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Design Center’s $450,000 Shack Shock

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A tumbledown tar paper shack that for decades was one of Los Angeles’ oddest eyesores has suddenly become the most expensive piece of property in town.

Operators of the Pacific Design Center said Friday they have purchased the 900-square- foot clapboard building that stands a few steps from the entryway to their mammoth, blue-sided landmark.

The selling price--$450,000--is nearly three times what realty experts had initially thought it might sell for.

Officials said a bidding war developed when it was learned that the buyer could legally erect a building 90 feet high on the shack’s 35-foot-deep lot.

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Design Center officials are expected to tear down the 50-year-old structure after conferring with neighbors and West Hollywood city officials over what to do with the tiny parcel.

“We’ll leave it up for the time being,” said Joel Polachek, chief operating officer for the center.

The center’s builders tried in vain to purchase the little house in the early 1970s so they could raze it and build a landscaped gateway to the glitzy 750,000- square-foot home decoration showroom center.

But sisters Emma and Otilia Diaz refused to sell. Instead, they rented the shack for a few hundred dollars a month to metal-plating shop owner Hugo Castaneda.

“It was a crisis issue to us--we were willing to pay anything,” Ron Birtcher, lead developer for the Design Center, recalled later. “They wouldn’t even talk with us . . . there was never even a counteroffer.”

The Diaz sisters notified Castaneda last spring that they planned to put the shack on the market. He retired in October.

Polachek said the Design Center had grown comfortable co-existing with Hugo’s Plating and considered the shack “whimsical” and “part of the diversity celebrated in West Hollywood.”

But the specter of someone building something gaudy on the site convinced the center that “it was time to bring it into the fold.”

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Realty agent Chris Bonbright, whose Ramsey-Shilling Co. represented the Diaz sisters, said offers reached $500,000, but the sisters picked the Design Center offer.

“We took the market value and doubled it to $325,000 when we listed it,” Bonbright said Friday. “It was amazing. . . . I’ve never had an experience like it.”

He said the Diaz sisters held out in the 1970s as a matter of principle after becoming disillusioned over the negotiation process with the center’s builders. “They are two of the nicest, finest people I know,” he said.

With other Melrose Avenue property selling for $200 per square foot, the $500-per-square-foot selling price of the shack is eye-popping, he said.

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“I’m pretty sure it sets a record,” he said.


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