Tomorrow (Thursday, August 4), the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission will conduct a special meeting celebrating its 60 years of work preserving Los Angeles’s heritage. The Commission is a five-member, mayoral-appointed body that considers nominations of sites as City Historic-Cultural Monuments (a.k.a. designated City landmarks) and reviews proposed project work affecting the city’s more than 1,200 existing Historic-Cultural Monuments.
The current commission has invited all of its predecessor commissioners who have served over the years – including some famous residents like Johnny Grant, former honorary mayor of Hollywood, and professional football player Rosey Grier – for a special virtual celebration at 10:00 a.m.
In preparation for the event, the Buzz had a chance to interview Barry Milofsky, Commission Chair and Gail Kennard, Commission Vice Chair about this important milestone for the commission and their plans for the future.
Commissioner Milofsky is a partner at M2A (Milofsky and Michali) Architects in Los Angeles, with more than 40 years’ experience coordinating complex historic preservation and urban development projects, including our very own John C. Fremont library. Milofsky has a long involvement in preserving Los Angeles’s historic landmarks, and has served on the Board of Directors for the Los Angeles Conservancy and Hollywood Heritage. He also chaired the Historic Preservation Commission in the City of Huntington Park from 2006 to 2012, and is an adjunct professor of Architecture at Cal Poly Pomona.
Commissioner Kennard is President of Kennard Design Group (KDG), the oldest African-American-owned architectural practice in the Western United States, though she is not an architect. Raised in Los Angeles, Kennard began her career as a journalist for United Press International and Time Magazine.
Commissioners Milofsky and Kennard told the Buzz they are very excited about celebrating this important milestone for the commission as they look back on the accomplishments over the years, as well the opportunities for the future at a time when the city desperately needs more affordable housing.
“We have faced a housing crisis before, so we can draw lessons from the past when the city created unique solutions like Bungalow courts offering affordable housing,” said Commissioner Kennard. “Preservation and building more housing are not mutually exclusive.”
Adaptive reuse of buildings is another solution to housing that has been used successfully in the past, they explained.
“The rebirth of downtown was the started with the adaptive reusing of old hotels into loft housing moderately priced for artists, which was followed by higher priced one and two bedroom apartments,” said Commissioner Milofsky. “Recently, the city is re-opening The Rosslyn Hotel, a historic building with 264 units, for homeless veterans.”
Though it can be faster and more environmentally friendly to adaptively re-use a commercial building for residential use, Milosfsky said, it can also be expensive. But so is new construction.
“It’s about spending your money on different things,” said Milofsky.
The Cultural Heritage Commission was founded when a group of residents, led by Katherine Beachy, organized to preserve the Leonis Adobe in Calabasas, which was threatened with demolition to build a shopping mall in 1962. The City’s Cultural Heritage Ordinance was passed that year, creating the five-member Cultural Heritage Board, and giving the Board the responsibility to designate as Historic-Cultural Monuments any building, structure, or site important to the development and preservation of the history of Los Angeles, the state, and the nation. Once the Adobe received the board’s designation, a stop-work order was issued to stay the demolition. Ultimately saved from destruction, the Adobe gained the honor of being designated as Historic-Cultural Monument #1. Bolton Hall in Tujunga, the Plaza Church at El Pueblo, Angels Flight, and the “Salt Box” on Bunker Hill (later destroyed by fire) were also designated at the first meeting of the commission August 6, 1962.
Los Angeles was the first city in the country to enact a Cultural Heritage ordinance, explained Kennard.
“Even before New York City!” proudly proclaimed Kennard.
“We wanted to take the opportunity to mark this milestone to raise awareness because many people are not aware that Los Angeles is a preservation pioneer, ” Ken Bernstein, Principal City Planner, Office of Historic Resources at the Planning Department, whose office serves as staff for the Cultural Heritage Commission, told the Buzz. “Los Angeles was ahead of New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston in enacting a preservation ordinance.”
While we often think the work of the commission is only focused on saving a building for its noteworthy historic architecture, the commission has also saved lackluster buildings that gained their significance from being a place of cultural importance. These include the art studio of Sister Corita, an important place for making art in the Hispanic Community, explained Milofsky.
The commission has also awarded monument status to other kinds of local landmarks, like the palm trees on the Highland Avenue median in Hancock Park.
Looking to the future, Milofsky and Kennard told us they strive to ensure that landmarks better represent the diversity of Los Angeles’s cultural heritage.
Currently, only three percent of the monuments are associated with women, and only 12 percent are associated with people of color.
“We want to increase those numbers and expand the narrative of our city,” explained Kennard. “A monument tells us what we value as a culture. Los Angeles has always been a multicultural city, starting with our indigenous population, the arrival of the Spanish, African Americans, Asian Americans. We have always been a city of immigrants, a place that attracts people from other places and we want our monuments to reflect that diversity.”
To do that, the commission relies on the community to bring forward properties significant to a local neighborhood, which the commission is not likely to know about otherwise, and share these stories with the city at large. Though it can be an arduous process to get a nomination approved, Milofsky and Kennard say they are working on ways to make it easier for communities to share their stories.
“Make a nomination; there are experts who can help and some even do it pro bono,” said Milofsky.
HCM status doesn’t always protect a building from demolition, but it does stop the process once the commission has agreed to consider a nomination. The Cultural Heritage Ordinance also gives the Commission the authority to temporarily delay alteration or demolition of historically significant structures until a proper review can be completed.
“Sometimes, we agree that demolition is appropriate,” explained Kennard, citing the old Sixth Street Bridge as an example of a structure that was simply too difficult to save. So the old bridge was torn down and the new bridge recently reopened, though with so much attention it recently had to close again, at least temporarily.
Over the years, the CHC has had many successes, but it has also had some significant disappointments. Both commissioners told us they deeply regret not being able to save Parker Center, the former headquarters and detention center of the Los Angeles Police Department.
“There simply was no constituency who wanted to save it,” explained Milofsky. “We thought leaders in Little Tokyo would support preservation and adaptive re-use, but as it turned out, they wanted it demolished too!”
The City Council eventually voted to tear down the building.
On the other hand is the effort to save St. Vibiana’s Cathedral, which is now used as an event space.
Commissioners Milofsky and Kennard told us the department needs more staff to do its job; currently there are only three full-time staff members.
“Residents can help us by expressing their support for the commission’s work and funding for more staff,” they both told the Buzz. “It’s a wonderful investment in the city’s heritage, and pays for itself in jobs and other economic benefits like filming.”
“Preservation elevates our city,” said Kennard. “Our HPOZ neighborhoods serve as anchors in our city. They have increased property values, they are often used as Hollywood sets, which also adds to the local economic generator by keeping those jobs in Los Angeles.”
“While we seek to preserve these neighborhoods, we are not stuck in the past. This is not about freezing a building in time. Instead we want to see buildings repurposed and neighborhoods move forward to create a new history,” said Kennard. “Yes, there are some restrictions, but there is also greater value.”
Interested residents are invited to join tomorrow’s meeting at 10:00 a.m. the following link: https://planning-lacity-org.zoom.us/j/88384410686 Meeting ID: 883 8441 0686 and Passcode: 556475.
For more information on the commission and the city’s historic landmarks, you can also visit Facebook, or the City’s YouTube Channel, LA CityView 35, where you will find the following videos (and we understand more will be posted within the week):
- LA Currents with Commissioners Milofsky and Kennard on YouTube
- Gilmore Gas Station with Commissioner Barron on Facebook (YouTube Link)
- Japanese Union Church with Commissioner Kennard on Facebook (YouTube Link)
- Marquez Family Cemetery with Commissioner Buelna on Facebook (YouTube Link)
- Korean National Association Memorial Hall with Commissioner Milofsky on Facebook (YouTube Link)
- Leonis Adobe with Ken Bernstein on Facebook (YouTube Link)
About Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the co-editor and publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.
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One thought on “Cultural Heritage Commission Celebrates 60 Years of Preserving LA”
As citizen preservationists, we join the Cultural Heritage Commission in celebrating 60 years of historic preservation as public policy in Los Angeles. How cool that our city was the model for the nation.
It’s sad to read the Commissioners’ regret about the failure to save Parker Center, a case where they really went to the mat to try to preserve this architecturally distinguished, historic and still useful building, which could have been converted to 700 affordable housing units. They were shocked when Little Tokyo community members turned up at City Hall to say the building was a racist symbol that should be destroyed, and demolition followed. But not long after, public records activist Adrian Riskin got city emails showing that those community members were bussed in by (since indicted) councilmember Jose Huizar to advance his agenda to clear public lands for private development! The proposed Parker Center development scheme was quietly shelved by the city after Huizar’s arrest, leaving a vacant lot. (See https://esotouric.com/saveparkercenter)
We’re grateful for the CHC’s advocacy, and hope they continue to speak out for places that matter when their voices can make a difference.