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Century-old Los Feliz house not deemed historic, could be demolished

Century-old Los Feliz house not deemed historic, could be demolished
This century-old house in Los Feliz -- one of the few remaining residences designed by the firm of Los Angeles City Hall architect A.C. Martin -- could face the wrecking ball. The current owner of the home has sought to replace it with six single-family units. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

A century-old house in Los Feliz -- one of the few remaining residences designed by the firm of Los Angeles City Hall architect A.C. Martin -- could face the wrecking ball after a city commission decided Thursday not to recommend making it a historic monument. Such a designation would have given it added protection against alteration and demolition.

The Kenmore Avenue home, known as the Bartlett house, was designed in the American Colonial Revival style, with Tuscan columns, green rooftop shingles and a balconette below its second floor. A curve in its roof, overlooking the entrance, has the look of a raised eyebrow. It was built for Oswald Bartlett, a Hamburger's Department Store furniture buyer.

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The current owner of the home, developer Elan Mordoch, has sought to demolish the house and replace it with six single-family units. In a letter to the city, his attorney argued that Mordoch had already gotten a demolition permit and other city approvals, has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in anticipation of redeveloping it, and was told by a city official that the house needed no historical analysis.

City staffers recommended against deeming it to be a historic monument, saying that while A.C. Martin was considered to be a master architect -- his firm is known for iconic L.A. designs such as City Hall and the Million Dollar Theater -- the house wasn't a "notable example" of his work.

A firm hired by Mordoch, PCR Services, also argued that the home was a minor, unimportant detour from the commercial and church designs for which the firm was known.

Residents rallying to save the house countered that it was a rare jewel. The Los Angeles Conservancy argued for preserving it, as did historian Charles Fisher, who called the house "an excellent example" of the style. A motion by City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who asked for the home to be considered as a monument, called it a rare reminder of "the historic development and character of the neighborhood."

Preserving it would be "a shining example to everyone else that the history of Hollywood is important to this community," said Doug Haines of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council.

But the Cultural Heritage Commission wasn't swayed by the arguments, voting 4-0 against making the Bartlett residence a monument.

"Although I highly revere A.C. Martin as an architect…this is not a notable example of his work," Commissioner Elissa Scrafano said.

The Los Angeles City Council now has roughly three months to take up the issue and decide whether the home should be deemed a historic monument. If the council does not act, the decision of the commission will stand. City officials said that until the council acts -- or fails to -- the demolition will remain on hold.

"This story isn't over yet," said John Schwada, a media consultant representing the residents who oppose demolishing the house. "We're determined to take this matter up with Tom LaBonge...and we expect him to help his community."

Some residents have publicly alleged that political pressure from the office of Mayor Eric Garcetti is shaping the debate: Los Feliz resident Rosemary DeMonte said that an aide to LaBonge told her and other community members that the mayor's office was trying to stop their push to make the house a monument. Mordoch donated $1,500 to Garcetti's campaign for mayor, according to city ethics records.

Last month, LaBonge said mayoral aides had spoken to his office about the home, but denied getting any pressure from Garcetti or his staffers to stop pursuing it. Asked to respond to the renewed allegations this week, LaBonge issued a short statement Wednesday saying that it was "now up to the experts" to decide.

Garcetti's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. Mordoch, who spoke at the Thursday meeting, told the commissioners that "nothing was swept under the rug" as they tried to determine if the home had historic significance.

"We've taken steps in good faith," Mordoch told the commission.

Follow @latimesemily for what's happening at Los Angeles City Hall

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