Nuns Plan to Sell Moreno Villa Despite Its Historic Designation

Times Staff Writer

The secluded, five-acre villa built by silent movie star Antonio Moreno atop a hill in Silver Lake appears to be destined for development in spite of its designation last week as a cultural-historic monument.

Over objections of the order of Mexican nuns that owns the property, called the Canfield-Moreno Estate, the Los Angeles City Council last Tuesday voted to endorse its nomination as a city monument.

The designation means that for six months the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission can prohibit any change in the use of the property that would diminish its historic value. The six-month period can be extended to a year.

However, the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception said this week through an attorney that the order still plans to sell the property to raise money to build a preschool for the children of poor families in the San Fernando Valley.


The order operated a home for wayward and homeless girls on the estate at 1923 Micheltorena St. from the 1950s until the October, 1987, earthquake left cracks in the main building. The girls living there at the time were transferred to other agencies.

Attorney Christopher J. Anderson, who represents the sisters, said they have decided not to repair the 2-story, Mediterranean-style country villa.

“In many ways, the Micheltorena property has become like an expensive antique automobile,” Anderson said. “Collecting and fixing up antique cars and homes is something for the rich.”

Anderson said he does not know how the monument designation will affect the plans of developer John Rizzo, who holds an option to buy the land. However, he said he will advise his clients if it appears the monument designation will prevent Rizzo or another buyer from pursuing a reasonable development plan.


A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Conservancy, which nominated the property for historic status, said she recognizes that it will probably be sold.

Christie McAvoy, preservation officer for the Conservancy, said the group’s goal is to find a developer who will commit to reusing the property without destroying its historic qualities.

“If the sisters keep the property on the market, we would certainly work with them so they could find a buyer to accomplish the mission they have identified,” McAvoy said. “We are willing to work with any developer who is willing to rehabilitate the building and preserve the site.”

McAvoy said a developer could combine federal rehabilitation tax credits, conservation easements and sensitive design into a profitable project without razing the Moreno house.

McAvoy said she has presented these ideas to Rizzo. She said she is waiting for Rizzo or the owner to make a specific proposal.