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William Pereira building denied landmark status, paving the way for demolition

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"I don’t foresee someone coming and bringing it to back to what it was"

A city commission voted narrowly Thursday not to landmark a former Metropolitan Water District building designed by prolific Southern California architect and planner William Pereira, saying it had been altered too much.

The 2-2 vote helps seals the fate of the dilapidated building on the eastern edge of Echo Park. From 1961 to 1993, it served as the handsome headquarters for the region’s main water supplier. It was in the following decades that new features were added and old ones subtracted, rendering it unworthy of the landmark status, Cultural Heritage Commissioners said.

It was too little too late for landmarking, they said. A Korean Presbyterian church named Holy Hill erected a huge sanctuary in 1998, obliterating a stately entryway and ponds. Other fountains and pools, once symbols of MWD’s importance in bringing water to arid Southern California, have also been ripped out. Last summer, the church sold the 5-acre property to Beverly Hills-based developer Palisades Capital Partners, which stripped away Pereira’s distinctive panels of perforated concrete sun screens.

"What once was a beautiful Modernist building...I don’t foresee someone coming and bringing it to back to what was," said commissioner Jeremy Irvine.

Palisades plans to bulldoze the building and redevelop the site on Sunset Boulevard; it’s zoned for 576 residential units.

Those plans were interrupted in July when another developer, Yuval Bar Zemer, nominated the building for landmark status in a last ditch effort to keep it standing. Bar Zemer is a partner with Linear City Development, which owns an adjoining high-rise that was added to the MWD headquarters in the 1970s. Linear City recently turned the tower into housing, adding a two-story penthouse, but restoring the facade. (Bar Zemer was lambasted by commission president Richard Barron this week for not doing a good enough job: "I think you took great liberty with Mr. Pereira’s architecture ... I appreciate the work you’ve done, but it’s kind of odd you’re here now.")

Now, given the commission’s vote, Palisades is in the clear to go-ahead with demolition, though a spokeswoman would not say when that might happen.

When it does, it’s bound to break the hearts of many architecture buffs who still see the former MWD buildings as fine examples of Modernist architecture. "When I look at that building, I see William Pereira’s spirit. When we walked through it, I could feel the soul of it," said commissioner Gail Kennard.

Pereira’s daughter Monica Pereira told the commission it was one of her father’s favorites buildings of his own design; he also designed the original three LACMA buildings, the Flynt Publications building on Wilshire Boulevard, the TransAmerica building in San Francisco, and the Geisel Library at the University of California, San Diego, among many others.

"It would be a black mark on the city to tear it down," she said. "We don’t want to rip down everything that was important to us at one point."