Beverly Hills Water Plant May Get New Life as Film Academy Archive

Times Staff Writer

A study has concluded that the former La Cienega Water Treatment Plant--once marked for demolition by the Beverly Hills City Council--can be rehabilitated.

The study also said that the 60-year-old, 12,000-square-foot reinforced concrete building could accommodate several uses, including office and retail space, a health club, a museum or a community center.

A potential tenant has already surfaced. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has said that it is willing to spend as much as $4 million to rehabilitate the waterworks at La Cienega and Olympic boulevards to house its film library.

The City Council will review the study and consider the academy's proposal at Tuesday's 7:30 p.m. meeting.

Judge Ordered Report

The study was performed by J L H Consulting Inc. of Glendale. Kaplan McLaughlin Diaz, an architectural firm known for its renovation and adaptive re-use of historic buildings, and Englekirk and Hart, an engineering firm familiar with rehabilitation and seismic strengthening of buildings, provided additional evaluations.

The City Council commissioned the study last spring after a Superior Court judge ruled in a favor of a community preservation group's lawsuit and said that the city would have to prepare an environmental impact report before proceeding with plans to tear down the Spanish colonial-style building.

The council had voted 3 to 2 to demolish the building after preliminary studies by city staff indicated that years of corrosion may have weakened the underpinnings that hold the concrete structure together.

The plant had been used to treat well water, but was damaged in the 1971 earthquake and has not been used since 1976.

Rather than a more costly environmental impact report, the council and the preservationists, the Friends of the Waterworks, agreed to a study exploring potential re-use and rehabilitation of the building. The city also agreed to seek proposals from developers interested in the building.

Demolition Not Recommended

The study, released last week, said that although significant concrete damage exists with areas of concern regarding seismic capacity, "none of these problems has proven to be serious enough to recommend demolition of the structure.

"The combined experience and opinion of the professionals who prepared this study is that the rehabilitation of this building is feasible," the study said.

The study estimates that it would cost about $510,000 to rehabilitate the building and restore the existing doors, windows and roof. However, the study also cautions that the estimate does not include complete restoration of the building or additional costs that would be needed to accommodate new uses.

William Delvac, an attorney representing the preservationists, said the study's conclusion have supported the group's expectations.

"We're obviously pleased that the city took the time, as we had asked them, to give the building a second chance," Delvac said. "It was always our intent to have the marketplace decide the economics of re-using the building."

Pleased at Findings

The study's findings were also good news for Councilwoman Charlotte Spadaro, who has fought to save the waterworks.

"I m just really pleased that the conclusion is that the structure can be saved," Spadaro said in an interview. "I'm sorry that it has taken such a battle to discover that, and I would hope that in the future people would be more careful about saying that a building can't be saved when it can."

Mayor Benjamin H. Stansbury, who also had voted not to demolish the building last spring, said the study's conclusions makes rehabilitation "quite feasible."

Councilwoman Donna Ellman said her vote to demolish the waterworks was an economic decision.

"I never questioned that it could be rehabilitated," she said. "For the right money, one can do anything. It's always been a matter of how much money. If there is an appropriate use and an appropriate person to rehabilitate the building, and for them it is economically feasible, than I am all for it."

Councilman Robert K. Tanenbaum said he, too, is concerned about the economic viability of rehabilitating the former water treatment plant.

"The question is to rehabilitate for what use," Tanenbaum said. "Five hundred thousand dollars just to keep it standing there is not prudent."

Council members also said they are interested in the proposal being offered by the motion-picture academy.

Bruce Davis, the academy's executive administrator, said his nonprofit organization has been looking for more than three years for additional space for its archives. He said the Margaret Herrick Library's contents have outgrown its 8,000-square-foot space in its 7-story headquarters at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard.

Davis said he first approached the city about using the waterworks about two months ago. He said the academy would be willing to pay the entire cost of rehabilitating the building--an estimated $4 million--in exchange for a low-rent, long-term lease.

"We've been putting the money aside, so it's available," Davis said. "But, to be honest, we are looking for an extremely low rental agreement."

Delvac said he will ask the City Council to negotiate exclusively with the academy before seeking other proposals for the waterworks.

The academy proposal has at least one council vote.

"I am very supportive of it," Spadaro said. "It would enhance the City of Beverly Hills. It is an organization that is admired and respected by just about everyone."

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