The West Hollywood Preservation Alliance (WHPA) has asked candidates in the June 2 election for West Hollywood City Council four questions regarding their stands on historic and cultural preservation issues. Their answers are published below. WHPA is non-profit organization whose mission is “to identify, protect and preserve the historic, architectural and cultural resources of West Hollywood and adjacent areas through education, advocacy and assistance.”
Q. If you could have been a decision maker on the city’s Historic Preservation Commission or City Council regarding a preservation issue in the past, which issue would it have been and what would have been your position?
The main issue I would have advocated as a council member would have been due process on Plummer Park. The process was broken, and today’s stakeholders deserve a say in the future of the park. Saving Great Hall/Long Hall after designation was also of paramount importance, and that includes the old trees that make Plummer Park special. That also includes/included the preservation of Great Hall/Long Hall before it would have been torn down.
In addition there are three other items I would have advocated. 1) The Streamline Moderne Building should have been incorporated into the Melrose Triangle Project. 2) The Factory will need to have its history incorporated into that new development. 3) Tower Records while not necessarily historically significant from a building point of view is important to the history of West Hollywood and I advocated then and now incorporating some of that history into the building.
Tara! Without question, as a Council member, I would have respected the wishes of West Hollywood resident Elsie Linick-Weisman, who graciously donated her historic home and insisted it be kept intact. The Council spent close to a million dollars fighting residents and preservationists in a failed attempt to demolish the building. Thankfully, the hard work and perseverance of West Hollywood residents and the courts protected the historic landmark for the community to enjoy now and in the future. It stands today as a symbol of successful community activism at work, great architecture and the respect needed for our city’s past. As a council member, I will always put the needs and priorities of our residents first!
I helped initiate and adopt West Hollywood’s Historic Preservation Ordinance. I also helped designate almost every building that has historic status in the City of West Hollywood. I would like to see us improve the objectivity of the standards for declaring a building historic so we minimize disputes about what should be designated a cultural resource and what should not qualify.
As a current Planning Commissioner, I am often called upon to review projects that the Historic Preservation Commission already has input on, so this situation that your question poses is actually something we deal with fairly regularly. In terms of a specific issue that was decided in the past which I could have influenced, the example that comes to mind is Tara. The Tara building was beautiful, and the structure that was proposed to be built behind it would have detracted from its special character. I would have adamantly opposed the construction of the larger building behind Tara and would have fought for the restoration of Tara, as it is one of the great pieces of architecture we have in West Hollywood.
Q. What do you see as the biggest impediment to and the greatest opportunity for preserving West Hollywood’s historic, architectural and cultural resources?
The greatest opportunity is to find our local treasures and submit applications to preserve these buildings BEFORE a building is sold or a demolition permit is issued. The biggest impediment is that our Historic Preservation Commission is not pro-active. In my view the Historic Preservation Commission should be in the business of finding and preserving the buildings in the city that should be granted an historic status. Why wait?
In addition I believe we need to provide a higher threshold in our local Historic Preservation ordinance to protect local buildings and places of history that are central to West Hollywood but do not necessarily meet the threshold for state or national designation. Our small city has to protect what is important to us.
The culture and City Hall. The City Council has not made an effort to identify locations in our city that may be deemed historic and taken action to protect these structures. It is only when the Council green lights the wrecking ball must residents use their time and own resources to protect our city. We must create an adaptive reuse policy in West Hollywood and create incentives for developers and homeowners to follow suit.
Almost all of our really significant buildings are already designated. The biggest impediment to preserving these buildings is the significant cost to maintain historical properties. Adaptive re-use is an opportunity for some properties but re-use can result in displacement of existing tenants if the cultural resource is a rental property.
The greatest impediment I see to preserving our architectural and cultural heritage is the mindset that some in City Hall (and outside of City Hall, for that matter) think that progressing as a city necessitates building over our past. While the history of the city of West Hollywood goes back only 30 years, the history of the area – especially architecturally – goes back much further, and we need to be preserving that history, not destroying it.
The greatest opportunity we have to preserve our heritage actually falls under the category of “environmentalism.” Just the act of preserving an older property – whether historic or not – is a much more environmentally friendly act than razing a building and starting with entirely new construction. Moreover, by “greening” buildings (e.g. weatherizing, seismic retrofitting, grey water systems, etc), we help to future-proof those structures so that we can preserve them and actively use them for years to come.
Q. Great Hall/Long Hall in Plummer Park have earned historic status at the federal and state level, but at the local level they have been threatened with either being moved or demolished. What do you think about this ongoing controversy and how would you resolve it?
I think that the days or thought to demolish Great Hall/Long Hall are behind us. As you know the building is now going to be used once again for meetings. And, as you know we also lost the redevelopment dollars. I’m sure at some point in the future new plans will arise for Plummer Park but I’m also confident that the charm and character of the park will be part of the new plan. In addition, should it ever come down to it, a transparent, open, community-oriented visioning process would be something to help bring the whole community together in any new Plummer Park of the future. On top of that I am pro parking garage on the Fountain side. And I love the dirt parking lot. I would be 100 percent against the demolition of Great Hall/Long Hall.
It is a smack in the face to those who worked hard to convince the state and federal government that Great Hall/Long Hall deserved historic designation, for longtime incumbent council members John Heilman and John Duran to motion at the next Council meeting that the city will demolish buildings within 90 days!
As a Public Facilities Commissioner I was, at commission meetings, a vocal proponent about the need to preserve Great Hall/Long Hall. I did this before it was popular to do so, and well before I decided to run for office. When the Council only sent two options for the commission to vote on (either pack the building up in storage, or pay almost two million dollars to move the buildings without renovation), I fought hard to pass the successful motion demanding that the Council come back with the only viable option of renovating the buildings and leaving them in place. Win or lose this election, the only acceptable option for me is to renovate and restore the buildings where they stand.
I’ve been clear and consistent on my position regarding Plummer Park. Fiesta Hall is the most significant property in the park. It should be rehabilitated and upgraded. Great Hall and Long Hall are not worth preserving. The community needs more park space.
I have said many times publicly that I am adamantly opposed to any demolition of Plummer Park or Great Hall/Long Hall. In fact, when the Council originally voted to demolish Plummer Park, I worked with a small group of activists and a land-use attorney to help craft an 11th hour stay to halt that demolition. Great Hall/Long Hall are fine examples of the old style of Spanish architecture that used to be prevalent throughout the area, and we need to renovate them so that they can be the jewels in that park which they once were.
Q. The Factory, a site especially important to the history of West Hollywood’s LGBT community, is being slated for demolition and replacement with a large hotel and stores. What do you think about this plan?
This question may have already been answered above. The history of the Factory is rich in West Hollywood history. We need to preserve and protect that special history and our local treasures. The Factory is a great candidate for adaptive reuse. We need to work with the developers in this case, (as you might remember at the review I asked Jason Iloulian to “save the tin tiles” and “preserve Studio One” in some capacity should the building be town down.)
The Factory is a site that must be preserved. I am firmly against the demolition of another historical site to make way for yet another hotel, condo complex and more glass and steel. Let’s preserve our treasure and keep the Factory as part of any new development on that site. We must change the culture at City Hall which encourages and incentivizes tearing down our buildings. The Factory is the last symbol of the manufacturing era in our city, not to mention the birthplace of LGBT nightlife. I envision a great project on Robertson that will serve as an anchor for Boystown that will include our historic Factory.
The Factory may come before the City Council in the near future. I do not want to prejudice any matter that might come before the City Council. The building that contained the Factory is not particularly significant from an architectural standpoint. The issue that will have to be decided is whether the activities that occurred in the building are sufficient to justify preserving the building itself or whether some other recognition of that history should be considered. As someone who went to the various nightclubs operated in the space, I understand the important memories that the site provides for many people in the community, especially members of the LGBT community.
The Factory is a culturally important site, and I would like to find a way, through possibly adaptive re-use policies, that we can maintain the cultural integrity of the site while still being able to use the structure to suit the needs of the community.