LONG BEACH — The Planning Commission has rejected a measure that would have delayed demolition of the historic Jergins Trust Building.
The proposed amendment to the city's zoning ordinance would have required developers to obtain a permit to build a replacement structure before they can tear down any building more than 50 years old. Officials say the measure would affect 40,000 buildings in the city, including the Jergins Trust Building, which was started in 1914.
City staff members recommended against approving the measure because they said it would interfere with demolition of decrepit housing, make additional work for city staff members and leave the city open to lawsuits.
The amendment was proposed by the city's Cultural Heritage Committee, which is intent on saving the Jergins Trust Building.
"This whole thing came up because they are trying to save Jergins Trust," said Gerhardt Felgemaker, environmental planner for the city. "All this could do is delay demolition."
After unanimously defeating the amendment, commissioners asked for a more conservative substitute ordinance that would apply to about 22 buildings that have been designated landmarks by the City Council and two that have been recommended for the designation by the Cultural Heritage Committee.
The Jergins Trust Building was designated a city landmark in 1979 and is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It has not been added to the register because the owners, Perini Land & Development Co. of San Francisco and Glenborough Co. of San Mateo, have not consented.
However, a moratorium on demolishing the Jergins Trust Building expires March 8, too soon for a substitute ordinance to save it. Any such measure would have to be reviewed first by the Planning Commission and then go to the City Council for final approval.
Tom Welch, who represents the developer, told commissioners Thursday that he has instructions to demolish the Jergins Trust Building "at the very first opportunity."
A 181-room luxury hotel is expected to be built on the site by Perini and Glenborough. But no operator has agreed to opening a hotel on the site at the southeast corner of Ocean Boulevard and Pine Avenue, which is why the proposed measure would have delayed development.
Welch said hotel operators are reluctant to commit to the project because it has been delayed for more than a year, while members of the city's Cultural Heritage Committee searched for a buyer who would salvage the building.
'We've Been Good Sports'
"If (the situation of) the last 18 months continues, God only knows when we could sit down and give the operator a completion date on the project," he said. "We think we've been good sports about this."
The project already has cost $125,000, Welch said, and demolition of the 10-story building will cost another $550,000. "We wouldn't want to spend that kind of money if we intended to leave bare soil," he said.
Cultural Heritage Committee chairman Donald Lounsbury disagreed.
"We are potentially left with an empty lot, no grandiose structure like the one being proposed, and the loss of an irreplaceable landmark," he said.
The measure Planning Commissioners rejected is modeled after one that went into effect 18 months ago in Pasadena. Linda Dishman, senior planner for the city, said the ordinance has worked well and has not been challenged in court.
Besides being one of the two oldest office buildings in Long Beach, Jergins Trust is distinguished by its terra cotta facade. It once served as headquarters for Signal Hill oil producer Andrew Jergins and was the site of the first branch Superior Courthouse in California. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers once performed in a vaudeville theater inside.