On a 4-1 vote Tuesday night, the West Hollywood City Council denied an appeal of a historic designation for a Craftsman duplex on Detroit Avenue. With this vote, the Council granted historic designation to the house and upheld an October 2019 vote by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.
Located at 1251 N. 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.
Consultant Marc Yeber, speaking on behalf of property owner Kathy Younessi, argued against the designation, saying the house did not contribute to the development of the city.
“How does this particular building further the narrative of the development pattern of the city?” asked Yeber.
Historic consultant Pam O’Connor, who was hired by Younessi and works for Kaplan Chen Kaplan, an architectural and planning firm, contended the house is not a good example of a Craftsman home and has had minor alterations which make it ineligible for designation.
O’Connor added the city has already designated 18 other Craftsman bungalows that are better examples of Craftsman houses. Meanwhile, Yeber commented that the city has a cluster of Craftsman homes in the Hampton Avenue and Lexington Avenue area, near Spaulding and Curson, and could create a historic district there, but so far hasn’t.
“This [Craftsman home] isn’t a rare occurrence in the city,” said Yeber.
Councilmember Lauren Meister pointed out a house does not have to be in a historic district to be designated. She said the fact it is a Craftsman was most important thing in her mind; the fact it is a duplex is of secondary importance.
Meanwhile, Councilmember John Duran said he would support the Historic Preservation Commission’s decision, adding he wished there was a Craftsman historic district on the city’s Eastside, but the Council vetoed that idea several years ago after homeowners complained.
Councilmember John Heilman cast the only vote in favor of the appeal, saying the house was not in good condition and would need much work. He said he would much rather see additional housing built there.
“When I’m weighing this where it is really a marginal case of meeting the standards of the [historic preservation] ordinance and when I weigh that against the need for additional housing in residential areas, I’m going to fall on the side of additional housing,” said Heilman.
Property owner Younessi had hoped to build a three-story, five-unit complex on the site. She initially pushed to have the Historic Preservation Commission make a decision about the property, hoping that decision would be against designation so she could develop the site.
During the public comment period, each of the four people speaking favored the historic designation.
“We owe it to what’s remaining on the Eastside to designate those properties that have enough integrity and prove to be valuable in terms of our history,” said resident Cathy Blaivas.
Meanwhile, resident Victor Omelczenko, speaking on behalf of the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance, said the city owed it to the Eastside to designate the property.
“By designating this one rare Craftsman duplex, the City Council can reconfirm its commitment to historic preservation on the city’s Eastside,” said Omelczenko.
A question was raised over conflicting Historic Resources Assessments (HRA) about potential designation of the property.
A 2017 HRA by historic resources consultant Leslie Heumann concluded that it was eligible for historic status. Two subsequent HRAs, one by historic resources consultant Anna Marie Brooks, the other by the Kaplan Chen Kaplan firm, both concluded the property was not eligible.
With conflicting assessments, the city then commissioned Sherman Oaks-based 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.” However, the Chattel report was potentially tainted since Heumann is now on staff at Chattel.
While the Council did not spend much time worrying about the conflicting reports, Meister noted that Heumann’s initial report supported the designation, despite the fact she was hired by an investment group hoping to potentially purchase it for development.
“That to me says this was an objective review of that property,” said Meister.
One of the two units in the Craftsman duplex is currently boarded up and vacant. A second duplex built in 1946, located at the rear of the property, was not included in this designation.