Good News on Preservation Front

Some good news in the continuing battle to make Los Angeles a more engaging architectural experience and a more livable city.

On the preservation front, there is much to celebrate in the saving of the Art Deco-styled Wilshire Tower. With its engaging, flamboyant ornamentation and exquisitely detailed entry, the building at 5514 Wilshire Blvd. is a centerpiece of the Miracle Mile historic district.

To have lost the tower and its block-long, two-story base of stores designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood in 1928 would have been a devastating blow to both the city's rich architectural legacy and to local efforts to revitalize the area and prevent it from becoming just another anonymous commercial strip.

How the tower was saved also is welcome news and, hopefully, could serve as a guide in similar situations elsewhere in Los Angeles in the future.

The owner originally wanted to demolish the tower to clear the site for a larger development, while preservationists and community activists wanted it declared a landmark and somehow thwart the demolition and the proposed project.

But even with a landmark designation, the owner could eventually persevere if a viable reuse of the building could not be found.

To avoid that situation, an agreement was engineered by the office of Councilman John Ferraro, with the aid of the Los Angeles Conservancy, under which the tower would be declared a landmark and saved and a zoning change approved to allow the construction of 150 apartments and an art gallery on what is now a rear parking lot.

The saving of the landmark pleased the preservationists and the zoning change pleased owner Moussa Shaaya.

Now it is up to the Shaaya's designated architect, Kamram Khavarani, to come up with a design scheme that complements and does not compete with the commercial landmark while also somehow being compatible with the adjoining residential neighborhood. Early studies by Khavarani that extended the scale and style of the base of the tower look promising.

There is good news also in the withdrawal of an application by Public Storage for a permit to demolish a modest studio at 1712 Glendale Blvd. in Echo Park. That relatively nondescript studio containing a stage is the last remaining structure in what was once one of the city's largest and most successful movie-making complexes.

Romping there when it was known as the Edendale and Keystone studios in the wild and woolly early days of the movies were Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, Ben Turpin and Buster Keaton, among others. While the studio is not an architectural landmark, it is certainly a cultural one that deserves to be saved and honored.

It is nice to note that once the history of the structure was made known by concerned preservationists, film buffs and the local community, Public Storage agreed to incorporate it into its plans for the reuse of the site rather than have it demolished.

There is the promise of good news in a report that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would like to recycle the romantic Romanesque-styled Beverly Hills Waterworks for its archives and library.

Looking very much like a cathedral at the northwest corner of La Cienega and Olympic boulevards, the building had been declared surplus by the city last year and was to have been demolished, when preservationists with the help of the court won a last minute reprieve.

The city subsequently agreed to fund a reuse study, which, in its draft form, is said to comment that saving the structure is not only physically feasible, but also fiscally responsible. The latter is a key phrase in the churlish municipal melodrama on stage at present in the Beverly Hills City Hall.

Meanwhile, out of the wings has stepped the respected and well-intentioned academy. The matter now goes to the Beverly Hills City Council, where unlike its handling of the Greystone Mansion, let us hope, it will act like a responsible public trust instead of a greedy private holding company.

Acting like a public trust that recognizes the potential of historic architectural and cultural landmarks, the Culver City Council a few weeks ago voted to accept the donation of the so-called Witch's House now located in Beverly Hills. That is good news for preservationists and Culver City boosters.

The house was originally built in Culver City in 1921 as offices for a film company, and stood there five years before being moved to Beverly Hills and converted into a home. Now, in effect, the fanciful structure is going home, hopefully to lend Culver City a sense of its own history as a film center.

Good news on the neighborhood front includes the promise that the Los Angeles Unified School District is said to have made to Councilman Nate Holden: that no more homes will be taken for school expansion and off-street parking in the Wilton, Whitehouse and Bimini places areas.

The promise followed the disclosure that the district had purchased a home on Wilton Place after saying it would not until its expansion plans could be restudied under new state legislation allowing more design flexibility in the development of school facilities. Those studies re now being conducted.

Maybe it was because the district's planning bureaucracy and its consultants have gotten the word, or maybe it was because the neighborhood protests prompted the politicians to put pressure on the school board. Whatever, the result appears to be that a more responsible planning and design process is at last evolving.

The proposal to make the Hollywood enclave of Melrose Hill a historic preservation zone has leaped another hurdle with the recent approval of the City Council's Planning and Environment Committee. The next and final hurdle is the approval of the full council.

A collage of comfortable period houses on a maze of leafy streets tucked away above Melrose Avenue and Hobart Boulevard, the neighborhood is just the type of area that belies the image of Los Angeles as a collection of tedious, transient communities. There are people there who care about their houses, streets, community and, in effect, Los Angeles.

It is that caring rather than a particular architectural profile of Melrose Hill the preservation zone will be aiding. What we are seeing in the establishment of such zones and the interest and involvement they generate is good news indeed for the city.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World