WeHo Council Grants Historic Designation to Vintage Palm Ave. Bungalows

palm avenue homes bungalow
927 Palm Ave. bungalow.

In a controversial vote, West Hollywood’s City Council voted 3-2 to designate two 111-year-old houses as “local cultural resources” during its Monday night meeting, despite opposition from the owner of the property.

David Vayner, who owns the homes at 927 and 931 Palm Avenue, which are just north of Santa Monica, was appealing the Historic Preservation Commission’s March decision to designate the houses. Vayner, a retired dentist, has submitted plans for developing the property into an apartment building.

“The hardship of not allowing this man to move forward is devastating,” said Arlene Utal, Vayner’s attorney.

With this historic designation, the houses cannot be demolished, but the rest of the property can still be developed. However, Vayner could take the city to court for the right to demolish them.

“It’s a miracle that these homes still exist after 100 years. They’re almost like a time capsule, inside and outside,” said resident Kate Eggert who submitted the application to designate the houses. “With the properties being side by side, the pedestrian has an opportunity to glimpse what existed in the original town of Sherman [the original name for West Hollywood].”

Vayner’s paperwork for his development plans came in after Eggert’s paperwork. Consequently, her application had to be considered first.

Utal compared the historic designation to the city using eminent domain (seizing private property for a public use such a building a highway or a park). She said that at least under eminent domain, Vayner would be fairly compensated for his loss of the property, but with historic designation, he won’t be. Utal estimated Vayner has spent over $100,000 in application fees and designs.

The two Palm Avenue homes were among 19 houses nominated in 1999 for inclusion in the city’s newly created Old Sherman Thematic Grouping of historic homes on the Westside. At that time, the Council approved five houses for the district and later added three others, but not the two Palm houses. Today, only 12 of those 19 nominated houses still stand.

Utal said Vayner bought the Palm Avenue houses in 2002-2003 with the understanding that the only way they could ever be historically designated after that 1999 council vote was if he, as the property owner, made such a request.

Councilmember John Heilman voted against the designation, citing concerns about the “reliance factor” of Vayner being told by city staff that the houses weren’t historic or designated.

“We all agree historic preservation is important, but it’s also a tool that needs to be used reservedly and in appropriate situations,” said Heilman.

Mayor Abbe Land, who also voted against the designation, expressed concerns that the houses were not in close proximity to the other houses designated in the Old Sherman Thematic Grouping.

Since both Palm Avenue houses have been altered slightly over the years, neither qualify for individual historic designation. However, as part of the thematic grouping, which has less stringent standards of integrity, they are eligible.

Councilmember Jeff Prang said that proximity shouldn’t be a factor since it takes “35 seconds” to walk from the two Palm Avenue houses to the nearest designated house on Cynthia Street.

Both Prang and Councilmember John Duran mentioned several old houses that were demolished along San Vicente Boulevard in the late 1990s to make way for the Desmond condominium building at 851 San Vicente Blvd. at Cynthia.

Duran, who was not on the council at the time of the demolition, said he still misses those old houses. Meanwhile, Prang said he regretted voting to approve their demolition.

“I made a mistake with the Desmond,” said Prang. “I don’t want to make the same mistake.”

Eggert’s application for historic designation also included the house at 923 Palm Ave. north of Santa Monica, which Vayner also owns. However, the Historic Preservation Commission said that house had been significantly altered over the years and therefore did not qualify. The Council upheld that decision.

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Todd Bianco
8 years ago

Whether or not a property is more or less valuable depends on what the owner does with the property. I think it made my property more valuable. I was able to develop my property to the fullest, which included a minor variance that I may not have otherwise received. Every year, my property taxes are reduced and I pay no more than I did over a decade ago. If I sell the property, the Mills Act property tax reductions would transfer to the new owner, assuming the owner agrees to keep the facade looking nice. In this case, with two… Read more »

Rik
8 years ago

What is the economic impact to the property value when a historic designation is made on a property? Does the designation make it more valuable or less valuable?

Rudolf Martin
Rudolf Martin
8 years ago

nice to see that 3 out of 5 council members respected the expertise and hard work of our historic preservation commission. now I’m curious to see if 4 out of 5 will continue fighting historic designation of our National Landmark Building, since the California Historic Resources Commission voted unanimously to approve Great Hall Long Hall to the NATIONAL Register of Historic Places.

Mark Reese
Mark Reese
8 years ago

It seems to me that the city changed the rules on Mr. Vayner after Mr. Vayner already made a huge investment based on the rules in place at the time. How is this not a ‘taking’ of property rights without compensation. If these are so critical to the character of the city then the city should buy them from the owner. While I appreciate that the property could still undergo some redevelopment while preserving the homes this places an unfair hardship on Mr Vayner. How could you fit the same number of units on a project which preserves the homes?… Read more »

Grantkatcher
Grantkatcher
8 years ago

Kudos are due to Brad Torgan, Chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, who spoke at the City Council meeting to ask that the Council uphold the finding of that body. The Commission debated long & hard over the hundreds of pages of information they received about the properties. Since their job is to advise the Council, it is nice that their ruling was respected. The newly formed West Hollywood Preservation Alliance also supported the designation. There are many other buildings in our community that are threatened with insensitive development, so this is a real victory for all of us.

Wesley McDowell
Wesley McDowell
8 years ago

As a neighbor on Palm I am very pleased these houses are being saved. Thanks to Kate and others who have worked so hard on this. If the owner uses some creativity, these properties can be developed into a nice development without destroying our history. You don’t have to build a 4 story, 24 unit condo project to make money. If the developer is willing and open to the idea, maybe the new West Hollywood Preservation Alliance could work with him to create a development, perhaps similar to the one up the street, that will retain the historic integrity and… Read more »

chloe ross
chloe ross
8 years ago

Yes Riley, I admire when the Council upholds its own preservation and cultural heritage code too.

Riley
Riley
8 years ago

Nicely said @Todd Bianco. It is good to see the Council vote to uphold its own preservation and cultural heritage code.

Todd Bianco
8 years ago

Congratulations to Kate and all the people who fought hard for this victory. I fought hard in 1999 to save the main cluster of Old Sherman bungalows on San Vicente – the ones that were torn down to build the monstrosity now known as The Desmond. In 1999, the Council, desperate for new development, made a monumental mistake by not choosing historic preservation over the promise of higher property taxes and new market-rate condos. It also appeared that the developer had a “strong relationship” with the Council that helped his success. Fortunately, in 2013, Jeff Prang came to his senses… Read more »

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