Burbank earned an A grade from the Los Angeles Conservancy recently for boosting its historic preservation efforts during the past few years by designating several homes as local landmarks and stepping up an outreach campaign.
It’s an improvement from the C- the community received in 2008 when the last Preservation Report Card was completed, the first time being in 2003.
In the past six years, the community development staff conducted a study to find historical areas throughout the city, while the Burbank City Council adopted an updated ordinance outlining how to apply for landmark status.
Seven homes have been named landmarks since 2009 — there were none prior — and another is scheduled for a city council vote later this month.
It is a hillside home with a 1-acre backyard “oasis” that is said to have been an escape for Hollywood stars in the 1960s.
The two-story, eight-room home at 1258 E. Elmwood Ave. was built in 1927 for $7,000 and features Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.
The current homeowners, who moved in a year and a half ago, said the couple who lived in the home from 1964 to 1996 transformed the backyard into a tropical oasis with extensive landscaping, including 65-foot Italian cypress trees, a cabana and a pool.
They were Stanton Raimey and Lawrence Isham, who apparently worked as a rocket scientist and landscapist, respectively.
“(Isham) made the backyard like a trip to Hawaii,” said current homeowner Ashley Podgorski. “They made it an escape so stars would come and have parties here.”
Inside, the couple had bolted water beds to the floor upstairs and featured life-sized suits of armor around the house, Podgorski said.
American singer and heartthrob Rudy Vallee is said to have been a frequent guest, and apparently, a chandelier inside the home was a gift from him.
The relatively recent increase in historically significant homes not only earned Burbank an A, but additional praise from the Los Angeles Conservancy for making “notable improvements” in the past few years. Beverly Hills and Calabasas received similar recognition.
“What’s happening in Burbank is that we’re slowly getting the word out,” said Realtor Jim Casey, who is a member of Burbank’s Heritage Commission and lead coordinator with the grassroots group Preserve Burbank.
Although the city initiated the historic overhaul, it wasn’t until residents got involved that things really started moving.
“It couldn’t just be staff doing a historical context study or the council voting on the ordinance, the Heritage Commission and members of the public said, ‘we want to use this for good,’” said Community Development Director Joy Forbes.
Residents Greg Reiner and Kirk Solomon own the first historic landmark site in Burbank.
Their 1920s-era “rock house” got its nickname because of its large array of field stones that make up the exterior.
“It’s a very striking property that jumps out at you,” Casey said.
Reiner and Solomon founded Preserve Burbank with the aim of spreading awareness about applying for landmark designation to fellow homeowners.
Forbes said a homeowner must initiate the application process by filing forms with the city and making a case to the Heritage Commission as to how their home meets four criteria, such as whether the exterior significantly reflects architecture of a historic time period or if someone noteworthy once lived there.
Once the council approves landmark designation, no modifications are allowed to the exterior of the property unless the Historic Preservation Commission make a recommendation to approve the changes and the council votes to allow them, Casey said.
The recognition doesn’t come with much obligation to the homeowner unless they earn historic status under California’s Mills Act, which gives people a break on their property taxes.
However, one stipulation is that some of the money saved has to be put back into the historic home.
“It’s a wonderful program for the homeowner,” Casey said. “It essentially reduces the homeowner’s taxes so they have the funds to continue to maintain their property.”
So far, only Reiner and Solomon have gotten the tax break, he added.