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Historic Mansion That Escaped Demolition Is Given Reprieve by City

Times Staff Writer

The McKinley Mansion, a historical landmark that was saved from the wrecking ball at the last minute, has been given a temporary reprieve by city officials who revoked a demolition permit that had been issued by mistake.

Tim Taylor, chief of the city Department of Building and Safety, said he is adding a new post, preservation coordinator, to prevent similar errors. He said the coordinator will examine all demolition permits to make sure all requirements have been met before a historical building can be razed.

In the case of the McKinley Mansion, the demolition permit should not have been issued Friday because the owner had not filed an environmental impact report with the city, Taylor told a meeting of the Cultural Heritage Commission on Wednesday.

Wrong Address

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While the Department of Building and Safety keeps historic landmarks and other such buildings specially flagged by address in its files, the mix-up came about because the contractor asked for a demolition permit for 300 Lafayette Park Place instead of the mansion’s actual address, 310 Lafayette Park Place, Taylor said.

The day after the permit was issued, a contractor began demolishing the house, knocking off porches and making gashes in the main structure. Neighbors alerted police. A building inspector called to the site stopped the demolition.

Mark Brown, an assistant city attorney, said Wednesday that his office is investigating whether it should take criminal or civil action against the owner, and has ordered the owner to cease demolition, weatherproof the building, and within 30 days begin repairing damages.

Jason Lee, who represents a consortium developing the property, did not attend the commission meeting and could not be reached for comment Wednesday. However, last weekend Lee showed The Times his demolition permit and said he believed he was authorized to destroy the house to make way for a 140-unit apartment building.

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The 13,000-square-foot house was given landmark status in 1987. It was built in 1917 by Maytor H. McKinley, a mortuary operator. The mansion, surrounded by apartment buildings, is the last of a handful of large family dwellings that graced Lafayette Park Place northwest of downtown.

Under city law, owners of historical landmarks can apply for demolition permits. However, preservationists are given up to a year to work out compromises to save the structures or find a buyer. If no compromise is reached, the owner must delay demolition until he obtains city approval of an environmental impact review detailing the alternatives to knocking down a structure.

The City Council declared a six-month moratorium on demolition of the McKinley Mansion in the fall of 1987. There was an option to renew the moratorium because it appeared that a preservation-minded buyer would make an offer for the property. However, the deadline passed in July without the opposition, led by the Los Angeles Conservancy, coming up with a way to save the mansion. The Cultural Heritage Board had no other option but to lift the stay. But the environmental impact review was still required.

Purchase Attempts

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A San Fernando Valley developer, Rod Daniels, and his wife, Sherry, who have restored several such mansions, have been attempting to purchase the mansion and move it to Granada Hills.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Building and Safety officials said they would ask police to keep an eye on the mansion until its fate is determined.

Daniels said he will ask Lee to reinstate a caretaker on the property. The former caretaker was let go last week. “I’m willing to pay for around-the-clock security. I’m afraid of what could happen to an empty, unoccupied house,” Daniels said. “I mean, if it caught fire, it would really be history.”


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