A Japanese university that wants to build a 5,000-student campus in a Calabasas meadow plans to tear down all but one of the existing buildings there, disturbing state and federal parks officials who want the site themselves.
The site has 46 structures ranging from houses and barns to dormitories built in the 1950s as part of a monastery, consultants hired by Tokyo-based Soka University said.
The disclosure that the buildings--except for the historic Gillette mansion--would be demolished was made in a preliminary planning document by Soka architects obtained Monday by The Times. It surprised parks officials, who hope to acquire the land and buildings on Mulholland Highway at Las Virgenes Road for a headquarters for the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area.
“This just proves our point . . . that the park is a superior use for the site,” said Joseph T. Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, one of three agencies involved in efforts to acquire the land. “The parks could use that property on a turnkey basis--no tearing buildings down, no building new things.”
Edmiston also said the demolition plan contradicts statements by university representatives, who had told park officials they would only consider trading their 600-acre holdings for a site with similar amenities, including buildings.
Steve Davis, the architect designing the school site, said the university needs the buildings only temporarily. The school plans to use them to house students during the 10 years it will take to erect replacements. The existing structures would be taken down gradually, he said, as the university grows from the 80 Japanese students who now visit for short seminars to 5,000 students expected to be enrolled full time in a four-year liberal arts program by 2015.
Soka’s home campus in Tokyo has 6,000 students. The university has close financial and philosophical ties to Nichiren Shoshu of America, a Japanese lay organization--critics call it a cult--which emphasizes chanting for personal and material gain.
The Spanish colonial-style Gillette mansion, which would be preserved as a reception center, was built in the 1920s by King Gillette, the razor blade magnate.
Davis said the university decided to tear down structures because some are not seismically sound, most are not architecturally compatible with the mansion, and many are not ideally located. He said the university wants to preserve as much open space as possible by clustering buildings.
“We want to create a campus that focuses on the central area,” Davis said. “We feel we can condense things.”
Nearby residents, many who oppose the university’s expansion plans, also were surprised to learn of the demolition plans, which they said were not mentioned during meetings with community groups last year.
“The question is, what do they intend to put in their place?” asked Les Hardie, president of the Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation, a coalition of 16 area homeowner groups.
Hardie said the most recent disclosure confirmed his suspicions that the university has already developed more detailed plans than those disclosed publicly.
Edmiston said state and federal parks agencies are continuing to look for a parcel of land that could be traded for the Calabasas property. The university agreed to delay its application to the county for construction permission until April 15 to give the parks officials time to propose other options.
If the trade effort fails, parks officials have said they may try to seize the land through condemnation.