With an unanimous vote Monday night, West Hollywood’s Historic Preservation Commission denied granting historic status to a one-story building at 8001-8003 Santa Monica Blvd., but also criticized a city hall error that had allowed the property owner to drastically alter the exterior of the building after it had been deemed potentially historic.
Property owner Stevens Land Company LLC nominated the building on the northwest corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Laurel Avenue (across from the French Market) for historic status hoping the Commission would deny the petition, explained a city report. Denial of the petition automatically removes the property from a list of potential historic sites. Being included on that list limits what a landowner can do with a property.
However, the Commission denied the historic status because of alterations done two years ago which caused the building to lose many of its character-defining features (the items which made it potentially historic).
The commissioners and residents alike were upset that a permit-issuing mistake by city hall staff allowed those alterations to be made in the first place.
“This goes beyond falling through the cracks,” resident Cathy Blaivas, a former member of the commission, said of the city hall permit error. “This is a crying shame.”
“If this was a performance review, this would be a fail,” said resident Lynn Russell. “It would seem that gaps in historic preservation policies and procedures have unfortunately allowed individuals to surreptitiously manipulate the spirit and intent of historic preservation.”
Resident Victor Omelczenko, speaking for the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance, called the “asleep at the switch/who’s minding the store” error a travesty that robbed the city of one of its few remaining historic commercial properties.
A 2016 survey of commercial properties in the city found the building, constructed in 1922 in Spanish Colonial Revival style, to be potentially eligible for historic status. It was one of 57 properties (later upped to 68) out of 763 commercial properties surveyed which were listed as possibly eligible for historic status in the city.
The 2016 Commercial Historic Resource Survey done by GPA Consulting was available on the city’s website and WEHOville published a detailed story about the survey results in September 2016. The report was discussed at several Historic Preservation Commission meetings in the following months.
Thus, the information about the potential historic status of these buildings was widely available even though the city did not send property owners official letters announcing the “designation opportunity” until Nov. 15, 2017.
Being deemed potentially historic is just the first step toward granting historic status. It is not official until the Historic Preservation Commission and the City Council approve it. However, being deemed potentially historic does cause a property to instantly fall under the guidelines of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which means any modifications to the property must be approved.
Nonetheless, on Nov. 3, 2017, 12 days before the official letters were sent out, the city issued a permit for roof replacement to the building. That permit was issued “in error” because the property had not yet been flagged in the city’s computer system, according to senior city planner Doug Vu.
With that roof replacement, Stevens Land Company LLC, changed the Spanish clay tile roof to a shingle roof and removed two small roof towers in the process. All of the doors and most windows had been replaced earlier according to the city contractor who did the survey of potentially historic properties. The exterior wall covering was also changed from pink stucco to a dark brown color.
The end result is the building looks nothing like what it originally looked like and lost its visual association with West Hollywood’s past. With the historic integrity lost, the Commission had no choice but to deny the request for historic status.
The commissioners did not focus on the way the landowner seemingly thwarted potential historic status but were concerned about preventing it from happening again.
City planner Vu reported the other 67 potentially historic buildings on the commercial property list had been checked and no permits pertaining to altering the buildings had been issued since January 2017. Likewise, city staffers received additional training regarding historic properties and issuing permits.
Commissioner Yawar Charlie noted that the way West Hollywood issues permits is “archaic” compared to other nearby cities.
Commissioner Matt Dubin questioned why there was a 14-month gap between the survey being released and the city issuing official letters regarding “designation opportunities.” The Commission voted to discuss the process whereby landowners are notified about historic status at its next meeting.
Built in 1922, the 8001 Santa Monica Blvd. building originally housed real estate offices, later an astrologer/clairvoyant and a masseuse. In the 1930s, the building became a medical clinic with various doctors’ offices. Apparently, illegal abortion procedures were also performed there in the 1950s as osteopath William Ames and his nurse both served prison time for performing those abortions.
By the 1970s, the building was housing retail businesses, with its current tenants being a nail salon and a tanning salon.
Since it was built in 1922, the building was considered potentially historic because of its association with the history of commercial development in West Hollywood.
Since it was built in 1922, the building was considered potentially historic because of its association with the history of commercial development in West Hollywood. However, Commissioner Ed Levin suggested the building was not historic by that criterion alone since there are no specific historic events or people associated with the building.
“There is nothing really to support the conclusion that this particular building had anything to do with the development of the city per se other than just being there,” said Levin.
An adjoining building constructed in 1934 at 1105 N. Laurel Ave. was never considered eligible for historic status. That building was originally a maternity hospital called West Hollywood Hospital. In 1975, the building became a private school, the Beverly Hills Montessori School. It is now occupied by a preschool called the Beverly Hills Children’s Academy
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated Commission Ed Levin ‘s argument as to why the 8001 Santa Monica Blvd. building did not qualify for designation as a historic / cultural resource. Levin didn’t argue that it should not have ben included in the survey, but he said the building would not have qualified because it had not meaningfully contributed to the development of the city, one of the criteria for historic/cultural designation. The story has been updated to correct that.