For a man who says he is serious about preserving historic buildings, Larry Layne has taken a startling step. He has asked Los Angeles officials for permission to demolish his rare 104-year-old carriage barn in Angelino Heights.
In September, Layne, owner of a Mission Hills development company, bought a deteriorating Victorian house and adjacent barn at 1347 Kellam Ave. and launched an ambitious and expensive restoration project. A key component called for moving the carriage barn close to the sidewalk for easier public viewing and to create more back-yard space.
Since purchasing the property, Layne said the restoration has been unreasonably stymied by bureaucratic disagreements over the exact location of the barn. He ran out of patience in February, when the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission refused to let him move it as close to the sidewalk as he had planned.
The commission reviewed the project because the house and carriage barn are a city historic-cultural monument and because Angelino Heights, a community near Echo Park, has special zoning to protect historic houses.
Out of frustration, Layne, 41, fired off a letter to city officials April 29 asking for a permit to tear down the barn.
"The unfortunate combination of the conditions imposed by various city organizations, lack of cooperation and assistance from city administrators, the lengthy time delays and the extremely high costs associated with relocating the carriage house . . . force me to conclude that demolition is the best way for me to proceed," Layne wrote.
The Angelino Heights Historic Preservation Assn., which reviews projects in the neighborhood, rejected the demolition permit request May 9. The Cultural Heritage Commission can delay demolition for up to 360 days.
Although he does not want the barn destroyed, Thomas M. Morales, chairman of the Angelino Heights association, said he sympathizes with Layne. Morales has been urging city officials to streamline the review process, and he has cited Layne's barn as a project that has been bogged down by the bureaucracy. The city Planning Commission will take up the issue within a few months.
Morales believes that Layne does not really want to destroy the barn. The demolition threat, he says, may be a way to put pressure on city officials to approve the barn relocation as proposed.
"I think he wants his day in court," Morales said.
Standing Monday outside his ornate 1887 Eastlake-style house, where painters were applying fresh paint in a nine-color scheme, Layne said he wants the option to demolish if the relocation continues to hit obstacles at City Hall.
"It's going to take over a year to go through the demolition process," Layne said. "It would almost be fiscally irresponsible not to get that process started."
But at the same time, Layne said he wants to make a dramatic point with the demolition threat and encourage city officials to be more supportive when a person begins a costly historic restoration project.
"When a developer comes out and asks for a permit to destroy a historic property, then the process is different," Layne said. "Everyone says, 'What can we do to save it?' "
He said his project has been delayed by lack of agreement among city officials. The neighborhood association and the city's Office of Zoning Administration said he could move the barn to within two feet of the sidewalk. But the Cultural Heritage Commission said the barn should line up with an outer edge of the adjacent house 4 1/2 feet from the sidewalk.
Although the difference is small, Layne estimated that it will cost up to $10,000 more to comply with the Cultural Heritage Commission's demand because additional excavation will be needed. He is also reluctant to give up additional back-yard space.
His expenses have already been significant. The developer said he paid $375,000 for the house and barn and has invested $125,000 more by replacing its roof, wiring and plumbing, and adding two bathrooms. Moving the carriage house, restoring it and turning the hayloft into a studio apartment will cost him an additional $130,000, he said.
Layne said he bought the house because he enjoys restoring historic buildings and because it is minutes from downtown Los Angeles. He has made it his primary residence.
After the permit was requested, city planner Gerald Gubatan, who reviews projects in Angelino Heights, agreed to meet with Layne. "I said that, in the spirit of historic preservation, I'd like to work with him," Gubatan said.
* The Angelino Heights neighborhood, just east of Echo Park, has some of Los Angeles' most impressive historic houses, many built in the Victorian era. To protect these houses, the City Council in 1983 designated Angelino Heights as the city's first historic preservation overlay zone.
A five-member community advisory board reviews any plans to restore, modify, demolish or build housing. The board tries to ensure that new projects will not damage the neighborhood's historic character. In recent months, some representatives of historic neighborhoods have complained that the city review process for restoration projects is too cumbersome. They have argued that red tape at Los Angeles City Hall is discouraging the renovation of historic buildings.