City Moves Ahead With Preserving ‘Tara’

Allegra with Dick Weisman at Tara-USE
Allegra Allison, who spearheaded Save Tara efforts, poses with Richard Weisman, son of former property owner Elsie Weisman, at Tara in August 2011. Weisman was born in the house and donated some of the money used for the lawsuit against West Hollywood to preserve the property.

West Hollywood’s city council gave the go-ahead to begin preserving the city-owned house known as “Tara” at its Tuesday night meeting.

The council authorized $1.5 million to go toward the 89-year-old vacant house at 1343 N. Laurel Ave., just north of Fountain, including repairing the roof and windows, among other things. The city will also begin holding public meetings to determine the future use of the house.

The property’s front yard has been used as a small park known as “Laurel Park” since 2011. With the vote, the council also gave city staff the go on opening the southern end of the property for park use.

“This is a good step forward for the community to have the opportunity to preserve the home itself,” said mayor Jeff Prang who serves on a council subcommittee concerning the property. “I think it will give people a little more space to move around in the park while we plan for its future and long-term use.”

“I’m very pleased to be able to continue to put that part of our city fabric in working order and help it move on to its next (incarnation),” said councilmember John D’Amico who serves on that subcommittee along with Prang.

During public comment, several residents expressed relief the city was moving ahead with the house’s preservation.

“I’m very excited about the restoration of Elsie’s wonderful historic home on Laurel,” said resident Stephanie Harker.

“This is a good investment. It certainly was a wonderful gift that we received in the city,” said Steve Martin, who is running for city council in the March election.

Allegra Allison, who rented an apartment at Tara for 30 years and spearheaded the Save Tara movement, was also grateful.

“The preservation of a gem, our only city-owned, 1924 Colonial Revival treasure and its restoration process, has begun. It’s the outcome that we at Save Tara have been fighting for for almost a decade,” Allison said.

The history of the property is as complicated as the plot to “Gone with the Wind,” the movie from which the house takes its name. In 1997, property owner Elsie Weisman donated Tara to the city with the stipulation that it preserve the property and do no further development on the site.

However, Weisman only made those wishes known verbally; she did not put them down in writing as part of deed transfer. That lack of written instructions created years of legal battles following Weisman’s death in 2000 at the age of 101.

During a 2006 council meeting, now deceased councilmember Sal Guarriello, who was mayor at the time of the transfer, verified that Weisman did indeed verbally say the property had to be preserved.

However, by the time Guarriello made that statement, the city had already received a $4.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to build affordable housing for low-income seniors on the site. The city planned to covert the house and chauffer’s cottage into seven apartments and build two additional buildings with 21 more apartments at the rear of the property.

As a result, Allison and Save Tara fought to preserve the property, ultimately filing two lawsuits against the city.

One of those lawsuits made it to the California Supreme Court, which ruled in 2008 that the city violated state law by not getting adequate public input before proceeding with the affordable housing plans. The city had already applied for the HUD grant before holding the first public hearing regarding the property. The court ruled the public process was merely a justification for a pre-determined decision.

By the time the Supreme Court issued its ruling, the HUD grant had expired. Nonetheless, the city continued with its plan for affordable housing there, changing a few details to satisfy the Supreme Court’s ruling. However, the city was never able to raise the funds for the project.

The affordable housing plans were scrapped in 2011 when D’Amico was elected to the council. His win to council changed the balance of power. D’Amico joined with Prang and councilmember John Duran in voting to eliminate the affordable housing entitlement.

The city plans to begin holding public meetings concerning the future of the house in February. Some suggestions have included making it a community center for wedding receptions, artists showing, author readings, etc., creating an artist-in-residence program and creating office space for the currently homeless Audubon Society, which was evicted from its 70-year-home in Plummer Park last year as part of the city’s now-on-hold plan to renovate that park.

During Tuesday’s council meeting, resident Tom DeMille, who is running for city council in the March election, joked that the city should use Tara as a residence for the city manager. The current city manager, Paul Arevalo, has come under fire from residents because he lives in Pasadena.

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Me
Me
9 years ago

CONGRATS TO THOSE WHO SAVED TARA!!! What a long-fought battle this was for allegra and her pals to save this weho treasure!!!!….it’s unfathomable to me why the city fought so long and hard, and at great expense, with big plans to completely ruin this amazing gem in our own backyard…..i remember the first time i laid eyes on the house and grounds; i instantly imagined a time back in the day when perhaps the whole neighborhood was as charming as this beautiful and tranquil place……now, we are an over-developed mess and it’s bound to get much worse if we stay… Read more »

Sal Gomez - Co-Founder of Save The Pickford Fairbanks Studios

Allegra Allison Community Center at Tara has a nice ring to it.

Woody McBreairty
Woody McBreairty
9 years ago

I recommend the newly finished place be called “The Allegra Allison Community Center”

Jimmy Palmieri
9 years ago

AGREED!!!!!!!! And Heilman should follow in her footsteps of forgiveness, as he and his Deputy Fran Solomon along with Lisa Belsante vilified her into the witch of West Hollywood. Trust me, they actually had me brainwashed into believing them.
If she is gracious and ladylike enough to forgive and move on, Heilman should be gracious and ladylike enough to shake hands with D’Amico.
We are all watching and making mental notes.

Sal Gomez - Co-Founder of Save The Pickford Fairbanks Studios

Bravo Allegra. Outstanding work. So proud to know you.

Jimmy Palmieri
9 years ago

HEILMAN’S OFFICE VILIFIED ALLEGRA, AND MADE A MOCKERY OF THE SYSTEM, GIVING SPIN TO BOARD MEMBERS AND COMMISSIONERS TO DO HIS BIDDING. MYSELF INCLUDED, WHO THOUGHT HE WOULD NEVER LIE. HOW NAIVE I WAS BACK THEN.

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