Preservationists trying to thwart the demolition of a number of homes and apartments from Hollywood’s early days and its Golden Age were dealt a blow Tuesday.
The Los Angeles City Council’s planning and land use management committee voted in favor of rejecting applications to landmark four properties slated to be demolished to make way for the Crossroads of the World redevelopment, a project that will bring a hotel, new shops and restaurants, and 950 apartments and condos (including 105 affordable units) to Sunset Boulevard.
Tuesday’s vote is not final—it serves as a recommendation to the full City Council—and committee members offered little clarification for their decision.
The best explanation came from council and committee member Bob Blumenfield, who at one point during the hearing said: “I do feel sometimes we nominate anything and everything, and that devalues the things we do nominate.”
Mitch O’Farrell, a councilmember who does not serve on the committee but whose district includes Hollywood, opposed the landmarking efforts, because they might stand in the way of the redevelopment project, his planning director Craig Bullock told the committee.
That organization also submitted a landmark application for the Selma Las Palmas Courtyard Apartments, one of the properties rejected Tuesday.
The garden apartments opened in 1939 to house film industry employees—“not the big stars, but the people behind the scenes,” said Charles Fisher, an historian who prepared the property’s landmark application.
Fisher called the apartments “one of the finest examples” of Hollywood Regency in the area. The architectural style “grew out of the opulent fantasy worlds created by the Hollywood Film industry in the 1930s;” it’s a mash-up of other elegant styles typically characterized by mansard roofs, Pullman doors, elaborate moldings, and oval windows.
The flair and the layout of the buildings—anchored by central, landscaped courtyards—dignified affordable housing, Fisher said.
Residents who live there today testified to that at Tuesday’s hearing, saying their units feature “amazing” woodwork, huge closets, and original doorknobs.
“Through that garden style, I have so much peace every morning,” said tenant Darrin Wilstead. “There are all these birds who come out and have coffee with us.”
Bullock, the planning director for councilmember O’Farrell, and a representative for the Crossroads developer, said garden styles can be found around the city, but, according to the Los Angeles Conservancy, garden apartments, which “foster a spirit of community,” are “increasingly vulnerable.”
The three other landmarking applications were submitted by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a Los Angeles nonprofit that tests and treats patients with HIV. Over the past couple of years, it has a made a foray into housing issues, most prominently by trying (unsuccessfully) to freeze big development projects citywide.
One of those applications is for a Craftsman bungalow at 1542 McCadden Place.
The dwelling was built in 1910 for Harry E. Kunkel, a former military major who served as the city’s first air pollution controller. During the 1950s and ’60s, Kunkel measured the smog output of automobiles and worked to convince auto manufacturers to install smog arresting devices, according to Ken Bernstein, manager of the city’s office of historic resources.
Kunkel was a “pioneer nationally in emission control and the fight against smog in Los Angeles,” Bernstein said.
Blumenfield was unimpressed.
“For landmarking purposes, the bar should be a little bit higher,” he said. “I imagine at that time, there would have been a lot of firsts.”