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Preservationists build coalition to save undeveloped Silver Lake parcel

Diane Edwardson and her dog, Diego, walk the trails and enjoy the fresh air of a 10.2-acre lot in Silver Lake that she has fought for more than 20 years to keep as open space.
(Mark Boster, Los Angeles Times)

This is one part of Silver Lake that has no lake view. In fact, the only views are from atop a corkscrew drive that looks out over a pair of freeways, the 5 and the 2.

Residents, however, see this 10.2-acre stretch of undeveloped land — along Riverside Drive to the east and Corralitas Drive to the south — as a sanctuary. They also want to keep it that way.

“For all the neighbors around here this is paradise,” said longtime resident Russell Bates, standing in a meadow on what residents call the Corralitas Red Car property.

In the last two-plus decades, the privately owned property has traded hands only a few times. So when it went on the market in July, residents said their fears grew that this time a new owner actually would build here.

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Councilman Eric Garcetti said last week that he had always thought the property should be preserved for public use.

“Increasing open space in my district — which is the city’s densest — has been a top priority of mine since I’ve taken office,” Garcetti said. “I’m proud that we’ve nearly tripled the number of parks here, but the reality of our urban environment is that large and available open space parcels are few and far between. I’ve long had my eye on the Red Car property.... Now that it looks as if a sale to the public might become a reality, I’ve taken action to make sure the city is ready to tender an offer.”

The first steps — to determine what the city would be able to pay based on the property’s fair market value, among other things — are already underway, he said.

The land, a nearly mile-long strip east of the lake, takes about 30 minutes to walk — a bit longer with a dawdling dog — and is only 100 feet wide in some spots. Its canopy of trees blocks the Southern California sun and serves as a sound barrier, with the hollow whir of tires on concrete replaced by chirping birds.

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Some see Eden when they look at the Southern California black walnut trees that have found a place to thrive, and want it preserved for public land; others see three-story duplexes stacked like shoe boxes — “up to 178 residential units,” according to a listing — with glass front walls to savor the sun.

“If you roll out a map of the area … this is the last undeveloped spot that’s residentially zoned,” said Bryant Brislin, who works for Hoffman Co., the property’s broker. “I mean this is it. There are very few left. There are less than 10.”

The property was once part of a Pacific Electric streetcar line, which ran from downtown and cut through Silver Lake en route to Glendale and Burbank. Pacific Electric owned two lines, the green car line and the red car line.

The red car line was decommissioned in 1955, and the Silver Lake property was returned to its private owner. Since then, at least one owner sought to subdivide the five-parcel lot for development, which is now zoned for duplexes. The current owner, Liza E. Torkan, declined to comment.

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“It’s close to freeways and to a lot of hip retail and it’s sandwiched between Elysian Park and Griffith Park, which is a lot of park land,” Brislin said, “but not enough for Diane.”

Diane Edwardson, a neighborhood activist, has fought for more than 20 years to keep the Red Car property public space. She came close to purchasing the land in 2001 with the help of the Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy. But she was outbid by Torkan, who bought it for $300,000. The current selling price has not been disclosed.

Edwardson envisions a corridor of natural space full of animals; walking through the property, she pointed to a red-tailed hawk resting in a tree.

She also helped bring together landscape architecture professors and students from throughout L.A. to develop a plan that could connect the property and various neighborhoods to the nearby Los Angeles River. And she helped start the Community Residents’ Assn. for Parks.

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Although Edwardson has seen the conceptual plan for the property, a confidentiality agreement prevented her from discussing it. However, she has reached out to the Trust for Public Land, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, Garcetti and Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district is nearby.

While the future of the land is still a question, there is one thing not in doubt. The pitch made in a 1922 brochure to sell lots in the area seems just as true today: “Outlying Los Angeles homesites are becoming less available every day. Never again will you be able to purchase close-in ones ...”

And if history is any indicator, Edwardson figures she could be in for a battle.

“Chances are we’re going to have to fight another development operation,” she said. “And we’re really good at that.”

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california@latimes.com


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