Pressured by homeowners who oppose plans to rebuild the landmark Pan Pacific building, Supervisor Ed Edelman said Tuesday that the county will conduct an environmental impact study that may delay construction by several months.
The announcement came after officers of the Rancho La Brea Neighborhood Assn. sent Edelman two sharply worded letters demanding a new environmental impact report and called an emergency meeting for residents to air their concerns about the Pan Pacific.
"We feel that with the supplementary environmental impact report, we can get the concerns people have, mitigate them and then go ahead and save the building in a way that will get some revenue for the county and enhance the community," Edelman said.
Residents have said that the proposal to build an ice rink, a gymnastics center, two restaurants and five movie theaters in the shell of the 53-year-old building will attract criminals and cause noise and traffic problems.
"If they in fact do mitigate those problems, if that in fact happens, I can see where we have a victory," said Steven S. Karic, executive vice president of the neighborhood group.
But Karic said the association will renew its protests if the project is not drastically cut back as a result of the environmental review.
He said projects now being built nearby and others that are still being planned would overload streets that already are full of traffic.
"We don't really know what precisely we'd like to see . . . but we do know that what they're offering is what we don't want," Karic said. "We just think it's smack dab in the middle of our neighborhood, and it is just going to create all sorts of havoc."
The group represents residents of about 1,500 homes located between Fairfax Avenue and La Brea Avenue and between Rosewood Avenue and 3rd Street.
County officials said that of the 10 Pan Pacific projects suggested by various developers, the ideas submitted by the firms of Kornwasser & Friedman and its partner, Goldrich & Kest, were the least likely to disrupt the neighborhood.
It could have been worse, noted Sherman Gardner, a vice president of Goldrich & Kest.
"Anybody could come up with a proposal that would perhaps generate additional dollars, such as a Price Club, for example," he said. "Our thrust has been that of trying to preserve the Pan Pacific."
In addition to an ice rink like the one that attracted thousands of skaters during the heyday of the Pan Pacific decades ago, the building would also house the country's only facility for the Olympic sport of rhythmic gymnastics.
With both U.S. Olympic competitors in rhythmic gymnastics living in the Los Angeles area, along with seven other members of the U.S. national team and three national and Olympic coaches, the need for such a gym is pressing, said Nora Hitzel, rhythmic program administrator for the U.S. Gymnastic Federation in Indianapolis.
The U.S. rhythmic gymnasts finished 22nd and 26th out of 34 competitors at the Seoul Olympics.
Coach Alla Svirsky of the Los Angeles School of Gymnastics agreed, saying that it has proved impossible to rent a space tall enough to allow for the 40-foot tosses of ribbons, hoops, clubs and balls that distinguish rhythmic gymnastics. Instead, local competitors have trained in school and church gyms.
The Pan Pacific is "my dream, only my last hope," said Svirsky, crediting Michael Dubin, a Kornwasser & Friedman vice president, for including the gym at the suggestion of a mutual friend who is a gymnast.
While Karic said the ice rink and gymnastics facilities would not appeal to many nearby residents who are either Orthodox Jews or elderly or both, Dubin said the area is also home to a growing number of younger families with children. Karic is among them, but he said his 10-month-old daughter is too young to go ice-skating.
"Both of our principal owners grew up in the area and they felt that when the opportunity rises they should give back to the community," Dubin said. "Financially, it's one of the worst projects we have. . . . If we average 15% (return on investment) at most projects, then Pan Pacific is well below that."
Karic said that the historic structure and the neighborhood might be better served if the county restored the Pan Pacific on its own. But county officials said no money was available for such a project.
"I don't know who'd be willing to put in something like $15 million to something they wouldn't get any return off of," said Penny Van Bogaert, an analyst for the county's chief administrative officer. "The county certainly doesn't have the money. So we had to get a private developer involved."
Under an agreement that enabled the use of federal funds to help purchase the site, the county was obliged to try to save the 116,700-square-foot complex as long as a viable option was available for developing it, Edelman said.
"There were three viable alternatives and we picked the least intrusive," Edelman said. "The conservationists and the federal government both would come down on me if we were to do away with Pan Pacific."
After the evaporation of an earlier scheme to redo the building as a hotel and cinematheque, Edelman said the Pan Pacific might have to be pulled down. Damaged by fire, the historic building had become a home to vagrants and its walls an attractive canvas for graffiti artists.
Widely admired for the three fin-like towers that dominate its curving western front, the Pan Pacific is on the Federal Register of Historic Sites and its facade is listed as a city historical-cultural monument. Its distinctive style is known to architectural historians as Streamline Moderne.
Designed by architects Walter Wurdeman and Welton Becket, the Pan Pacific was built in six weeks as a temporary structure for an appliance show in 1935.
The all-wood building once contained the largest ice rink in the country. It also was the scene of political meetings, basketball games and air shows and was the venue for Elvis Presley's West Coast premiere in 1957.
But it lost bookings to newer rivals such as the Los Angeles Sports Arena, the Music Center and Pauley Pavilion, finally going out of business in 1972, one year after the Los Angeles Convention opened its doors.
The city, county, state and regional flood district bought the 7-acre site and the adjacent 21 acres that now make up Pan Pacific Park from the estate of automobile magnate Errett Lobban Cord in 1979 for $10.45 million.
It was once part of an entertainment complex that included a drive-in movie, bowling alley and minor-league baseball stadium that was the home of the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League.
The county administers the park of today, much of which lies below street level. It includes softball fields and playgrounds but is primarily intended to be a flood control basin.