The Highland-Camrose Bungalow Village, a cluster of 15 small, weather-worn homes near the Hollywood Bowl, was declared a historical landmark Tuesday in an action that Los Angeles City Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson says will preserve some of the early character of America's film capital.
The frame structures, built between 1916 and 1923, were among the first homes used by members of Hollywood's fledgling film industry. A 220-unit apartment complex proposed for the site had threatened to bring an end to the bungalows and to increase traffic on Highland Avenue.
But the 12-2 City Council vote may help protect more than the past. Stevenson, who fought for the historical designation on behalf of several homeowners' groups, is facing a June runoff election against 13th District challenger Michael Woo, and some observers think the vote may pay off for her at the polls.
Council members "voted sympathetic because she still has to win her seat," Councilman Gilbert Lindsay, chairman of the city's Cultural Affairs Committee, said in an interview after Tuesday's vote. Lindsay, who voted against the action, arguing for further study, said Stevenson's colleagues were very much aware of how the vote might affect her in the upcoming election.
"She's got a heck of a problem facing her, and the council knows it," Lindsay said. "They're just trying to bail her out."
Another council member, a supporter of the proposal who asked not to be named, agreed that the vote was designed to help her. "It's true. There's no question about it."
Stevenson aide June Cassidy said the proposal, introduced in January, was not politically motivated, but she acknowledged that the vote could work in Stevenson's favor. The council action effectively blocks proposals by the Jan Development Co. to tear down the bungalows and construct a hillside apartment complex.
"Any time you can deliver for your constituents and save something really important for them, it can't hurt," Cassidy said. "If it helps, it helps."
Stevenson, calling herself a lifelong resident of Hollywood, urged the council to preserve the bungalows despite criticism that the structures are badly deteriorated and less significant than other historical buildings that have been torn down. She said the village, used for housing during some of Hollywood's early film projects, is a natural monument in an area that also includes the Hollywood Bowl and the Cecil B. DeMille Barn.
"These buildings are a unique and significant link to Hollywood's history," Stevenson said. "They give us an invaluable insight into the life of Hollywood at a time when the motion picture industry was just beginning. Hollywood and its heritage belongs not only to us, but to the world."
Council members who voted to preserve the bungalows said they supported Stevenson's efforts to represent her community, but many of them questioned the value of the buildings.
Councilman Dave Cunningham, who said he visited the village, called it a "blight and a sore spot. I can only say that . . . if it had been in my district we certainly would have been pressing . . . to abate the nuisance or tear it down."
Zev Yaroslavsky, a longtime advocate of historical preservation in his Westside district, said preserving such questionable buildings could "water down" the city's attempt to establish significant landmarks. He said it "strains credulity" to compare the bungalows to more meaningful monuments, but he supported the proposal.
"I can't imagine anybody wanting to preserve these bungalows, but . . . these are reasonable people," Yaroslavsky said. "They deserve a shot."
The council's action enables the city's Cultural Heritage Commission to hold up demolition on the property for up to one year, after which the city could remove the historical designation or continue to preserve the structures. Cassidy said it is unlikely the designation would be rescinded unless there is an overwhelming argument to reconsider the case.
Edward Czuker, vice president of the Jan Development Co., which owns the property, could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
Although many of the structures have deteriorated, rental tenants are joining the preservation efforts by trying to restore them, Cassidy said.