Local historic preservationists want to add six buildings to a list of 57 commercial properties identified by a city consultant as worthy of being designated as historic. And some property owners are saying no to having theirs included.
Designation as a historical resource offers both pluses and minuses for building owners. On the plus side, they can qualify for benefits including less strict zoning requirements and a reduction of up to 50% in property taxes in exchange for rehabbing and preserving a building. On the minus side, an owner who plans to significantly alter or demolish a building designated as historic must obtain a “certificate of appropriateness” if the designation is by the City of West Hollywood. A more complex process, including an often-lengthy and expensive California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) study can be required if a building is designated as historic by the state or federal government.
Victor Omelczenko, a member of the board of the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance (WHPA), likened the designation of a building as historic to winning the Oscar. For “the preservation community, the real prize is actually getting a building officially designated as a cultural resource,” he said.
The buildings that WHPA wants added to the list are:
— The Macha Theatre building at 1107 N. Kings Rd. A lawyer representing its owner objected to it being listed while Tricia Cruz, a theatre board member, spoke out for it.
— The Madison Car Wash at 7617 Santa Monica Blvd., the last example of a Googie-style building in WeHo.
— 8445 Santa Monica Blvd., the former location of Ritts Furniture, which was designed by Harry Harrison, a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright.
— The Holloway Motel at 8465 Santa Monica Blvd., the only remaining motel along historic Route 66
— The Pink Taco building at 8225 Sunset Blvd. WHAP notes that while changes in the building have affected its historic integrity, those could be restored.
— The Viper Room at 8850 Sunset Blvd., built in 1921 and the location of numerous entertainment venues.
Mayor Lauren Meister asked that buildings at 7496, 7735, 89054 and 9091 Santa Monica Boulevard also obe considered for historic designation.
The owner of Carney’s Restaurant at 8351 Sunset Blvd. asked that his building be removed from the list of those eligible for historic designation, arguing that the train cars on the property were significantly altered.
“Unfortunately this survey was conducted without outreach to property owners who could have provided additional and pertinent information,” said a letter from Afriat Consulting Group, which represents the property owner. “This survey may have a permanent, potentially harmful impact on property owners included in the survey.”
Councilmember John Heilman said he was uncomfortable adding properties to the list that either hadn’t been vetted by GPA Consulting, the city’s consultant, or that GPS found were ineligible.
“The process of designating a property has a significant impact to the property and we shouldn’t do that (after the property has been rejected by the consultant two times),” Heilman said.
Councilmember John D’Amico said he supported addition of other properties to this list but couldn’t back adding the six suggested by WHAP without further analysis from the city consultant.
GPA surveyed 763 commercial and residential buildings between November 2015 and August 2016. Of those, 27 were commercial, institutional or industrial properties that previously had been designated historic.
Working with the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, Community Development Department and community members, GPA whittled down the list of 763 properties. It used criteria for historic properties from the National Register for Historic Places, the state Register of Historical Resources and the city’s Register of Cultural Resources.
GPA also identified four segments of West Hollywood’s history in order to put the buildings it evaluated into historical context. Those segments were the development of Sherman and adjacent county lands (1895 – 1925), West Hollywood (1926 – World War II); postwar West Hollywood (1946 – 1965), and modern West Hollywood (1966 – 1984.) Using traditional standards for historic designation, only properties built at least 45 years ago (i.e. prior to 1975) were considered.
GPA re-evaluated the 27 buildings already on the various historic preservation lists to see if they had been maintained in such a way as to still qualify. Of those, two buildings have been torn down and two altered in a way that would make them ineligible for historic designation. Their addresses are 8795 Sunset Blvd., 8866 Sunset Blvd., 9016 Sunset Blvd. and 9131 Sunset Blvd.
The GPA study was essentially an update of a citywide historic resources survey completed in 1986-87 and a second survey of multi-family residential buildings completed in 2008. In addition to the study, GPA is working with the City of West Hollywood to develop a website that will offer information about historic preservation in West Hollywood, including the cultural heritage preservation ordinance, various applications and forms for historic resources and answers to frequently asked questions.