Residents of the tight-knit neighborhood of Wilton Place, a historic district comprising 63 single family residences dating from 1907-1925, are devastated by the loss of one of the neighborhood’s most historic homes, 215 South Wilton Place, the Thomas C. Churchill residence, built in 1907. Designated a City of Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument in October 1992, residents thought the historic house was protected from illegal alterations that would destroy its architectural character. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
Earlier this week, the Buzz learned of a letter sent by the city to the current owners, ordering them to cease construction on the home, all of which has been done without permits and in violation of the Mills Act contract obligating the owners to secure approval before making changes to the house. (The Mills Act enables homeowners who qualify to receive a property tax reduction and use the savings to help rehabilitate, restore and maintain their buildings.)
According to the letter by Lambert Giessinger, Architect at the Office of Historic Resources, Department of City Planning, the owners have thirty days to correct violations of the terms and provisions of the Mills Act agreement. Failure to do so may result in the City cancelling the contract. According to the letter, the penalty for Contract cancellation is a fee of twelve and one-half percent (12 1⁄2 %) of the current, fair market value of the Property, plus attorney’s fees. The owner pays the penalty. Mr. Giessinger told the Buzz the estimated penalty in this case is approximately $225,000.
Giessinger was notified of the situation at the house by neighbors who observed construction activity shortly after the recent sale of the home. His letter was prepared after a site visit conducted by Giessinger and Melissa Jones on April 8, 2021, during which they were met by Mr. Roy Yun who “indicated he is an owner,” according to the letter.
Shortly after the sale of the house this spring, Erin Garvan, who lives next door, noticed wood being taken out of the house. Curious to see what was happening, Garvan went over to speak to the workers. Initially, she wondered if she could salvage some of the wood to repair the original hardwood floors in her own home, but she quickly realized something was amiss when the demolition crew told her they were removing all the hardwood floors throughout the house.
Concerned, Garvan contacted one of the realtors from the recent sale, to see if the new owner was a developer intent on flipping the house for resale. Realtors Andrew Woodward and Stella Meyers, who represented the seller, told the Buzz they understood the new owner was a family who loved the historic home and only wanted to add a bathroom, renovate the kitchen and live at the house.
Neighbor Mary Rajswing, who lives across the street, said she noticed similar construction activity and checked the city’s website to see if the owners had secured a permit for the work. Finding none, Rajswing contacted the city’s office of Historic Resources for help.
According to neighbors, the demolition of the wood floors started in early March, followed by the removal of all the interior wood paneling in the dining room. Several weeks later, workers turned their attention to the exterior, removing the more-than-100 year-old retaining wall, front steps, walkways and front porch floor. As of this week, all work on the project has stopped.
Former owner Marita Geraghty said she is devastated to see the destruction of the home she cared for all these years, and at the loss of the historic asset in the neighborhood. Last fall, before the sale, Geraghty, invited us to visit and we wrote about the house, which was home to three generations of Churchills before she acquired the house in the 1990s. Geraghty lived there with her family and lovingly restored the home. She and her former husband, Michael Maguire, were recognized by the Cultural Heritage Commission in 1999 for their efforts.
Giessinger told the Buzz he’s stunned at the level of loss.
“We haven’t seen this level of loss in decades,” said Giessinger. As of Thursday, he said, the new owners have not responded to his letter.
We were not able to reach the owners, either. Christiana Kim, a realtor who represented the new owners, told the Buzz she could not provide any contact information for the owners or any comments on the record for our story.
Below are photos from Giessinger’s letter, documenting the destruction of the home’s historic details without permits or approvals, and providing photos contrasting the current condition of the property and what it looked like before its recent sale.
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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8 thoughts on “Elements of Historic South Wilton Place Home Demolished”
I saw this house when it was listed with my office and was so sorry to read about what has happened. I hope this destruction is remedied somehow.
It is probable the new owners will pay the $225,000 rather low fine instead of remediation. Since the the original owners can get fooled easily by any buyer and the city cannot stop infraction in time, fines should be raised to a level that it is a true deterrent because I doubt the restauration can be complete once the destruction is done.
This is reminding me of the Citrus Avenue catastrophe. I know hindsight is 20 20 but in both cases, these homes were sold to people for the highest amount. Perhaps if the former owners of both properties had taken offers not of the highest but from buyers who were more educated and in earnest the end results would have been better. In a historical area, the seller has to do their due diligence as well.
This truly sickens me, the people who bought it have no knowledge, respect or sense of the importance of preservation. They do not deserve this house. I hope they are forced to use Historical Restoration Board approved contractors to put this house back together exactly the way it was. They must have thought the rules did not apply to them.
Thank you for reporting this.
A great opportunity for the city to decide on the following solution and then publicize their ruling throughout Los Angeles
– seize the house as crime scene contraband.
– meticulously restore it.
– put it back on the market and use the proceeds to pay for the restoration.
Word will get out that you can no longer trash our city.
It is disgraceful that people would pretend to care about a beautiful, old home and then tear it apart without care for the history. Surviving earthquakes and over 100 years only to be destroyed by a wannabe “influencer” (looked up those named in the suit). Just shameful. I doubt the new owners will learn a lesson or face real consequences but they should be ashamed!
Any update on this story? Per the letter from the City (dated 4/12/21), the violations were to be corrected within 30 days of receipt of the letter or the City would cancel the contract and assess the fine. (Note that I am not saying the fine is enough to deter similar conduct in the future.)