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To save potential landmarks, LA wants more notice of demolitions

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Councilmember Paul Koretz wants to double the amount of time the city has to review older structures “before they are lost forever”

A photo of a green lawn surrounded on three sides by an apartment building. Tall cypress trees grow in a cluster at the far end of the lawn.
A courtyard apartment that dates to 1939.
Via cultural heritage commission

In October, a grand 1920s-era Tudor-style house in Hancock Park was dismantled as neighbors cried in the street. In an attempt to prevent its demolition, the neighbors had tried to have the home considered as a historic-cultural landmark, tapping Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz to initiate the monument process. But time ran out. Demolition began before his motion to evaluate the house was approved by the city council.

Now Koretz is proposing a way to spare potentially historic buildings from the wrecking ball by requiring property owners looking to raze buildings built 45 or more years ago to give even more advance notice of demolition than what the city currently mandates.

Extending the notification period from the current 30 days to 60 days “will help us to identify culturally significant buildings under threat of demolition, and protect these resources before they are lost forever,” said Koretz in a statement to Curbed.

Not all those buildings will actually be eligible for landmark status, but the idea is that, with more notification time, it will be easier to catch those that are actually landmark material.

That extra time can make a difference, according to the Los Angeles Conservancy.

“Thirty days is a very tight timeframe to attempt to broker a conversation with an owner and consider alternatives to demolition,” or pursue historic-cultural monument designation on eligible buildings, says Adrian Scott Fine, the director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy.

Koretz’s push comes as some Angelenos lament that the city is changing and losing vital parts of its character in the process.

“The quaint century-old homes, the homegrown, one-of-a-kind small storefronts, the low-slung vernacular architecture that to me so represents the city is getting disappeared fast by developers with barely a word in its defense,” Los Angeles Times columnist Nita Lelyveld wrote in November.

Historic preservation can help with some but not all of that. Landmark status helped spare the Miracle Mile tavern Tom Bergin’s and the old Hollywood Reporter building from destruction, but not every building that’s considered for the designation gets it.

There are also limits to the protections landmark status can offer: While the designation can stall demolition, a landmarked building can still be razed.

The city already requires that a notice of plans to demolish a building 45 or more years old be posted at the site for 30 days, and that the councilmember in the district be alerted to the impending action.

Buildings have already been lost due to this short window, Fine says. The additional 30 days could be key when “working with an owner to develop a viable alternative and prevent an unnecessary loss of a historic building,” says Fine.

The demolition notification period that’s required now is relatively new. The rule went into effect in 2015 and was spurred by the swift demolition of an exemplary Art Deco structure in Hollywood that was designed by the architects of the El Capitan Theatre.

In that case, the Conservancy noted that because the building had not been landmarked and a replacement project was unknown, no notifications were required. The demolition was an unwelcome surprise to many neighbors and preservationists alike.

The 30-day notification requirement was intended “to protect historic structures that are non-designated and to empower communities to weigh in before a demolition occurs,” said Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who proposed the ordinance, when it was approved.

Although the requirement’s aim is to preserve historic buildings, some housing advocates worry the advance notice could be misused by neighbors whose real goal is to halt new housing projects from being built in their neighborhoods.

When the older building in question houses renters, demolition notifications are “very important” and useful as an anti-displacement measure, says Leonora Camner of Abundant Housing LA. But this ordinance is not written to necessarily benefit tenants. Camner says anything that would hold up the production of badly needed housing is “concerning.”

Koretz’s push to make the notification period to 60 days was approved by the city council’s planning and land use management committee, but still needs the approval of the full council.