Architectural preservationists won a victory Wednesday when a Los Angeles city commission unanimously recommended that the Sheraton Townhouse hotel on Wilshire Boulevard be spared from demolition for at least another six months. The delay is intended to give more time to a developer who wants to buy the 1929 landmark across from Lafayette Park and convert it into housing for senior citizens.
The current owner, a Japanese company, wants to quickly level the 13-story neoclassical building and let the land remain unused for between five and 15 years, until the depressed real estate market turns around, the owner's attorney said Wednesday. The hotel, which once housed the chic Zebra Room nightclub, closed in February after a decade of declining business.
The Los Angeles City Council in April declared the hotel a landmark because of its elegant architectural details and its former role as a center of social life. That designation allowed the city to delay proposed demolition until Oct. 31.
The 4-0 vote Wednesday by the Cultural Heritage Commission would block a demolition permit for another 180 days. With backing from Councilman Nate Holden, in whose district the hotel is located, the full council soon is expected to give the second delay the force of law.
Barbara Hoff, an official of the Los Angeles Conservancy, a preservationist organization, was pleased with the commission vote, calling it "extremely important."
In requesting demolition, George Brumder, an attorney representing the Kyo-Ya company, complained that the firm now pays about $35,000 a month for security and utilities at the hotel even though there is no strong chance the building will be brought back to life. "That is a substantial economic burden," said Brumder, who suggested that drug dealers and the homeless might break into the vacant hotel and light fires.
However, David Ferguson, vice president of Thomas Safran & Associates, the housing developer, pleaded for time to come up with a plan to buy the hotel and rehabilitate it into apartments for the elderly. Ferguson said that preliminary talks with Kyo-Ya stalled, pending an appraisal of the property's value. He stressed that there are no major structural problems with the hotel, which was designed by architect Norman Alpaugh as a luxury apartment building and was converted into a hotel in 1937.
The Wednesday meeting was the first for the cultural heritage commissioners, all of whom were appointed by Mayor Richard Riordan to replace appointees of former Mayor Tom Bradley. Because of Riordan's pro-growth approach, some city employees and preservationists feared the newly constituted panel might automatically favor business interests. But those concerns were eased by actions involving the hotel and the nearby Bullocks Wilshire-I. Magnin department store, which is also vacant.
The panel decided to send a letter to the store's leaseholder, R. H. Macy & Co., demanding that the company return the Art Deco light fixtures and original furniture recently removed from the building, in possible violation of city landmark laws. "Without being confrontational, I want the Macy's organization to know we mean business," said Commissioner Thomas Hunter Russell, an attorney from the Los Feliz area.
Southwestern University law school is seeking to purchase the Macy's lease and use the building as a library.