A real estate group pleaded no contest Friday to charges of illegally trying to demolish a 76-year-old landmark mansion that a San Fernando Valley man dreams of moving from downtown Los Angeles to exclusive Monteria Estates.
The sentencing closes one chapter in the twisted saga of the McKinley Mansion, a 13,000-square-foot, Italian Renaissance-style structure that was declared a cultural-historic monument by the city of Los Angeles in 1987.
But it remains to be seen if Rod Daniels, a Granada Hills-based real estate entrepreneur, will ever realize his dream of establishing his ownership of the huge house--once the home of Maytor McKinley, a Los Angeles mortuary mogul.
Daniels wants to section the house into four parts and move it 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles to be reassembled on a lot in Monteria Estates, an enclave of private streets behind guarded gates in Chatsworth.
Daniels said he bought the house, which was built in 1914, for $1 in October, 1988. He got it for a token price, he said, because a group of Korean and Israeli developers who owned it wanted him to remove the structure to make way for a 140-unit apartment complex they planned to construct on the site at 310 S. Lafayette Park Place.
Daniels is now suing the apartment developers, accusing them of breach of contract for trying to demolish the mansion after he bought it. The developers maintain that Daniels never acquired title to the building.
Daniels also has filed a $1.4-million claim against the city, alleging the city erroneously issued a demolition permit.
In the separate criminal case that concluded Friday, Lafayette Tower East Partners and Sandra Park, also known as Kyung S. Park, pleaded no contest to charges of trying to demolish the mansion without a valid permit. The Lafayette group and Park agreed to pay $12,680 in fines and costs.
The defendants failed to get a required environmental impact report before obtaining a demolition permit on Dec. 29, 1988 for the mansion, the city attorney alleged. The report was needed because the city declared the mansion a cultural-historic monument in September, 1987.
Illegal work to raze the structure began on New Year’s Eve, 1988, said Deputy City Atty. Craig M. Takenaka. An outcry from adjacent homeowners who were aware of the mansion’s landmark status stopped the demolition work within hours.
Although the city originally alleged that the defendants obtained the demolition permit deceitfully--because their application did not accurately identify the mansion as the target of the demolition effort--the judge did not rule on the issue.
During Friday’s sentencing hearing, Daniels protested that the city should go to trial and seek guilty verdicts against the defendants. The plea bargain “sends the wrong message to persons contemplating destruction of historic sites for their economic gain. It means that violating city ordinances is just a cost of doing business,” Daniels told Superior Court Judge J. Stephen Czuleger.
Daniels, comparing the mansion to the White House and the Alamo in significance, told the judge that “if you drove a tractor through the Alamo you’d get hung” in Texas. Daniels was allowed to make his presentation to the judge under the state Victim’s Bill of Rights law.
But, Czuleger told Daniels, the fines imposed were a “pretty good sting” for a misdemeanor case.
Attorney Christopher A. Sutton, who represents Daniels in his civil lawsuit, told reporters that his client would be helped if guilty verdicts were obtained against the defendants. Their no contest pleas cannot be used against them in the civil case.
The judge granted a request by the city attorney’s office for a hearing at an unspecified date to seek restitution from the Lafayette-Park group for the demolition damages to the mansion. Who would receive restitution depends on who the courts decide owns the mansion.
Daniels has claimed the cost of repairing the damages would be nearly $400,000.
Park declined to comment.