What happened to a Hollywood church’s stained glass windows? Preservationists want to know

The removal of stained glass from a church being converted to creative offices has angered neighborhood activists in Hollywood.
(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

Hollywood neighborhood activists were aghast last week to see a familiar fixture along Sunset Boulevard -- the stained glass windows of a Gothic Revival church -- abruptly disappear.

Local preservationists knew the 90-year-old building at Sunset and Alexandria Avenue was being converted into creative offices by a new owner. A push to enshrine the former Bethany Lutheran Church of Hollywood as a historic monument had been rejected months earlier.

But an area planning commission had insisted that the outside of the former church could not be altered unless the company requested approval from the Department of City Planning.

Despite those restrictions, the building department granted a permit to “change all window glazing” -- and many of the arched window panes soon disappeared.

A person representing the building owner declined to say whether the windows had been destroyed or merely removed.

A person representing the building owner declined to say whether the windows had been destroyed or merely removed.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The episode galled Hollywood residents and preservationists who had treasured the church windows and expected them to be spared. The building department later moved to revoke the permit, saying it had been issued in error, but some worry it may be too late.

“What I fear is that they may have even sold or destroyed the windows so that they can’t be replaced,” said Edward Hunt, an architect who follows planning issues with the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council.

Terry Winders, who is representing the building owner — a company called 4975 Sunset LLC -- declined to comment on whether the windows had been destroyed or merely removed.

Nor would he discuss the disputed permit. Instead, Winders stated that the company has a standing permit for converting the building and reiterated that it was not a historic monument.

Winders did not respond to additional questions sent by email about the removal of the windows. Hollywood residents and preservationists argued that the company should have been aware that it could not remove the stained glass windows, even if the building department had granted the permit.

“They were able to sneak in a building permit when they should not have received it,” said Doug Haines, chairman of a planning committee for the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council. “They knew they weren’t supposed to do it.”

Hunt said that at a hearing on whether to recognize the church as a historic building, Winders told the Cultural Heritage Commission that “for the most part, the exterior is remaining untouched.” Commission members praised the company for being “respectful” of the building, but ultimately voted against making the building a monument, noting that the church had undergone major alterations.

The Gothic Revival church, which is being converted to office space, is at Sunset Boulevard and Alexandria Avenue, a couple of blocks east of Normandie Avenue.

The Gothic Revival church, which is being converted to office space, is at Sunset Boulevard and Alexandria Avenue, a couple of blocks east of Normandie Avenue.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

And at a different city commission -- the Central Area Planning Commission -- another representative for the building owner repeatedly said the windows were “not proposed to be changed.”

That commission voted in January to allow the building conversion, but stated that if any “exterior modifications” were proposed, the building owner would have to file for a change with the planning department.

Planning officials said Friday that meant the city planners would have had to grant their approval. The company did seek to remove the restriction on exterior alterations in July, asserting that it needed to remove “religious symbolism” to attract office tenants. But planners had not approved that change when the windows were removed, Senior City Planner Blake Lamb said.

The building department, in turn, said that it was not aware of those restrictions when it granted its permission for the disputed permit. Department spokesman David Lara said it is still determining whether any windows were removed after it handed out its order, which says that any work tied to the disputed permit must be halted.

It is unclear what penalties, if any, the company might face. Lamb said that the department is still evaluating the request to remove the condition at the heart of the dispute. Flouting city conditions can be punished with fines and even jail time, according to the planning department’s approval for the project.

Some want the city to order the company to restore the missing windows. “The loss of those windows is a significant loss,” said historian Charles Fisher, who prepared the application to deem the church a historic monument. “If they’ve been destroyed they’re going to have to be re-created, which is not going to be cheap.”

Haines also argued that a permit to change “window glazing” should not have allowed the company to remove or destroy the windows. City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who represents the area, has also asked the building department to investigate whether the company violated its permit, his spokesman Tony Arranaga said.

Follow me on Twitter at @LATimesEmily


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