Owner of Landmark House Feared City Would Act Against Him : Demolition Catches Santa Monica by Surprise

Times Staff Writer

In a move that surprised Santa Monica city officials, the owner of the 63-year-old Parkinson House began demolishing it earlier this month even as the Landmarks Commission and the City Council were taking action to preserve and move it.

Dr. Kenneth Hoffer, who bought the building for an undisclosed sum in late November, said he ordered the demolition because he feared that city officials would not act in his favor.

Santa Monica's landmark-preservation law, which is stricter than those in most cities, allows the city to prevent an owner from demolishing a city landmark for up to a year. The one-year moratorium on the Parkinson house expired in October and the previous owner had obtained permission to demolish it.

According to city law, an owner must begin demolition within six months of obtaining such permission. If demolition is not started within that period, the owner must wait a full year before he can raze a structure. The six-month permission period was up Dec. 17.

Sought Extension

So, at the end of November, Hoffer asked the Landmarks Commission to grant him an extension of the six-month demolition period. The commission, however, could not put together a meeting, in part because it could not reach a quorum over the Thanksgiving holidays, according to Karen Rosenberg of the city planning office.

Then, Hoffer said, a demolition company warned him that any rain could delay demolition. Hoffer was afraid he might miss the Dec. 17 deadline and be forced to wait another year before he could begin again.

Hoffer, who wants to build a new home at the site, began to demolish the Parkinson House hours before the commission met on the evening of Dec. 9--a meeting which Hoffer attended. The City Council on Dec. 10 approved a 180-day extension.

"I purchased the property with the demolition (rights) that (the previous owner) had obtained," said Hoffer, who is medical director of the St. Mary's Eye Center in Santa Monica and a professor of ophthalmology at the UCLA School of Medicine. "As far as I was concerned it was a vacant lot."

City officials, however, complained that Hoffer did not tell them he had begun demolition when he attended the Dec. 9 commission meeting.

'It's Disappointing'

"It's unfortunate that the owner knew he was demolishing the building when the Landmarks Commission was meeting on it Monday night," Rosenberg said. "It's very disappointing. This was the first ray of hope on this building we had in the last year."

Rosenberg said the American Wrecking Co. of North Hollywood told Planning and Zoning Department officials on Dec. 11 that it had started tearing down large sections of the building's roof and floors on Dec. 9.

The Donald B. Parkinson home, at 1605 San Vicente Blvd., was designed and built by Parkinson in 1922 and described by the city Landmarks Commission as an "excellent example" of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. It was named a city landmark in 1984.

Parkinson, in collaboration with his father John Parkinson and architect Joseph M. Estep, designed the Los Angeles Coliseum, Union Station and Bullock's Wilshire. The house has been vacant since 1981 when Parkinson's widow died.

"It's certainly a tragic loss to the city of Santa Monica," said David Cameron, chairman of the commission. "It was one of the most important works by one of the major architects in the Los Angeles area, and the house that he designed for himself. It's very sad that we didn't have the legal or other means to preserve it."

Revision in Process

The city is revising both its landmark and zoning ordinances to prohibit the demolition of a city landmark without city approval, Cameron said.

Fred J. Breer, an interior designer, and his partner, James T. Sutherland, hoped to move the reinforced concrete house, weighing hundreds of tons, in five or six sections atop large flat-bed trucks. Breer said they were in the process of gaining approval from the state Department of Transportation to drive the trucks across Pacific Coast Highway to Point Dume.

Viewing the house after the demolition had started, Sutherland said it is no longer salvageable.

"At this point it's just too destroyed. If there had been some care taken and something more left of the property. . . . But now having to go through the expense of moving and repairing what has been destroyed, it's just not worth it," he said.

"We're disappointed that things couldn't have been handled better. I can't understand why there is a time limit to destroy it while there are people on the other side trying to save it."

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