Back in March, the Buzz reported on efforts of the Miracle Mile Residential Association and residents of the apartment building at 744 S. Ridgeley Dr., also known as the Berger Winston apartments, to save the building from an attempt by new owners to remove the existing tenants and demolish the building. At the time, the building was one of many that was facing possible exclusion from the proposed new Historic Preservation Overlay Zone in the Miracle Mile neighborhood, which made its situation even more dire. In the last few months, however, there have been steps both forward and backward in the effort to preserve the building.
First, the Miracle Mile HPOZ was eventually approved by the city in March, including the blocks between Wilshire and 8th Street, which includes 744 S. Ridgeley. That was a clear victory for the building and its other vintage neighbors.
About the same time, however, the Miracle Mile Residential Association also applied for Historic Cultural Landmark status for the building, based on its history, the extent to which its distinctive architectural details are still intact, and the building’s provenance as the work of Edith Northman (1893-1956), the first female licensed architect in Los Angeles. At the time, the Association hoped that HCM status would protect the building even if the HPOZ was not approved, or if the block on which the building sits was left out of the HPOZ.
This week, however, the City Planning Department issued its Final Determination Staff Report on the 744 S. Ridgeley HCM application, concluding that “Staff supports the current designation of the subject property as a Contributor to the Miracle Mile Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, but finds that the property does not appear to rise to the level of historic significance to be individually eligible for designation as a Los Angeles City Historic-Cultural Monument.”
In light of this recommendation, MMRA President James O’Sullivan sent a letter to the Cultural Heritage Commission this week, formally withdrawing the landmark application. In the letter, O’Sullivan says:
“The MMRA is satisfied that its status as a contributor to the Miracle Mile HPOZ will adequately protect 744 S. Ridgeley Drive from demolition and its tenants from eviction…We initiated an HCM application for 744 S. Ridgeley Drive after a demolition permit had been applied for and “cash for keys” deals were being proffered to the tenants – and when we were uncertain whether or not we would succeed in reinstating this building in our HPOZ. Fortunately, with the key support of Councilmember David Ryu, we succeeded in repatriating these properties and 744 S. Ridgeley Drive enjoys full HPOZ protection. Although the MMRA feels that this building is worthy of HCM status, we must be pragmatic and strategic on how we deploy our resources. We did the right thing under very unusual circumstances to protect the tenants and the property. We now need to direct our resources to other important objectives.”
MMRA Vice President Ken Hixon told the Buzz that even though the HCM battle was lost for this particular property, the organization is still happy with the overall outcome, and the protections the building has gained through the new HPOZ. “Although we have lost this skirmish,” Hixon said, “we did win the truly important war: reinstating the properties north of 8th St. and along Olympic Blvd. excluded from our then pending HPOZ by the City Planning Commission in December 2016. As a result of our success in repatriating these properties 744 enjoys full HPOZ protection of its façade and is well protected from demolition. This can hardly be considered a loss…”
Hixon went on to say that even though the landmark application was ultimately unsuccessful, the overall efforts to save 744 S. Ridgeley, including a short documentary video mentioned in the March 15 Buzz story (linked to above), were extremely valuable:
We publicized the plight of the tenants and the threat of losing this beautiful building to build a strong case for reinstating these properties into our HPOZ. The YouTube mini-doc we produced attracted over 1000 views and created quite an impact on the powers-that-be at City Hall. In simple terms, 744 served as a very useful poster child of what would happen to these historic, rent controlled buildings if they did not enjoy HPOZ protections. And this strategy paid off for us.
Hixon acknowledged, however, that continuing the fight for HCM status for 744 S. Ridgeley, in light of the Planning Department’s opposition, would not be in the MMRA’s best interest:
The Cultural Heritage Commission dislikes granting HCM status when the property owners object. In this case, we have encountered stiff opposition – and probable legal action against the city should HCM status be granted. It is evident that the fact that 744 is a full contributor to our HPOZ has given the CHC a convenient out – hence, the wording of their conclusion quoted above, where they reiterate their support for 744’s “contributor” status. The CHC obviously sees no reason to fight to save a building that is already more-or-less protected. HCM status would have protected the interiors of the building, but staff felt that too many alterations to the interior had already been made.
Do I agree with staff’s determination that 744 does not qualify for HCM status? No, I don’t. But the MMRA never wants for fights and we have to be very pragmatic and strategic on how with deploy our resources. We did the right thing under very unusual circumstances to protect the tenants and the property. We now need to direct our resources to other important objectives.
The bottom line is that 744 S. Ridgeley Drive cannot be demolished or its exterior façade altered. That, by any reckoning, is a victory.”