West Hollywood Preservation Alliance

To identify, protect and preserve the historic, architectural, and cultural resources of West Hollywood

Category: WHPA Statement

WHPA Response to the Historic Preservation Committee’s Agenda Item, ‘Historic Preservation Work Program’

With 88 properties now designated as historic resources and with six designated historic districts and thematic groupings, the City of West Hollywood exhibits a fine record in historic preservation.  Following are observations/suggestions regarding future possible efforts as they relate to the four key elements described in the staff report.

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Designation of Formosa Cafe on Agenda at Monday, Jan. 28, HPC Meeting

Show support for formal designation of the famous Formosa Café as a local cultural resource/landmark in West Hollywood by attending tomorrow’s meeting of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.  This designation is a rare Commission-Initiated request — usually property owners and/or the preservation community have been the impetus for such actions — and is something to be commended and encouraged.  

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WHPA Statement on the Streetcar Building and Robertson Lane Projects

Rendering of Robertson Lane

Below is the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance (WHPA) statement regarding Item 8.A. 9091 Santa Monica Blvd., and Item 8.B. 645 N. Robertson Blvd. that are on the agenda for the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) meeting of Monday, January 22, 2018. The meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Plummer Park Community Center, Rooms 5 and 6, 7377 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood.

1. The West Hollywood Preservation Alliance (WHPA), a nonprofit community organization dedicated to historic preservation, urges the Historic Preservation Commission to designate the building located at 9091 Santa Monica Boulevard as a local cultural historic resource. A bit of history: the first iterations of the city’s commercial survey in 2016 did NOT include this building as being potentially historic, but through community engagement, the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance campaigned for its final inclusion as did then Mayor Lauren Meister.

We are now pleased to see that a formal application for designation has been brought by the owners of the building. Dating from 1924, the two-story, brick building is strongly associated with the period in West Hollywood’s history that accompanied the Pacific Electric Railway’s expansion in the 1920s.

According to West Hollywood native and former WHPA Board Member Lyndia Lowy, this building once housed a Maxwell’s Clothing Store and many other businesses through the years, and it is one of the few made of bricks stlll left on the city’s west side. For nearly 90 years, this streetcar-related building has served as highly visible anchor at the western gateway into the city. The WHPA believes that it sustains sufficient integrity to be designated as a cultural resource, and plans for its adaptive reuse appear to be well-thought out.

The development of the large Melrose Triangle project across the boulevard will unfortunately result in the demolition of the historic 1938 Streamline Moderne building that once housed the Jones Dog and Cat Hospital at 9080 Santa Monica Boulevard. The cultural memory of our city deserves respect, and the designation as a cultural resource and the rehabilitation of the building at 9091 Santa Monica Boulevard would show that respect.

Imagine as you enter our city from the west: the new Melrose Triangle on the south side of the western gateway, and the historic streetcar building anchoring the north side. By the way, that north side also includes some other potential sites for historic designation – the buildings housing The Troubadour nightclub and Dan Tana’s Restaurant. But those can come at another time. Let’s now have your recommendation for designating 9091 Santa Monica Boulevard to forward on to the City Council.

2. The West Hollywood Preservation Alliance concurs with city staff requesting the Historic Preservation Commission recommend City Council certify the Final Environmental Impact Report and approve the Certificate of Appropriateness associated Alternative 3 of the Robertson Lane Hotel Project. Faring, architects and preservationists have worked in concert to preserve and restore and adaptively reuse the Truscon steel modular building known as The Factory as a centerpiece of the Robertson Lane hotel and retail project.

This final version of the EIR now offers an even better aspect of proposed siting of The Factory with a clearer separation of the new architecture adjacent to this landmark building, so important to the history of West Hollywood industry as well as a symbol of the burgeoning recognition of gay culture.

Faring proposes to honor the history of the building by addressing controversial aspects of gay life in its documentation of all historic elements, including discrimination against men of color by the gay community via discriminatory entry policies, especially in the 70’s and 80’s. Events in history are not always admirable, but deserve recognition.

The preservation community would of course like to see the asset remain its current size, restored in situ by some magnanimous benefactor, but that option is unlikely to ever lead to a full restoration, and some elements of the steel and truss building have significant decay. This iteration is the best chance to preserve this significant, iconic structure. WHPA thanks Faring for its cooperation and forward thinking on the Robertson Lane tract.

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About Palm Avenue – Statement from the WHPA

The West Hollywood Preservation Alliance (WHPA) urges that the staff recommendation presented in this item not be approved based on serious concerns related to issues of government transparency, widely-accepted historic preservation standards, and overall respect for West Hollywood’s cultural resources. Here is why WHPA is not supporting this flawed recommendation or Draft Resolution HPC 17-125.

Resolution No. HPC 13-105 which the HPC adopted on March 26, 2013, stated that it was “…recommending that the City Council designate the buildings located at 927 and 931 North Palm Avenue, West Hollywood, California as local resources as part of the Old Sherman Thematic Grouping. ” The resolution’s Section 6 further elaborated …”that the buildings and sites at 927 and 931 Palm Avenue be designated as local Cultural Resources as part of the Old Sherman Thematic Grouping.” [Emphasis added]

Then on July 15, 2013, the City Council adopted Resolution No. 13-4478 which only included “…designating the exteriors of the buildings located at 927 and 931 Palm Avenue, West Hollywood, California as local cultural resources as part of the Old Sherman Thematic Grouping.” The resolution which council adopted varied greatly from the resolution which the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) had passed. Rather than considering the important Sherman-era “buildings and sites at 927 and 931 Palm Avenue,” which the HPC did, the City Council reduced the designation to just “designating the exteriors of the buildings,” leaving the possibility that the Council’s resolution does not cover the garages and additions at the rear of the historic sites.[Emphasis added]

What exactly transpired between your March 2013 meeting and that of the City Council in July 2013? The WHPA realizes that the HPC is an advisory body that makes recommendation. However, if the recommendations that you so diligently work on and then adopt are somehow magically changed with no further input from the commission or the public raises serious questions related to government transparency and ethical standards.

Adding further to this murky scenario is that the adopted Resolution No. 13-4478’s Section 6 states that “On May 20, 2013, the City Council reviewed the staff report and written evidence, the Historic Preservation Commission’s recommendation, and took testimony from interested parties.” [Emphasis added] The WHPA finds absolutely no record of any such meeting on May 20, 2013, which calls into question the accuracy of the resolution adopted by the City Council on July 15, 2013.

What we do surmise is that the resolution which city staff presented to council appeared to respond to the owner/developers concerns rather than to the more comprehensive view taken by the commission. When and how these comments were received and given the weight which they seem to have been given is not at all transparent. Furthermore, the City Council’s retreat from the HPC’s more comprehensive consideration of the buildings and their environs seems to suggest a move away from carefully evaluated preservation to a more narrow view which is focused more on development.

West Hollywood Municipal Code related to “Cultural Heritage Preservation” calls for compliance with the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 as amended. Furthermore, the city’s Municipal Code Section 19.58.040 (D) gives the city’s HPC review authority for:

“Preparing prescriptive standards and design guidelines in reviewing applications for permits to construct, alter, remodel, relocate, enlarge, remove or demolish any cultural resource , or structure within a historic district, or conservation zone. These guidelines shall be based upon the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.”

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Technical Preservation Services has a section on “New Construction within the Boundaries of Historic Properties” HERE.

Please note this particular rehabilitation standard:

“It is possible to add new construction within the boundaries of historic properties if site conditions allow and if the design, density, and placement of the new construction respect the overall character of the site. According to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation – Standard 9 in particular – and the Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings, new construction needs to be built in a manner that protects the integrity of the historic building(s) and the property’s setting. As with new additions, the massing, size, scale, and architectural features of new construction on the site of a historic building must be compatible with those of the historic building. When visible and in close proximity to historic buildings, the new construction must be subordinate to these buildings.” [Emphasis added]

In describing the new development, the current staff report suggests that the proposed four-story building is a “backdrop” for the historic properties. However, the WHPA believes that this new development is not subordinate to the cultural resources and contradicts federal standards. It will loom over the historic sites like a massive wall. The buildings behind the development on the cul-de-sac Betty Way are given a “backdrop” of a row of trees. Why, we ask, do designated properties receive less consideration? Even though the proposed structure has ‘green’ walls, this does not diminish the massiveness of the four-story building.

Even if the rationale for the large structure is that other large buildings exist in the area, this does not mean that 927 and 931 N. Palm Avenue benefit in any way from having a four-story building in their backyards. Overall, the proposed development demonstrates little sensitivity to the value of West Hollywood’s designated cultural resources. Even if the new four-story building fulfills a need, it exacts a heavy price.

With only 4 of 7 HPC commissioners expected to deliberate on this vital matter at the July 24 hearing, and with many still unanswered questions and unresolved procedural discrepancies, the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance believes that consideration of Draft Resolution HPC 17-125 should tabled or continued to some future time. As it stands now, Draft Resolution HPC 17-125 should not be adopted. Doing so could result in potentially protracted legal action.

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Citywide Commercial Historic Resources Survey

COMMENTS BY THE WEST HOLLYWOOD PRESERVATION ALLIANCE FOR THE HISTORIC PRESERVATION COMMISSION MEETING OF MARCH 15, 2017

ITEM 9.A. “CITYWIDE COMMERCIAL HISTORIC RESOURCES SURVEY”

WHPA again thanks GPA Consulting for providing West Hollywood with a “Citywide Commercial Historic Resources Survey.”

We’re here tonight specifically because the WHPA as well as the City Council wanted a better understanding of why 10 more local buildings could not be added to the final eligible list. The difference between APPEARS INELIGIBLE and APPEARS ELIGIBLE is an important distinction, and through discussions with professional preservation architects, historians and through our own research, we have found that many of the 10 additional structures do offer merit and could, in fact, be included on the survey, or should have been.

Tonight we’ll hear from professional historian Charles Fisher of the LA Conservancy. Both the MACHA Theatre and the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance have enlisted his services to explore further the possibility of deeming the building at 1107 N. Kings Road as eligible for formal cultural status. He will discuss the merit of this unique structure. We’ll also be hearing from former Historic Preservation Commissioner George Credle about several other properties on the list of “10 Ineligibles.”

As we understand the process, the Historic Preservation Commission cannot at this time formally change the results of the survey prepared by GPA Consulting.

We would hope that the HPC in concert with the city of West Hollywood would, however, recommend funding a limited further study from an alternate professional historic source as a direction for city council. We think obtaining a second opinion would be the right thing to do.

–WEST HOLLYWOOD PRESERVATION BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Laura Boccaletti, Judson Feder, Roy Rogers Oldenkamp, Victor Omelczenko,
and Jon Ponder

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WHPA Comments on Multi-Family Incentives Project

The West Hollywood Preservation Alliance (WHPA) has reviewed the city staff report on the “Multi-Family Incentives Project” that the Historic Preservation Commission is considering at its May 23, 2016, meeting. While the WHPA supports the four (4) recommendations identified in the staff report, we believe that much more could be done to bolster the city’s contention that it puts a high priority on historic preservation.

The WHPA strongly supports the establishment of a “Historic Apartment Preservation Program” as outlined on Page 30 of the Page & Turnbull/Place Economics report. We urge the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) to make a motion to include this program as a recommendation, and we would like to see the HPC take a public vote on this matter.

The potential costs of such a program could be better clarified in the report. Even so, the WHPA points out that the City made a recent $7.0 million purchase of the one-acre of vacant land at Crescent Heights and Santa Monica Boulevard and a $2.5 million purchase of the former Coast Playhouse across from City Hall.

The City of West Hollywood has the resources — it’s time it started to truly respect its historic buildings and the owners who provide 593 rent-stabilized units of housing for citizens of West Hollywood, and allocate more money into maintaining our city’s historic infrastructure.

After a nearly three-year process, a contract expenditure of $122,000, and myriad meetings of community members and city commissioners, city staff recommends several relatively minor recommendations which the WHPA does support. Along with the waiving of city fees, the adjusting of repainting time schedules, and utilizing an already extant Transfer of Development Rights Program, the staff report recommends hiring an on-call historic preservation consultant costing $25,000 annually who will assist owners of historic properties.

In the past, the HPC has questioned and the WHPA still continues to question why the City does not hire a full-time staff member assigned to historic preservation. So much more could be done with such a designated full-time position. In addition, the WHPA has recently learned that funds received under the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program can be used for historic preservation projects. We ask that the contractor Page & Turnbull and the city staff explore this opportunity further, and provide an update to relevant commissions and the public before the City Council’s August 15 planned hearing on incentives.

Thank you for your consideration.

West Hollywood Preservation Alliance Board of Directors

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West Hollywood Preservation Alliance
PO BOX 46073 West Hollywood, CA 90046
Email: info@westhollywoodpreservationalliance.org
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