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Commission Takes a Dive for Garcetti

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SAVING LOS ANGELES-The LA Cultural Heritage Commission last Thursday rejected the expert opinions of the LA Conservancy and two preservation professionals and voted instead in favor of developer Elan Mordoch who is seeking to raze a century-old Hollywood house designed by the influential Southern California architect A.C. Martin, Sr. – a decision supporters of the house believe was influenced by Mayor Eric Garcetti. 

In its 4-0 decision, the commission, whose members are Garcetti appointees, held that the Colonial Revival structure, located at 1829 N. Kenmore Ave., was not a “notable example” of Martin’s architectural output and did not qualify as a “historic-cultural monument.” 

The decision was welcomed by Mordoch, who seeks to demolish the Kenmore house so he can develop the site with a six-unit townhome-style project. If the house had monument status it would seriously impede Mordoch’s development plans. 

But may still be too soon for Mordoch to do a victory lap. 

Supporters seeking to protect the 100-year-old house are now hoping Councilman Tom LaBonge will step up and protect the Kenmore house which, they believe, is a significant part of the city’s built-landscape and a rare example of A.C. Martin’s early work. 

The house is in LaBonge’s district, and it was LaBonge’s motion – opposed by Garcetti - that literally forced the Cultural Heritage Commission to seriously review the structure’s historic and cultural significance. 

The ball is now back in LaBonge’s court because the commission’s ruling/recommendation is automatically referred to the council. 

LaBonge has three options: he can urge his council colleagues to vote to support the commission’s ruling/recommendation or vote to override it (requiring ten votes). A third option – less courageous – would be for the council to let the commission action prevail by default; that would occur if the council fails to take any action in the next 90 days on the matter. 

LaBonge has had a fairly solid record of protecting the city’s historic and cultural legacy, and if he sets his heart and mind to it, supporters believe the Kenmore house can be saved.

Still it remains unclear what LaBonge’s next step will be. 

LaBonge has said his decision will be guided by what the “experts” say. But which experts?

Monument status supporters argue LaBonge should trust the judgment of unbiased, disinterested experts like the LA Conservancy. A conservancy representative spoke at Thursday’s Cultural Heritage Commission hearing in support of monument-status for the Kenmore house. 

Supporters also believe LaBonge should not defer to the Cultural Heritage Commission’s Thursday ruling until he has – at the very least - assured himself and the community that the commission was not unduly influenced by Garcetti’s office to ignore the real merits of protecting the Kenmore property in order to advance some as-of-yet hidden agenda of the mayor’s office. 

The big mystery remains: why has the mayor’s office – even by LaBonge’s own admission – shown such a great interest in seeing the Kenmore house bulldozed? 

LaBonge has acknowledged Garcetti’s office spoke to him about the Kenmore house. Little else is known about this exchange. However, a top aide to LaBonge was reportedly infuriated by the Garcetti office’s aggressive efforts to stop LaBonge from even initiating the process of exploring the cultural and historic value of the Kenmore house. That aide shared her reaction with several Kenmore house supporters. 

At Thursday’s commission hearing, preservation supporters Ziggy Kruze and Rosemary DeMontes were blunt. They testified about their concerns that the commission was under pressure from the mayor’s office to block monument status for the house. The commissioners did not rise to this bait. 

Five of Martin’s buildings in Los Angeles, including LA City Hall itself, are designated as “monuments” and four other structures designed by him are on the National Register of Historic Places. 

In addition to the Los Angeles Conservancy, two well-known preservation consultants, Charles Fisher and Anna Marie Brooks, who together have been involved in successful in proposals to provide monument-status protections to hundreds of Los Angeles properties, opined that the Kenmore house deserved monument status. 

But the commission ignored these experts. 

The developer’s own architectural expert seemed to score points with the commissioners when she claimed the house was probably not designed by Martin himself but by his assistants. But this argument was shot down by a surprise witness – attorney Richard Petty, the grandson of Oswald Bartlett. Bartlett was the house’s original owner, and it was he who commissioned his friend, architect Martin, to design it. Petty supported monument status for the house which his family has not owned for decades. 

Petty informed commissioners his grandfather was a close friend of Martin’s and so it stood to reason Martin (who in 1914 had not yet secured any of the large-building commissions he is better known for) took a personal interest in designing the Kenmore property. 

One commissioner also claimed if the developer had not already put so much money into the project then his vote might be different. This was part of the developer’s own “take-pity-on-me” mantra. 


 

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But supporters pointed out if Mordoch had not misrepresented to city officials on his CEQA documents that the house was unimportant – merely an “older building” – then the entire issue of whether to tear down an original Martin-designed house would have been on the table months and months earlier and the developer could have hedged his investment bets accordingly. 

The developer also argued the Kenmore house was in a neighborhood undergoing re-development with apartment buildings and had become an anomaly amid its boxy, nondescript neighbors. Again, this seemed to carry weight with some commissioners. 

Here, the commission’s own staff had to warn it was not even permissible for commissioners to ding the property because of its neighborhood context and that they had to base their ruling solely on the historic and/or cultural significance of the house. 

In effect, the commission’s decision was so heavily based on flimsy and improperly admissible evidence and arguments it only bolstered the view that it was Garcetti – and his hidden agenda – that really explained the ugly little play-acting that occurred Thursday. 

(John Schwada is a long-time journalist and investigative reporter in Los Angeles. He owns MediaFix Associates and represents the interests of those seeking to protect the Kenmore House.)

-cw

 

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 12 Issue 81

Pub: Oct 7, 2014