L.A. panel votes Brentwood house is not a historic-cultural monument

A 1920 Brentwood Park house considered to be an early example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in Los Angeles will not be designated a city landmark — a categorization that would have made it more difficult for owners to demolish the structure.

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the neighborhood, told the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission on Thursday that he did not consider the two-story house historic and that the nomination for landmark status had unfairly caught the new owners by surprise.

Two of three commissioners present voted in favor of designating the house as a historic-cultural monument, but panel President Richard Barron, an architect who has won preservation awards from the Los Angeles Conservancy, voted no. At least three votes from the five-member panel are needed to designate a property.

The Santa Monica Conservancy had nominated the building at 201 S. Rockingham Ave., saying Casa Adobe embodied the “distinguishing characteristics” of Spanish Colonial Revival residential architecture and was associated with master architect and builder John W. Byers. The Los Angeles Conservancy supported the nomination.

David Leyrer and his wife, Alicia Tranen, bought the house last year for $6.3 million from actor Dylan McDermott and his former wife, Shiva Rose. Previous owners include Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas and Michelle Pfeiffer and David Kelley.

The house was built for petroleum geologist Harry Roland Johnson, a cousin of Byers’ wife, Sylvia, and his wife, Olivia Rolfe Johnson. According to handwritten notes in Olivia Johnson’s scrapbook of the project, her husband had drawn a plan of his dream house but was having trouble communicating with the Mexican workers he had hired. Byers, who had lived for a time in South America, was teaching Spanish at Santa Monica High School and stopped by to translate.

Although he was not yet licensed as an architect, he got “more and more involved” in the project, adding the sorts of flourishes that would become his hallmarks, said Carol Lemlein, president of the board of the Santa Monica Conservancy. Byers supervised the workers’ production of adobe bricks, a construction method then in limited use.

After completing the Johnson residence, Byers quit his teaching job and became a full-time architect. Leyrer and Tranen told the panel they had explored alternatives to demolishing the house, which has been extensively altered over the years. “They’re right now in a reflective mode,” said William F. Delvac, their attorney.