Let’s say you’re living peacefully in your vintage home on your block of gracious low-slung craftsmans when some developer decides to tear down the house next door to put in something grossly out-of-scale. You’re shocked that it will block light and air and views and ruin parking and cause noise and destroy the historic fabric of your neighborhood and the whole magilla.
Surely you can lay out your concerns to the Powers That Be in the form of an appeal to which they’ll listen thoughtfully and say, My God, You’re Right. Maybe in this case we shouldn’t worship at the altar of Scott Wiener and fall in lockstep with the abjuration of zoning ordinances.
Or, the City might tell you to go screw.
Take for example 1537 South Wilton Place. It was built in 1905 and designed by Charles F. Whittlesey. The F is for Effing, because this house was designed by CHARLES EFFING WHITTLESEY.
That’s quite the cross-gable! Dig those rafter tails, the balconette railings, and that Swiss Chalet balcony. Check out the flare wingwall!
An older Google StreetView shot when it was painted slightly differently. Before the nice new owners who bought the house in mid-2018 let the lawn die.
Lookit that door. And those stained-glass transom windows will emit a satisfying crunch come the bulldozer.
The Staff Response to the neighborhood appeal was, and I’m not kidding, that the block does **not** have uniform character in regards to height and scale. Compare the above two images with what the developer is building. Yeeeesss, Director of Planning Vincent P. Bertoni, the block is just FULL of five-story cubes all OVER the damn place.
So, demolish the hell out of the Whittlesey, and in its place, Gabriel and Tomer Fedida propose building this five-story, fifty-five-foot, twenty-one unit, 22,313 square foot apartment complex. The City is awarding them a collection of zoning variances, allowing the Fedidas to build eleven feet higher than permitted by law; decreasing the side yard requirement 25%; and giving them a 20% decrease in the open space requirement.
As rendered Micheal Ko of KSK Design
So the neighbors approached the City and said, hey, we’re filing an appeal, in that there’s a few problems here. They pointed out that the South Los Angeles Community Plan Design Guidelines/Citywide Residential Design Guidelines require new developments to respect the scale and architecture and identity of the surrounding historic neighborhood, especially as this neighborhood falls under the Character Residential Overlay as implemented by the City Council to protect the historic neighborhoods in South Los Angeles. Plus the developer screwed up the math on the TOC Incentives, getting them all kinds of wrong, as further miscalculated by City staff. And you can’t just make the project vested for land use entitlements and CEQA exempt because you feel like it. And so on.
And to all of this the City replied. They replied well, you say your neighborhood has a certain character, but _we_ say your neighborhood has all _sorts_ of weird buildings, so stop worrying about it, and so as to you and your Citywide Design Guidelines, we dismiss your concerns utterly. For example, when you say two stories is the prevailing height on the block, we reply with, basically, sure, true, but so what (and implying as well, you terrible people, if we don’t hand the developers the extra height then the project won’t “pencil out” and then how, oh _how_ can we have those _two whole_ low-income units?). Oh, and all that stuff about entitlements and TOC? Well, don’t even try to argue TOC. It’s TOC, man.
But, said the Department of City Planning’s City Planning Commission, we _do_ agree that neither the developers nor us gave one piddling iota of thought or care as to whether 1537 might be a potential historic resource, so tell ya what, we will hire some real live architects, Kaplan Chen Kaplan, to do a Historic Resource Evaluation Report on this here Whittlesey house.
KCK came back and said the Whittlesey house was absolute worthless crap, devoid of all merit in every conceivable way. KCK’s report was some 100+ pages and, since they bill on average at $200/hour, I can assure you, was not cheap. Your tax dollars at work! For example, KCK hired an RPA Certified Archaeologist to check records, which is akin to hunting mosquitos with an elephant gun; it’s the kind of work you give to Bob the Unpaid Intern and and he does it on his lunchbreak. Hell, it’s the elemental gruntwork I save for when I’m hungover and do it in half my lunchbreak.
KCK’s report was written primarily by “historic consultant” Pam O’Connor, whom you specifically hire when you want to make sure something is described as “unworthy of preservation.” When Mayor of Santa Monica, she fought to remove landmark status and tear down landmarks. O’Connor is best known as the only Santa Monica council member to lobby against Millard Sheets. Look at these Late Moderne and Modern buildings on North Central in Glendale. Does O’Connor understand them at all? No, she does not. (Or maybe she secretly does, but still has to recommend their destruction, because that’s her damn job.)
In any event, some snorty guffaws and one Very Expensive and Useless Study later, and the City sat down to thoughtfully consider the neighborhood’s appeal. Which is precisely why they own a comically oversized rubber DENIED stamp they use to pound upon appeals with an embarrassingly ebullient and theatrical flourish.
One more shot—check out the neighbor to its immediate south. 1543 was designed by the great Edward Butler Rust, who we discussed here.
Ok, another one more shot. 1517, two doors north, here in the Crenshaw Heights tract, built by George Crenshaw in 1910 as the home of Loren Crenshaw. Yep, nothin’ historic around here.
About Nathan Marsak
NATHAN MARSAK says: “I came to praise Los Angeles, not to bury her. And yet developers, City Hall and social reformers work in concert to effect wholesale demolition, removing the human scale of my town, tossing its charm into a landfill. The least I can do is memorialize in real time those places worth noting, as they slide inexorably into memory. In college I studied under Banham. I learned to love Los Angeles via Reyner’s teachings (and came to abjure Mike Davis and his lurid, fanciful, laughably-researched assertions). In grad school I focused on visionary urbanism and technological utopianism—so while some may find the premise of preserving communities so much ill-considered reactionary twaddle, at least I have a background in the other side. Anyway, I moved to Los Angeles, and began to document. I drove about shooting neon signs. I put endless miles across the Plains of Id on the old Packard as part of the 1947project; when Kim Cooper blogged about some bad lunch meat in Compton, I drove down to there to check on the scene of the crime (never via freeway—you can’t really learn Los Angeles unless you study her from the surface streets). But in short order one landmark after another disappeared. Few demolitions are as contentious or high profile as the Ambassador or Parker Center; rather, it is all the little houses and commercial buildings the social engineers are desperate to destroy in the name of the Greater Good. The fabric of our city is woven together by communities and neighborhoods who no longer have a say in their zoning or planning so it’s important to shine a light on these vanishing treasures, now, before the remarkable character of our city is wiped away like a stain from a countertop. (But Nathan, you say, it’s just this one house—no, it isn’t. Principiis obsta, finem respice.) And who knows, one might even be saved. Excelsior!””
Nathan’s blogs are: Bunker Hill Los Angeles, RIP Los Angeles & On Bunker Hill.