Just few days into January, and our neighborhood already has its first demolition controversy of the new year.
Yesterday, neighbors Karen and Michael Gilman, who live in Larchmont Village, circulated a letter asking fellow community members to contact the Los Angeles Planning Department to advocate for preservation of two apartment buildings at 412-420 and 424 to 430 N. Norton Ave., which were identified by the city’s recent SurveyLA historic resources survey (see p. 979-980 of the document in that link) as being eligible for both local historic monument and national historic register status.
A notice that a demolition permit application has been filed for both properties (also known as Norton Court and Norton Flats) by developer Wiseman Residential, was posted on December 9…and the permit is expected to be issued on January 9, after the required 30-day posting period. According to the Gilmans’ letter to city officials, demolition is expected to begin shortly thereafter, as “this developer moves at a fast pace, given past experience.” (Wiseman representatives have not yet replied to the Buzz’s request for further information.)
Given the pending demolition permit, and the historic eligibility of the properties, the Gilmans’ letter asks the city to intervene to prevent the permit and demolition until after an application for Historic Cultural Monument status, now being prepared by a preservation consultant, can be fully considered by the city’s Office of Historic Resources, Planning Commission and other agencies. According to the Gilmans, the two courtyard properties “have been recognized by Survey LA as an important example of this endangered housing style…Also, the courtyards feature stunning Spanish tile work surrounding the entry doors and windows, and original wrought iron railings and light posts. Both properties are important examples of the Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style. They are excellent examples of a bungalow court and a courtyard apartment complex, iconic yet increasingly rare types of housing that began in Southern California and spread nationwide.”
A response has not yet been provided by the OHR, but City Council District 4 representatives, also contacted by the Gilmans and the Buzz yesterday, replied that:
“Our Office cannot initiate consideration of Historic Status until Council resumes on Jan. 10. In the interim, the Planning Department is considering whether or not they will initiate consideration, which can be done prior to Council resuming. Depending on those determinations we will move forward with a Council Motion when Council resumes on the 10th, if it is not initiated prior. The current status of the permits is that corrections have been issued and they have not been cleared. We are working diligently at resolving this matter and protecting the integrity of the process until and when it can be properly evaluated by the Cultural Heritage Commission.”
The situation brings to light, once again, a weakness in the city’s historic designation process, which currently does not provide a mechanism to officially slow or stop the demolition permit process if an application for historic designation has been submitted and accepted for consideration. A similar situation came up recently with an effort to save the former Lytton Savings bank building on Sunset Blvd.. That building, too, was deemed worthy of preservation by the city (and a landmark application was approved by the Cultural Heritage Commission in December), but it may still be lost – in whole or in part – to a new Frank Gehry-designed development planned for the site. That case, as noted in the above link, has now resulted in a lawsuit against the city by the Los Angeles Conservancy, a non-profit historic preservation organization, which contends that the planned demolition of the officially-designated property would be illegal under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) .
Although it may be too late for either Lytton Savings or the Norton properties, the Los Angeles City Council is currently considering amendments to its Cultural Heritage Ordinance, which could help fill the gap between between the historic designation and demolition processes. The proposed amendments – first suggested in a motion by Los Angeles city Council Member Jose Huizar in 2016 – would provide an automatic temporary halt to demolition plans while a properly submitted and accepted application for historic designation is being considered. The matter is currently under consideration by the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee and is likely to come up for action sometime early this year.