Demolition Begins in Gardena : Rescuers Fail to Save Historic House

Times Staff Writer

Despite several ambitious plans to restore the Wills House, an 80-year-old, wood-frame, Victorian-style house in Gardena, workmen began razing the building this week.

Before the demolition began Monday, at least three efforts were made to save the house and move it from Vermont and Magnolia avenues, where a developer with homes in Japan and Torrance is building a mini-mall.

Built in 1908 by Gardena pioneers William and Karen Wills, the Wills House was one of the city's oldest homes and one of five houses recommended by a study group for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places after a 1981 city survey of historical sites, said Tom Parks, a local historian and executive vice president of the Gardena Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The four remaining Gardena houses that were recommended for preservation are still standing, but the city has not nominated any of them for the register, Parks said. Such designation would allow tax credits for people who invest in the properties.

Was to Be Moved

Jacqueline and Tennyson Sebastian of Topanga Canyon said they were completing bank financing to purchase the house and move it 30 miles to a parcel in Topanga Canyon. They said they had hoped to live in it with their two children.

"It was going to cost about $40,000 to move it, but it was worth it because of the condition, and because we really loved it," Jacqueline Sebastian said. "There it stood for 80 years, this fine thing. Now the fate of the thing has been decided in a few weeks, and the soul of the thing has been ripped out."

Lucy Bennett of Palos Verdes Estates said she searched in vain for a lot in Gardena on which to store the house temporarily while she looked for a permanent site for the building. Bennett had hoped to use a section of the house as a repository for historic Gardena artifacts and to convert another section into a restaurant.

"I'm pretty upset because nobody seems to care about the value of old historical buildings," Bennett said.

Bennett said she had been willing to use her own funds to pay for moving the house but was turned down by several owners of vacant lots in Gardena, who wouldn't allow the house to be placed on their land even temporarily.

The third would-be savior, Jim Duffin, said he was unable to raise the $40,000 to move the house to the Victoria Golf Course in Carson, which he manages.

Hiroshi Tsukahara, a real estate broker and spokesman for the owner and developer, Hajime Shigeyo Inoue, said no date has been set to begin the mini-mall construction. Inoue lives in Japan, Tsukahara said, although Gardena city records also show an address for Inoue on Dorman Avenue in Torrance.

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