8 Westwood Buildings Are Declared Historic Monuments

Times Staff Writer

The towering Fox Village Theatre, the domed Janss Investment Corp. building in the heart of Westwood Village and two North Village apartment complexes designed by renowned modernist Richard Neutra are among eight Westwood buildings declared historic-cultural monuments on Tuesday by the Los Angeles City Council.

The designations, in the works for two years, mark the city's most significant commitment to historic preservation in Westwood, which has grown over the past half-century from a quaint college town with a Mediterranean motif into a rowdy collage of restaurants, trendy stores and new apartments and condominiums.

Two of the designations--the Elkay Apartments at 638 Kelton Ave. and the Gayley Terrace Apartments at 959 Gayley Ave.--came despite strong objections from the buildings' owners. The owners said they feared that restrictions on demolition and renovations would hurt the resale value of the properties.

'Extreme Economic Burden'

"This will be an extreme economic burden on me," said Karen Bruderlin, owner of the Elkay Apartments, a Neutra-designed building constructed by her parents in 1948.

Jean Taylor Lawrence, who has owned Gayley Terrace for 42 years, appeared near tears as she appealed to the council to leave her property alone. Lawrence said she was being punished for keeping her Spanish Colonial-style building in good repair.

"Our corner looks beautiful, and it was because of my hard work," Lawrence said after the council vote. "They have torn my heart out."

Since early last year, several other Westwood buildings, including two by Neutra, have been designated historic monuments, but Tuesday was the first time the council endorsed widespread preservation in Westwood. Encouraged by the action, city planning officials and residents said they will push for designations of about half a dozen other structures, including several UCLA sorority houses in the North Village.

"When you have lost as much as we have lost, what you save is that much more precious," said Laura Lake, president of Friends of Westwood, a homeowners group. "This shows that Westwood was a hub of important, distinctive architecture. Maybe this will offset some of the hamburger places."

Added City Planner Daniel Scott: "This was really a big win for us."

The historic-cultural designation, although important to preservationists for symbolic reasons, also has one important practical implication. The city's Cultural Heritage Commission has the authority to block owners of the monuments from demolishing or altering the buildings for up to one year. During that period, the city could attempt to negotiate an agreement with the owners to spare the building. However, if no agreement is reached, the commission has no power over the building.

None of the eight Westwood monuments face demolition, but city officials said they wanted to get the safeguards in place as a precaution.

"This was an effort to anticipate, rather than be reactive--to try to be pro-active--about historical buildings," said Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents Westwood. "We tend to be criticized very often for designating historic buildings under the threat of demolition. People ask us 'Why didn't you designate in advance?' This is the advance."

Four of the newly named Westwood historic monuments--the Fox Village Theatre, the Janss building, the Fox Bruin Theatre and the Bratskeller/Egyptian Theatre--are in Westwood Village, the community's commercial hub south of UCLA. The other four monuments--all apartment buildings--are in the North Village, a residential enclave west of the campus.

"These are eight of the most significant landmarks in Westwood," said Christy McAvoy, a consultant hired by the city to catalogue buildings in Westwood. "The collection of the Neutra buildings, in particular, in the North Village is substantial."

The Vienna-born Neutra came to Los Angeles in the 1920s while working with Frank Lloyd Wright. He steered away from the popular Spanish influences of the time, concentrating instead on modern designs based on simple construction that integrated interior and exterior spaces. He is credited by historians with spawning a branch of Southern California architecture based on open and straightforward designs.

Revised Community Plan

The eight buildings were selected by the city's Planning Department from an inventory of historic structures compiled as part of the Westwood community plan revision. The revised community plan, approved by the council in January, specifically calls for the "preservation and enhancement" of Westwood's "distinctive" character.

Two studies, one of Westwood Village and one of the North and East villages, pinpointed more than 20 potential city monuments, including several that could qualify for the National Register of Historic Places. The studies also suggested the creation of several so-called "historic preservation overlay zones," which would designate entire neighborhoods as city preservation districts.

The significance of the eight buildings, according to nominating papers filed by city consultants with the Cultural Heritage Commission, is based on factors ranging from the prominence of the architect to the building's ties to early Westwood as planned by the Janss Investment Corp., the community's original developers when UCLA opened in 1929:

The Fox Village Theatre, 945 Broxton Ave., was built in 1931 of reinforced concrete and "draws upon Spanish and Classical sources for its design," the nomination papers said. The theater is best known for its distinctive tower, the tallest in Westwood, that was intended to serve "as a beacon to moviegoers." The theater, the predominant entertainment center in early Westwood, was designed by P. P. Lewis for the Janss company and soon became a flagship theater for Fox.

The Fox Bruin Theatre, 926-40 Broxton Ave., was built in 1937 as part of a major expansion by the Fox film company. Directly across the street from the Fox Village Theatre, the Streamline-Moderne-style Bruin theater stood in sharp contrast to the Spanish-style Village theater. The building, designed by prominent theater architect S. Charles Lee, was designed to lure motorists with its flashy neon marquees.

The Janss Investment Corp. Building, 1045-1099 Westwood Blvd., stands at the center of Westwood Village at Westwood Boulevard and Broxton Avenue. The octagonal building, considered the most prominent of Westwood's landmarks, served as the nerve center of the Janss development effort in Westwood. Built in 1929 and designed by the architectural firm of Allison & Allison, the designers of Royce Hall and several other UCLA buildings, the main part of the building now houses a clothing store. For years, it was known as the Glendale Federal building, after its longtime tenant.

The Bratskeller/Egyptian Theatre, 1142-1154 Westwood Blvd., was built in 1929 as a Ralphs supermarket. The Mediterranean-style building is best known for its stout cylindrical center. The brick supermarket served as a model for a cluster of buildings later built along Lindbrook Drive and Glendon Avenue. The building's name comes from a restaurant and theater that are no longer housed in the building. The building now houses Josephina's restaurant and an Odeon movie theater.

The Sheets Apartments, 10919 Strathmore Ave., built in 1949 and designed by renowned Los Angeles architect John Lautner, present a "dramatic juxtaposition of geometric volumes and planes" that creates a "dynamic tension in the appearance of this three-story Modern apartment building," the nomination papers said. The rectangular building features circular and angular glazed and wood-sided enclosures. Two cylinders set above street-level carports are linked by a V-shaped third floor. The building represents "one of the most futuristic" post-World War II additions to the North Village, the papers said. The building is now commonly known as the L'Horizon Apartments.

The Kelton Apartments, 644 Kelton Ave., built in 1941, were designed by Neutra and are still owned by his relatives. The three-unit building is considered a "harbinger" of a shift in Neutra's style toward "less tautly dramatic" structures that are "more relaxed and lyrical," according to a book by Neutra authority Thomas Hines of UCLA. The building is marked by "broad bands of windows and flat roofs," and its roof extensions "seem to float over glazed walls and corners, integrating outdoor spaces" into the building, the nomination papers said.

The Elkay Apartments, 638 Kelton Ave., were built in 1948, the last project by Neutra in the North Village. Next to the Kelton Apartments, the five-unit building's historical significance became an issue during the nomination process. The owner's attorney, Randy Naiman, described the horizontal-oriented building as a "run-of-the-mill product of a very fine architect" that is "nowhere as good or important as his many other contributions to the city." Naiman noted that the building warranted just one line in Hines' book about Neutra. Not to be outdone, city officials got a handwritten letter from Hines expressing his regret about slighting the building. "I appreciate it more and more as the years go by, and wish I had given it more attention in my book," Hines wrote.

Gayley Terrace Apartments, 959 Gayley Ave., built in 1940 and designed by Santa Barbara architect Laurence B. Clapp, is described in the nomination papers as a Spanish Colonial Revival apartment building that is "the epitome of what the Janss company envisioned as the residential component of its Mediterranean village." Because of its hillside location at the intersection of Gayley and Weyburn avenues, it is considered one of the most prominent and well-known buildings in Westwood. The 20-unit structure has red clay tile roofs, exposed rafters and multiple-paned windows. Owner Lawrence and her son, Maurice D. Meyers, do not dispute the building's beauty, but they questioned the validity of historical claims by Johnson Heumann Research Associates, the firm that wrote the nomination papers.

"The major issue is that this is un-American," Meyers said after the council meeting. "The government, with no credentials or backup, tells the investor that we are restricting your rights as to what you can do with your own property. It destroys the value of the property."

HISTORIC-CULTURAL LANDMARKS APPROVED

1. Bratskeller/Egyptian Theatre--1142-1154 Westwood Blvd.

Constructed - 1929

Architect - Russell Collins

Historic significance - The building that was once a Ralph's supermarket conformed to the Mediterranean architectural guidelines of the Village, incorporating ornate branches that typified the supermarkets' design.

2. Janss Investment Corp. Building--1045-1099 Westwood Blvd.

Constructed - 1929

Architect - Allison & Allison

Historic significance - Architectural firm specialized in institutional construction; interior was decorated with murals by the A. T. Heinsbergen Co.

3. Fox Bruin Theatre--926-940 Broxton Ave.

Constructed - 1937

Architect - S. Charles Lee

Historic significance - Excellent translation of the Streamline-Moderne aesthetic into theater form by premiere theater architect Lee.

4. Fox Village Theatre--945 Broxton Ave.

Constructed - 1931

Architect - P. P. Lewis

Historic significance - Designed for the Janss Corp., the facility became one of the most important flagship theaters of the chain.

5. Gayley Terrace--959 Gayley Ave.

Constructed - 1940

Architect - Laurence B. Clapp

Historic significance - The epitome of what the Janss company envisioned as the residential component of its "Mediterranean" village.

6. Kelton Apartments--644 Kelton Ave.

Constructed - 1941

Architect - Richard J. Neutra

Historic significance - Harbinger of a shift in the renowned modernist's style, which would be expressed in his postwar projects. Not shown on map photo.

7. Elkay Apartments--638 Kelton Ave.

Constructed - 1948

Architect - Richard J. Neutra

Historic significance - The last design of the acclaimed architect to be completed in the North Village. Not shown on map photo.

8. Sheets Apartments--10919 Strathmore Drive

Constructed - 1949

Architect - John Lautner

Historic significance - One of the most futuristic and original contributions to the North Village, designed by modernist Lautner. Not shown on map photo.

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