Architectural historian Nathan Marsak loves Los Angeles, and hates to see important buildings neglected and abused, whether by slumlord owners or the savage public. Follow him on his urban adventures as he sees something that looks like crap, opens his yap and spontaneously lets you know exactly why this place matters.
Episode Nineteen finds Nathan in Pico-Union, on the 1100 block of South Westmoreland, where a pair of elegant 1930s apartments stand empty save some abandoned toys on the stoop. Here, 16 households were cast out into the cold by the landlord’s invocation of the Ellis Act, and demolition is nigh. The planned mega-project has fewer low income units than the existing structures, but makes up for that by also eliminating green space, and dooming the local squirrels to homelessness–or worse!
For this is how Los Angeles grows, when developers play the system to pencil out vast profit and City Hall happily rubber stamps every permit, blind to good planning, overstressed infrastructure, visual pollution or the suffering of constituents. Yet just down the block, a brand new building earns Nathan’s grudging respect, because it actually serves a purpose. Sometimes even a Cranky Preservationist can justify sacrificing a good, old building if its replacement truly serves a local need.
Not that your name is Wiseman, Messrs. Cohanzad, but whoever you are, you have done this for the last time. On behalf of Los Angeles, seriously, enough is enough. As Marsellus Wallace says to Butch, you’ve lost all your LA privileges.
That may be, but they put their efforts into illegally demolishing homes you already love.
Example #1. This was 419 N. Hayworth:
The Spinning Wheel apartments were twins, in fact, facing a common courtyard, and absolutely pristine: original windows, hardwood floors, high ceilings, all of its moldings and turrets and whatnot. Until one day, this happened:
That day was February 12, 2015. Wiseman began tearing off the turrets, and also demolishing elements of the Spanish next door, without a permit from LADBS. Without green demo fencing. Without a thirty-day notice. Without clearance from HCIDLA. Without turning off gas and electric. There were no repercussions for this and the City gave them a permit to demo on March 13.
FYI, the other half of the turreted eight-unit 1936 garden court apartments—well, the renters banded together to get it nominated as a Historic-Cultural Monument, citing that it was a rare intact piece of Normandy Revival, and that it was important culturally as an early piece of Jewish-built and owned property for a neighborhood famously Hebraicising in the 1930s. Michael & Isaac voice their “strong opposition to the proposed designation of the Property on both substantive and procedural grounds” and so forth; the Cultural Heritage Commission nix the nomination and this time Wiseman presumably get a permit:
Let’s move on to
Example #2. This was 1332 N. Formosa Avenue:
In this case, Wiseman tossed everyone out via the Ellis Act. Wiseman would be unable to Airbnb the apartments, because short-term rentals of evictions are decidedly, blatantly against that law (and reprobate), so that is therefore exactly what they did. HCIDLA told them to stop, and Wiseman responded by beginning demolition work. Again, without a permit. HCIDLA came out multiple times with stop-work orders and so Wiseman finally destroyed the building—with the electricity and gas still on—on January 21, 2017. Read more about it here and here.
Well you know where we’re going with this. In every survey commissioned by the City, Verge’s 7050 complex is identified as a historic resource. Did that worry its owners? AKA Isaac, Benjamin, Michael and Lillian TRS Cohanzad and the Family Trust of Cohanzad? Of course not! They had the place half-rented as an illegal short-term rental hotel, and it was time to get the remainder of those pesky long-term renters out. They began Ellising those folk in October 2019—but that’s always a tricky time, ‘cuz Ellising indicates a building is likely to be demolished, and that red flag might trigger a monument nomination.
So in the middle of the night, with the gas still on, no permit from LADBS, no thirty-day notice, no notice to neighbors, no HCIDLA clearances, they started demolition. No no no, they insisted, this wasn’t demolition, this was abatement.
Uh-huh. This was the abatement of the historic, character-defining features, making it ineligible for landmark designation. (A trick they learned, apparently, from Philip Rahimzadeh—another prolific developer who literally knows everything about LA development law—but when he had recently illegally demo’d the facade of an effing Paul Williams he said “gosh, who knew?” and the City said “golly, oh well!”)
Let’s take a look at what abatement looks like. This is the sort of abatement—not demolition, mind you, but abatement—that occurred over the course of one night.
And you know what else? The three I’ve spoken about above are just the illegal ones. The Cohanzads have this pathological fetish for destroying particularly wonderful Los Angeles structures. I don’t have an up-to-date list, but I do know that in just 2017 alone, five Historic Cultural Monument applications were filed for buildings owned by Wiseman LLCs. None lived to tell the tale; each met the wrecking ball. Here’s one of the best—moved forward with a positive recommendation from the Cultural Heritage Commission, the whole bit:
So that’s my issue. There’s three million buildings in the county, and Wiseman’s abjuring each empty lot and every strip mall in favor of every Streamline-Colonial-Spanish-Norman interbellum apartment complex they can get their hands on, provided they’re pristine and have a surfeit of charm.
And not, you know, the fact that they evict rent-controlled tenants through the Ellis Act and then Airbnb the units, dozens of documented times, which is immoral and illegal. (Which they do because the City will never so much as slap their hand.) They’ve demolished about forty Rent Stabilized apartment buildings in Los Angeles; something like 300-350 RSO apartments removed from the housing stock—all replaced with million-dollar condominiums and $4000/mo apartments. (Which they do because we need housing, says the City.) Hey, remember that piece in Curbed, “Ten of the Worst Landlords in Los Angeles“—no? Probably not, because Curbed retracted it when they were bullied by said landlords! Well, guess what it said.
So if any or all of this irks you, dear reader, I’ve got an idea: you might want to show up at the PLUM meeting on Tuesday, February 4th (yes, tomorrow). 2:30pm. It’s number five on the agenda. Mitch O’Farrell has nominated Hawthorn for Historic Cultural Monument status! Hollywood Heritage and the neighborhood are pressuring for Wiseman to rebuild. If not, they need to get the Scorched Earth punishment (no development on the site for five years). (Personally, given their absurd repeated bad faith, they should be barred from developing altogether—go RICO on them, prevent them from fraternizing with the owners of bulldozers. And so forth.)
Wiseman & Co. are going to be there, lawyered up all and smart-talkin’, so it’s important to have you good folk speak in favor of this nomination at public comment.