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.