Two of West Hollywood’s oldest and most meaningful buildings got a jolt of hope this week as City Council voted to have them considered for cultural resource status by the Historic Preservation Commission.
Great Hall/Long Hall, built in 1938 as the Plummer Park Community Clubhouse, represents a pivotal pre-cityhood moment in WeHo’s history when the County of Los Angeles and the Works Progress Administration collaborated on a recreational facility for the first time, and it’s the only edifice in the city constructed via New Deal programs.
According to the LA Conservancy:
“Its Spanish Colonial Revival design, chosen to reflect Plummer Park’s heritage and link to the region’s great Mexican-era ranchos, remains highly intact, featuring a U-shaped plan surrounding a central courtyard, a clay tile roof, and a stucco exterior. The west section, composing the Great Hall, features an auditorium space, while the south section, composing the Long Hall, originally functioned as a library and game room. The interior retains its original stage, decorative wood trusses, beams, and molding.”
Fiesta Hall, an offspring of the Great Hall/Long Hall that was constructed in the same style in 1949, is notable for being West Hollywood’s official birthplace, the location where residents voted to incorporate the city in 1984.
Jen Dunbar of the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance wrote this of the two sites:
“Because the county had direct control over the project as its sponsor, it could decide the style of the building. Edward C.N. Brett, the county’s chief architect, decided it should reflect a prevailing public sentiment for “Old California.” The single story building with its low gabled tile roof, sited in the center of the park amid lush plants and trees, complemented the quaint single and multifamily homes lining the streets around the park.
Modest details such as the exterior shutters, casement windows, an interior rounded corner fireplace, thick decorative scrolled ceiling beams and flagstone- patterned concrete pavers added to the architectural charm.
The craftsmanship, plan and details of the Community Clubhouse reflected the inspiration and simplicity of the colonial missions and adobes built throughout California, characteristics of Spanish Colonial Revival style. Its Spanish Colonial Revival style also distinguished it from the WPA-era Modern style of many buildings found throughout Los Angeles.
The clubhouse’s use as a gathering center married well with the courtyard configuration often employed by buildings of this style. As these building types were often a response to the environment, spaces needing natural light were placed along the east-west axis, while those that did not ran along a north-south axis. Long Hall, intended as a reading room, sat along the east-west axis, while Great Hall, an entertainment space, followed the north-south axis. The low flat ceiling of Long Hall with its thick scrolled beams marching down the length of the room recall the Romanesque style nave, a feature often found in the missions.
Great Hall, with its stage and rustic, open trussed ceiling was a performance space to replace the “Old Rancho Barn Theater.” The courtyard provided a gathering space for barbeques and picnics, with shaded spaces under the surrounding arcade. Long Hall provided a space to house exhibits. Hernando G. Villa, who was known for his illustrations for the 1932 Olympics and for creating the “chief” emblem for the Santa Fe Railroad, as well as paintings of early California scenes, exhibited his work at the Clubhouse in 1939. That same year, the California Bear Flag was presented to park director Florence Lewis Scott and raised over the building as a symbol of “our endeavor to carry forward the charm and spirit of Old California to enrich our present day lives.”
From 1938 to 1984, the park and the clubhouse remained under the supervision of Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation. In 1984, Plummer Park and all of its structures were turned over to the City of West Hollywood with its incorporation. The Clubhouse operated continuously as a gathering space for local organizations and, until recently, also housed the 75-year-old Los Angeles Audubon Society. ACT-UP/LA sees the Community Center as part of its history. This AIDS activist organization held its weekly meetings there for nine years and supports its designation as a historical resource both for its previous and recent historical association.”