On a 4-1 vote Monday night, West Hollywood’s Historic Preservation Commission granted historic status to a Craftsman duplex on Detroit Avenue, despite the fact the owner was opposed to the designation.
Located at 1251 Detroit Avenue, just one lot south of Fountain Avenue, the duplex, built in 1914, is one of the few Craftsman style homes left in the city. It is also one of the rare Craftsman homes built as a duplex.
Although it has had some minor alterations over the past century, the Commission felt it maintained enough of its original architectural integrity to warrant the designation.
Consultant Pam O’Conner, speaking on behalf of the owner, Via Alegre LLC, owned by Kathy Younessi, argued against the designation. She contended the property was more closely associated with development in Hollywood in the 1910s than with the town of Sherman (which later became West Hollywood).
However, the Commission did not buy that argument, saying it is within the present-day West Hollywood boundaries, so that makes it eligible for consideration.
O’Conner, who works for Kaplan Chen Kaplan, an architectural and planning firm, also said surveys indicate there were at least nine other duplexes in that area by the 1920s, so it was not rare.
However, O’Conner said those surveys did not indicate the architectural style of those other duplexes. The Commission felt the fact it is a Craftsman duplex was significant since the Craftsman style is most closely associated with single-family homes.
Despite approving it on the merits of the building itself, the Commission was troubled by the unusual fact there are conflicting Historic Resource Assessments for the property.
The 1251 Detroit duplex has long been listed as a potential site for historic designation. It was included in city surveys done in 1986-87 and again in 2008 of possible historic sites. In 2017, Towne Capital Ventures was considering buying the property and hired historic resources consultant Leslie Heumann to do a Historic Resource Assessment. Heumann’s report concluded that it was eligible for historic status.
Later, two other assessments were commissioned, both of which concluded the property was NOT eligible for historic status. Historic resources consultant Anna Marie Brooks did one of those assessments, while the Kaplan Chen Kaplan firm did the other.
Due to the differing assessments, the city commissioned historic preservation consultants Chattel, Inc. to review all three reports. Chattel’s report favored Heumann’s assessment, saying it “presented the most measurable and specific findings.”
During this time, Via Alegre LLC, purchased the property, intending to build a five-unit complex on the site, unaware of Heumann’s report. With a possible historic designation looming over the property, something that could affect both potential development of the site as well as future sale of the site, Via Alegre opted to resolve the issue by having the Commission make a decision on the historic status.
During Monday’s hearing, the Commission took issue with Chattel’s peer review of the three assessments because Leslie Heumann frequently works on projects for Chattel. Because of that relationship with Heumann, Commission members feared Chattel might have given too much weight to her report.
“There’s a clear conflict of interest in the peer review by Chattel,” said Commissioner Ed Levin.
Consultant Marc Yeber said that Via Alegre wanted the historic status to be decided purely on the merits of the building, not on the discrepancies in the multiple reports.
Levin stated it would be easier to approve this building if it were part of a “thematic grouping” of similar style buildings in close proximity. While the city has several historic districts and thematic groupings such as a Historic Courtyard District and an Old Sherman Thematic Grouping, no such historic grouping of residential homes exists in that part of town.
Ultimately, the Commission agreed to consider it only on its the architectural merits. They noted that when the designation goes to the City Council for final approval, the Council can debate the legal issues raised by the multiple reports and the conflict of interest in the peer review.
Commissioner Jake LaJoie voted against the designation.
“The only thing significant was that it was a duplex. We didn’t know the number of other Craftsman duplexes [that were] in the area,” LaJoie explained to WEHOville after the meeting. “There’s no thematic grouping. It’s not a well-known architect, nobody significant lived there. The only significant thing was that it was a Craftsman duplex.”
During the public comment period, resident Dan Morin favored the historic designation, saying, “it looks like the perfect example of a Craftsman home.”
Meanwhile, Hollywood resident David Monks, who lives just a few blocks away, called the duplex “a little gem.”
“This is a special one. It’s beautiful,” said Monks. “You can do something to save this.”
The West Hollywood Preservation Alliance also supported the designation.
One of the two units in the duplex is currently boarded up and vacant. A second duplex, built in 1946 at the rear of the property, was not included in this designation.
Commissioners Yawar Charlie and Lola Davidson were absent.