A 150-year-old adobe in Baldwin Hills, which for years has languished in obscurity and decay, has won a temporary reprieve from demolition because it has been proposed as a Los Angeles cultural and historical monument.
The Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission Wednesday voted unanimously to recommend that monument status be given despite the objections of the Consolidated Realty Board of Southern California, which purchased the property at 3725 Don Felipe Drive in 1972 and maintains its headquarters there.
Harry Gipson, Consolidated's president, said his group plans to demolish the building and put up a 5-story office and condominium complex on the 1.3-acre hilltop site with its panoramic view of downtown Los Angeles.
"This property is too valuable to leave here like this in such a deteriorated state," he said. "It doesn't make sense."
Reginald Ballard, another Consolidated spokesman, agreed. "This is not a historical monument," he said. "It is a deteriorating building that is badly in need of repair. We are constantly getting complaints from residents in the area to do something about it."
The building includes part of the original adobe that once was the center of the 4,000-acre Rancho La Cienega o Paso de la Tijera owned by Vicente Sanchez, the alcalde or mayor of Los Angeles in 1830. The original adobe, with its thick walls and high-beamed ceilings was restored in the 1920s when it was converted into a larger clubhouse by the Sunset Golf Course.
Alma Carlisle, an architectural associate for the city's Bureau of Engineering, told the commission that historical evidence indicates that the adobe was built in the 1840s. She also said that Indian artifacts found nearby provide evidence that humans lived on the site in prehistoric times.
"It is an ideal location offering a view to the east, north and partially to the west," she said. "It provides a great vantage point to oversee a ranch or (for Indians) to see if someone was approaching."
The Cultural Heritage Commission's recommendation will be submitted to the City Council's three-member Recreation, Library and Cultural Affairs Committee for review next month. The committee will then pass the recommendation to the City Council for a final decision.
A vote to declare the building a local historical monument would save it from demolition, but the designation could take a year if the owners decide to appeal.
Jay Oren, an architect for the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, said the owners cannot be forced to restore the property, but they can be made to maintain it. "They can't let it go to ruin," he said. The designation does not include financing for restoration.
Since 1971, the Cultural Heritage Commission has received several requests to declare the Sanchez adobe an historical monument. The commission, however, never acted on the requests until after it learned that the owners were considering demolition, Oren said.
Commission President Amarjit S. Marwah said the decision to recommend the designation was based on the "historical value of the property."
Victor Parker, the president of the United Homeowner Assn., an organization of neighbors, agreed with the decision. "A site that old, with that much historical value to the area and the city, really belongs to everyone," he said.
Over the years, Consolidated has rented out the building for parties and other social functions. The 11,000-square-foot building includes Consolidated's offices, a large auditorium, two other large halls for meetings and a fully equipped kitchen.
The Spanish named the building Rancho La Cienega o Paso de la Tijera. La cienega means "the marsh" and la tijera refers to the narrow narrow scissor-shaped valleys between the hills.
According to the late Virginia French, who wrote a book on the old adobes, Gov. Manuel Micheltorena granted the property to Vicente Sanchez in 1843 for his "valiant soldiering and good citizenry." At the time, the rancho extended from what is now Exposition Boulevard to Slauson Avenue and from La Cienega east to about 4th Avenue.
When Vicente died, the property was taken over by one of the heirs, Tomas A. Sanchez, a sheriff of Los Angeles County for nearly 10 years. Sanchez sold the ranch and it eventually was purchased by E. J. (Lucky) Baldwin of San Francisco. Baldwin died in 1909, thinking that the rancho was a white elephant, French wrote.
Meanwhile, City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, whose district includes the property, has asked the commission to look into the possible inclusion of the site on the National Register of Historic Places. A Galanter spokesman said that it would be possible to develop on the site even if the building is designated a historic monument.