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L.A. panel votes to abandon bid to make Silver Lake gas station a monument

L.A. panel votes to abandon bid to make Silver Lake gas station a monument
Housing advocates argued that a push to enshrine a former gas station in Silver Lake as a historic monument should not thwart the construction of new homes. (Maria Alejandra Cardona / Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles City Council committee voted Tuesday to abandon a disputed bid to enshrine a former gas station on Silver Lake Boulevard as a historic monument after the building owner pledged to relocate the aging structure.

The newly announced plan would allow housing to move forward on the Silver Lake site while the 1941 building is moved and converted into a concession stand along the Los Angeles River. Architect and building owner William Hefner, who provided the committee renderings of a retro cafe along a bike path, said he had partnered with the local group River LA on the plan.

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“It’s a beautiful example of the way we can have both in the city — we can have new housing and we can have historic preservation,” said Daniel F. Freedman, an attorney representing Hefner.

The debate over whether to recognize the Silver Lake Texaco Service Station as a historic monument divided Angelenos: Some Silver Lake residents and preservationists have hailed the steel-frame structure, which has been operating for decades as an automotive repair shop, as a slice of local history and a rare and valuable example of the Streamline Moderne style.

“If we continue to destroy historic buildings, there will be nothing left of our past to show anyone,” said Mary Mallory, a member of the preservationist group Hollywood Heritage.

Others, including groups that are pressing for L.A. to build more housing, argued that it was more important to build housing than to preserve the aging building. Before Councilman Mitch O’Farrell asked the city to look into making it into a monument, Hefner had turned in plans to redevelop the Silver Lake site with more than a dozen apartments.

Making the old station a monument would not necessarily prevent that from happening: Historic buildings can still be altered or even demolished under city rules, according to the planning department. In some cases, builders have incorporated beloved structures and historic features into new development.

A rendering of the Texaco station in its new use.
A rendering of the Texaco station in its new use. (William Hefner)

But housing advocates complain that the additional review required to alter or tear down historic structures can delay construction and drive up costs.

The California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund, which advocates for more housing construction, argued in a letter that holdup on the Silver Lake project ran the risk of violating state laws governing housing development. The council committee had delayed a decision for months after the Cultural Heritage Commission voted to recommend making it into a historic monument.

At the Tuesday meeting, O’Farrell aide Craig Bullock said that their staff had used that time to work with Hefner to come up with a solution. Several possible sites for the new concession had been identified, he said. In light of the new plans for the building, Bullock asked the committee not to press forward with making the former gas station a monument.

“Though not conventional, we think that we were able to achieve the historic preservation that was desired,” Bullock told the committee.

Bullock added that the building was missing some of the “character-defining features” — such as signage and fixtures — that could make it worthy of being designated as a monument.

Some historic preservationists were skeptical of the plan. At the Tuesday hearing, Christine Kantner of the Silver Lake Heritage Trust questioned whether it was even possible to move the structure, in light of its dilapidated condition, and stressed that a possible buyer had expressed interest in restoring the site.

“I feel it needs to stay where it is,” Kantner said. “Because the context of where it is in Silver Lake Village, along with the other Streamline Moderne and Moderne buildings there, is important.”

The decision now heads to the full council.

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