The Los Angeles City Cultural Heritage Commission last week designated the Farmers Market in the Fairfax District as a historic-cultural monument despite the objections of its development-minded owners.
"We're honored by the designation, but we don't need the regulatory mechanism," said Allan J. Abshez, an attorney for the A. F. Gilmore Co., which plans to appeal the designation to the City Council.
The Gilmore Co. in January won the City Council's approval to build a shopping center around the existing open-air market. The council imposed conditions that would require the company to retain the older, central core of the 55-year-old market as part of a larger complex that is to include shops, restaurants and two department stores.
"We feel confident that the City Council will recognize that this site has been studied, and that all the guarantees are in place, " said Ira Handelman, a spokesman for the Gilmore Co.
"The Gilmore family has taken care of it since its inception, since they're the creator of it, and there should be confidence in its stewardship for future generations," he said.
But the cultural heritage commissioners decided Wednesday that the entire complex--including a newer wing now scheduled to be demolished--needed protection, said Jay Oren, their staff architect. The commission excluded a separate bank building and a filling station from its action, however.
"There's going to be a controversy," Oren said. The development plan approved by the city may already have adequately protected the property, he said. But because the Farmers Market "clearly met the criteria" of a historic-cultural monument as defined by city ordinance, members of the commission decided that "it was their duty to designate it."
If the designation is upheld by the City Council, the butchers, bakers, taco vendors and other merchants at one of the city's largest tourist attractions would have to obtain an OK from the Cultural Heritage Commission before they make any design changes to their buildings.
Additionally, the Gilmore Co. could face a delay of up to a year in its plans to demolish the newer wing of shops to make way for a parking lot.
Approval of the commission's action by the City Council is far from guaranteed, however, said Renee Weitzer, a planning deputy to City Council President John Ferraro. The councilman's district includes the Farmers Market.
"We can modify it or we can deny the whole thing," she said.
Weitzer was instrumental in drawing up the plan that required the Gilmore Co. to keep the original buildings as well as a 139-year-old adobe house on the site. Any major changes would have to be approved by the city Planning Commission.
"I think we've got it covered," she said. "What we have here is this property that has been owned by the same family since the 1800s, and they are very sensitive to their property. They could have sold it years ago and made bundles and they didn't, and they recognize more than anybody what they have. So why would they want to destroy it?"
But attorney William K. Barth, whose vigorous lobbying led to Wednesday's action by the commission, said the designation was needed to protect the entire market, which began as a place for San Fernando Valley farmers to sell their produce directly to consumers.
He also said he hopes to force the Gilmore Co. to scale down its project, which an environmental impact report says would aggravate the already severe traffic congestion in the Fairfax District.
"The importance of this is to try to keep the small-scale, neighborhood-based nature of the market the way it is," said Barth, who heads an organization, the California Residents Assn., that he said provides legal advice to community groups fighting development.
Barth also argued that the city's architectural heritage would be diminished by the proposed demolition of one of two familiar clock towers that symbolize the Farmers Market.
Despite the lengthy bureaucratic process that led to approval of Gilmore's plans--and the deletion of a proposed hotel and office building--Barth contends that the public had little voice in the City Council's final decision.
"They (city officials) don't pay enough attention to historic and cultural values," he said, noting that the original request to grant monument status to the market languished for years after it was first filed in 1984. He renewed it last year.