board, as well as the city’s social services department.

Councilmember Lindsey Horvath was absent from the meeting as she is attending a technology conference in Paris.


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WehogigioBe VigilantNo DevelopmentMichaelzcarleton cronin Recent comment authors

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Michaelz
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Michaelz

Correction:
My apology to Mayor Pro Tem Horvath, I meant to type in,
Mayor John D’ Amico.

carleton cronin
Guest

The vote of the City Council re Laurel House does to seniors what legendary Chinese did with the female babies they did not want: Put them out on the hillside to die of exposure. What ever happened to Rick Rickles and a dozen other seniors when they could not afford to remain in a city they loved and in which they were so engaged? Somewhere out on the hillside…..? The only time politicians have to answer for their actions is when they face re-election. An art center? The entire city is an art center. If it is an art center… Read more »

No Development
Guest
No Development

That is a surprisingly extreme position to take. IF Ms. Weisman, being a woman of advanced age, wanted the property to be housing for seniors I expect she would have discussed that with Councilman Guarriello and made that clear. She did state “no development”. No one is leaving female babies on the hillside to die of exposure. However, by your statement one could equate various potential historic resources around West Hollywood to fall into that category. Many of those currently provide rent stabilized housing to seniors and others. So what would be objectionable about a house and grounds available to… Read more »

Randy
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Randy

I agree. That is a very dramatic response. How about we honor the wishes of the owner of this property that was willed to the city? Assuming that that was her wish. If senior housing is such a priority, why don’t we focus our efforts on developing that corner at Crescent Heights and Santa Monica Boulevard, which has sat empty for years? And is owned by the city? There’s nothing historic about that empty lot, growing weeds. I understand that there is pollution under the ground. But they could deal with that. Instead, I think the current plans are for… Read more »

michael z
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michael z

a
A Place For Mom…?…..Not in West Hollywood……

So disappointed in Duran, Meister, and Horvath, once again John
Heilman is the voice of reason……

A shameful evening…creative city with no heart…..

Be Vigilant
Guest
Be Vigilant

As for Mom….Mom’s are at the best advantage to be living in their own familiar home circumstances assuming they are healthy, active and alert. The conditions for that generally depend on you or other family members that she most likely looked after for a lifetime. Taking responsibility for Mom and Dad or whoever the elder may be takes planning and foresight to achieve. Central to that is making a commitment to keeping Mom and/or Dad out of the hands of Big Pharma and the medical community that provide so many opportunities to help one out of their health, well being… Read more »

Wehogigio
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Wehogigio

Many older individuals, especially in the LGBTQ community, have no family to do as you propose. Your observation is void of any life experience or compassion.

Be Vigilant
Guest
Be Vigilant

Its the very essence of compassion and life experience

mark
Guest
mark

I like the idea of top floor senior housing (credit to the person who brought this up below) and art studio on ground floor. I would add this. Make the ground floor a combination art studio and dance studio. And a gym to workout. Gym memberships in L.A. are very expensive. Charge 100.00 a year or 10.00 per visit. A combination of indoor and outdoor facility. A mind and body center for healing, arts and physical fitness. And to the person who said you can make art anywhere. Well, art costs money to produce. People need space and teachers and… Read more »

Randy
Guest
Randy

Have you been inside this property? I don’t think it would accommodate gym equipment very well. It is very old. We have plenty of public parks that have workout equipment, including nearby Plummer Park.

mark
Guest
mark

You have to be kidding if you consider Plummer Park having an adequate gym. Obviously you may not workout much. If anything this space could be similar to what Plummer park has now but in the yard area. Mostly stretching/climbing devices, ropes, rings, etc. Think ballet dancers and what they use to develop strength when they’re not dancing. I think a ballet studio would be nice. Something with class. Or dance studio and art and crafts and perhaps some senior housing even if it’s just a few rooms to keep peace and order in the place. And of course to… Read more »

Randy
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Randy

I work out a lot, thank you very much. I am making the point that installing gym equipment inside this building, would probably be complicated. Gym equipment weighs a lot, and the building would need some serious maintenance to accommodate it. A dance studio would be great. Plummer Park is well-equipped with outdoor gym equipment. I’m not sure how much it is used. I do see people using it when I drive by. Once again, have you been inside this property? For everyone suggesting senior housing on the existing site, please consider the ADA requirements that will be necessary. This… Read more »

Richard K.
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Richard K.

1. As James said we don’t need a variation of the Arts Club.
2. We do need a project/property that will help seniors in our community.
3. Laurel House is a golden opportunity to provide much needed senior housing and cultural or community gathering/meeting spaces.
4. The years of inaction is inexcusable.
5. A re-imagined Laurel House, architecturally preserved, should be bid out to several architectural firms under the direction of City Council but must include senior housing.

Manny
Guest
Manny

To be clear, nobody is suggesting tearing down the property.

Below is what was proposed in 2003:

*28 units of low income housing in the BACK of the property.
*A restored carriage house.
*A RESTORED MAIN HOUSE with parts of it used as community space.
*Underground Parking.

That plan checks all the boxes.

Randy
Guest
Randy

“Elsie Weisman gave the 7,000-square foot house and surrounding property to the city in 1997 with the verbal stipulation the property not be developed. Although Weisman never put that stipulation in writing, the late Councilmember Sal Guarriello, who was mayor at the time of the property transfer, confirmed those were Weisman’s wishes during a 2006 council meeting.” — If this is true, we should honor her wishes, as she gave the property to the city, and that was her stipulation. There’s no reason that this property’s historical legacy cannot be held, while also being used for some type of community… Read more »

James Francis
Guest
James Francis

I agree the property is beautiful and for posterity or heritage it should be a propety to be saved. I don’t support an artist(s) in residence. Sorry not looking to House Bougie Artsits or their friends and colleagues. I am not being displaced so wealthier people can have a place to live and hob nob with other closed off and private ingenues. This isn’t the objective! This isn’t going to be the mini subsidized version of the Arts Club that will be built for the elitists. It cannot housing for the few fortunate over displaced residents year after year. Make… Read more »

Steve Martin
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Steve Martin

Elsie Weisman gave us the property because her son had told her he would develop condos on the site. After she passed the City proposed a huge development that would have made a mockery of “preservation” and would have destroyed the site’s wonderful trees and foliage. Had the City been a bit more respectful when it proposed housing the site’s history might have be different but it was the usual arrogant bulldozing of community sentiments by the City that ultimately backfired. I would remind people the John Heilman had no problem allowing the Center for Early Education to demolish as… Read more »

Manny
Guest
Manny

You really need to let go of that old stuff Steve. Those are just grudges. Let’s move past hurt feelings and bad blood and do something at 1343 Laurel that can actually help people. We shouldn’t let this opportunity pass us by…..again.

David Reid
Guest
David Reid

If we ignore history it tends to repeat itself.

Manny
Guest
Manny

That slogan doesn’t apply here. You either want to do something useful, valuable and significant for the lives of your fellow humans, or you don’t.

Joshua88
Guest
Joshua88

Very interesting article. Glad they are doing the study. Damned shame it has been vacant for fifteen years. It would be awful to destroy the architecture, etc., although it’s not my style, but it would seem wasteful to not build some affordable housing.

Richard K.
Guest
Richard K.

Perhaps a mixed-use approach would address the concerns of both sides of this issue.
Having both senior housing, perhaps on the upper floor, and arts and cultural or community gathering/meeting spaces for portions of the lower floor.
It could be a win/win situation.
Seniors could easily utilize programs on the property if they wished to and non-Laurel House residents will have access to the same events and facilities.

mark
Guest
mark

Now that’s creative.

Monica Siegel
Guest
Monica Siegel

Hooray! I’m that rare conservative Republican, and all the babble about West Hollywood being progressive has annoyed me. But now I’m proud to see my City Council members deciding we don’t need to house more old poor people in this town. Tell them to move to Utah. We just have to find a way to get those Mexicans off the sidewalks selling tacos. The state legislature is where the liberals rule, not West Hollywood. We need to fix that. I’m proud of John D’Amico, John Duran, Lauren Meister for pushing back against the poor and those lazy immigrants. You guys… Read more »