Eagle Rock Recreation Center restoration effort gains momentum

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An ongoing effort to restore the main building at Eagle Rock Recreation Center is slowly gaining public interest and momentum.

Two Eagle Rock residents leading the campaign to renovate the 1950s-era clubhouse, considered by scholars to be one of architect Richard Neutra’s greatest works for its extreme, innovative design in glass, brick and mobile walls, are in talks with the architect’s son, Dion Neutra, who worked with his dad as lead architect on the dramatic design.

“Neutra designed this building as a catalyst for community activity,” said architect Jeremy Levine, gesturing toward the clubhouse during an interview at the recreational park. “This is where I walk my dogs. I stare at this building every day.”

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Levine, whose parents were artists — his dad was visual arts director at Massachusetts Institute of Technology — said he signed on to lead the restoration effort when his friend, Realtor and fellow Eagle Rock resident Charlie Clark expressed his intention to reclaim the clubhouse’s architectural glory.

That was nearly three years ago.

“I kept coming into this building thinking, ‘Someone’s got to redo this’,” said Clark, who specializes in mid-century modern architecture and lives near the center. He coaches his son’s sports teams and hosts his daughter’s birthday parties at the park and rec center.

Clark said he’s passionate about saving Eagle Rock’s Neutra building, but he doesn’t want to do it alone. “When I talked to Jeremy about it, immediately, there was this sort of combustion — like I had the gasoline and he had the match — and right away we started making phone calls. We got meetings with [Councilman] José Huizar’s office. We’re talking with people from parks and rec.”

As Clark and Levine sought — and gained — support for preserving what may be Eagle Rock’s only Neutra-designed building, they said that the protracted, bureaucratic process drained everyone’s energy, time and enthusiasm.

“All of a sudden, I would have to jump start it again and again. Then, Jeremy would jump start it. Then I would,” Clark said.

Levine agreed, adding, “It’s been years of emailing and going back to things we can and can’t do because they’d have to do calculations and engineering.”

Both Clark and Levine said that the biggest stumbling block is getting the city — which could be bound by law to maintain the building as a cultural monument — to approve a budget. They presented their plan to the Eagle Rock Assn., known as TERA, which supports their proposal, and the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council, which voted to send a letter to the city supporting plans for clubhouse restoration. They’ve also considered crowdfunding.

Clark — whose engineer stepfather surveyed city streets — remembers falling in love with modern architecture when he saw the modern house used in the movie “L.A. Confidential.”

Levine similarly recalls his love for modern architecture at first sight — Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York City — and seeing a Neutra structure in Silver Lake for the first time.

As Clark and Levine toured Neutra’s clubhouse, enthusiasm turned to specificity.

“So, for instance — we want to remove plywood and fake windows,” said Levine, who moved to Eagle Rock from Echo Park several years ago. “This was all open. Light was pouring in. The reason why grilles are on these windows, and they boarded them up, is that this all used to be glass. It was inviting and beautiful. You could look right through.”

He added that he thinks the community and residents can be trusted with windows.

“And, if you can trust us with windows, then we’re going to get this rec center back because a grate is off-putting. It doesn’t say ‘community center.’ It says: ‘Stay out.’”

Clark and Levine detailed plans for removing beams that serve no purpose, restoring a reflecting pool and opening up the amphitheater. They’ve even accounted for the possibility of constructing a sound barrier to muffle freeway noise.

“There could be all kind of cultural events here,” Clark said, such as town hall meetings, dances, debates and plays in the park. “Not just sports, but arts and architecture meetings and events — whatever.”

He said he also thinks that restoration of the building could increase property values in the surrounding area.

That caught the attention of Levine, who sees the project as a communion of community, arts and commerce.

“Right now, Eagle Rock has the eagle rock,” he said. “But the restored clubhouse could become part of Eagle Rock’s emblem — giving Eagle Rock a whole different cachet — an aesthetic. You can see that there is a certain lack of care about this building. But if people knew that it’s unique — if they let us sandblast and bring back original colors and take the bars off — wow.”

Holleran is a contributor to Times Community News.