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Whittier Boulevard: Palmy Days Ahead?

A little fine tuning is in order for a couple of well-intentioned projects.

The redevelopment of Whittier Boulevard as a vital retail strip in East Los Angeles is welcomed. The area needs all the help it can get in its competition with nearby shopping malls.

And though it seems cold and strained, the 14-ton, 65-foot arch dubbed “El Arco” does provide a landmark of sorts for the street. One would have hoped for something a little more organic, playful or animated.

What is disturbing is the report that about 100 mature trees lining the street that add grace and shade despite their poor maintenance are to be destroyed. In their place will be more decorative Mexican fan palms.

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Why the palms could not be simply spaced to accommodate the present trees was not answered.

Of course, the palms will not block the view from the street of the store signs, as do the present trees. But they also will not lend much shade or soften the tacky tone of the commercial street. Too bad.

The Gene Autry Western Museum being designed by Widom/Wein & Partners Inc., architects, and Emmet Wemple, landscape architect, promises to be fun, certainly appropriate to Los Angeles, which has had so much to do with promoting the myth of the West.

But its proposed location in the Pine Meadow area next to the zoo parking lot in Griffith Park could not be worse.

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In addition to consuming 13 acres of a public park that is constantly being compromised, the resulting traffic should be a mess, benefiting neither the museum nor the zoo, which is now undergoing rejuvenation.

No wonder the city’s Recreation and Parks Department had objected to the location, unfortunately in vain. It is hard to fight such a well-wired project; it even has Mayor Tom Bradley taking time off from his campaign to push it.

Nevertheless, the museum sponsors would do well to get back on their horses while they are still wearing their white hats and find another watering hole, possibly in Hollywood itself--where the Autry legend began.

And, unlike Griffith Park, Hollywood could use such an attraction, even if a more confining site must be found. Such a site would just make it a more challenging design problem, and, undoubtedly, would result in a more interesting design.

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Also in Hollywood . . . A happy ending just might be in store for the historic Highland-Camrose bungalow court that had been threatened for nearly a year with demolition to make way for a large apartment complex.

Failing to negotiate its purchase from the Jan Development Co., the county Board of Supervisors has voted to condemn the property, with a view to recycling the bungalows as classrooms for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute for Young Musicians and Conductors. Some of the land also would be used for picnic grounds and parks, serving both the nearby Hollywood Bowl and the community.

There are still problems to overcome, but so far the community has demonstrated a remarkable acumen in getting its way. Helping has been a responsive councilman, Michael Woo, and and Supervisor Ed Edelman.

Wright On . . . The landmark Ennis-Brown house in Los Feliz will be the subject of a special pleading to the city Monday (at 9 a.m. in Room 561-A of City Hall) by the Trust for Preservation of Cultural Heritage

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The trust wants to be able to use the decorated “Mayan” concrete-block house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for limited fund-raising events, with special care taken to insure the privacy and quiet of the hillside residential community.

It would be wonderful if the internationally acclaimed landmark did not have to be used for any events at all, and the money needed for repairs, maintenance and operations be supplied by such institutions as the Getty Trust.

But that appears to be too much to ask from a local institution with a $2.3-billion endowment dedicated to the preservation of art and enjoying special tax benefits as a nonprofit public resource.

The reality is that if the Ennis-Brown house is to survive as a work of art and a community resource, it will have to be used for a few subdued fund-raising events. Given the distinction and value the house lends the immediate neighborhood and the city, it seems like a small price to pay.

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A healthy hostility . . . marked some of the sessions at the national conference of the American Planning Assn. held recently in Los Angeles.

It seems that a few planners questioned the relevancy of the profession in the face of avaricious developers, angry homeowners, aggressive journalists and conflicted politicians. But instead of touching off a needed discussion of what planners could do to play a stronger role in the development process, the questions unfortunately sent many into their bureaucratic shells.

Before the association left, it did bestow some national honors on locals. These included its Distinguished Leadership and Service awards to Melville Branch of USC and Margarita McCoy of Cal Poly, Pomona, respectively.

Winning deserving laurels also was a class at the UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning for a report entitled “Housing the Homeless in Los Angeles County: A Guide to Action.” It was put together with obvious care and concern by a student team directed by Professors Jacqueline Leavitt and Allan Heskin.

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It is such efforts that make one think that there is hope yet for planning as a profession dedicated to improving the quality of life, and not just filling up an environmental impact report with bureaucratic babble to rationalize another festival market.

It is down to seven . . . architectural teams and counting for the coveted commission to design the $330-million addition to the Los Angeles Convention Center.

The seven are Archiplan/HOK, DMJM/Luckman, Kober/Murphy & Jahn, Dworsky/Erickson; Howard, Needles, Tammen, Bergendoff & Halprin/A.C.Martin, Welton Becket and Gruen/I. M. Pei.

Someone could write a graduate thesis on the combinations that would explain a lot about the politics and finance of architecture today.

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As for the countdown, final submissions by the seven are to be in by May 16, with the center narrowing down the field to three by the end of the month. The list in order of preference then goes to the City Council, which is scheduled to make its choice June 30. And then the fun begins.


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