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Sam Hall Kaplan

Getty Aid Needed for Landmarks

April 26, 1987|Sam Hall Kaplan

Many of the city's landmarks are in need of help.

The decorated concrete blocks that compose Frank Lloyd Wright's magnificent Ennis-Brown house in Los Feliz are slowly crumbling. Hurting also are Wright's Freeman and Hollyhock houses in Hollywood.

Other landmarks needing help, ranging from minor rehabilitation to major structural repairs, include the Garnier Building, Fire Station No. 30, the Eagle Rock Library, the Landfair Apartments, the Wattles Mansion, Little Tokyo's Union Church and the old Venice city hall and police station, to name just a few.

And then there is an aging Los Angeles City Hall. It has been selected as the prime target in an ambitious effort, labeled Project Restore, which is trying to rally public and private institutions and citizens to aid in the preservation and conservation of historic municipal facilities.

Project Restore has the enthusiasm, but, unfortunately, not the money. Though it has received some help from the city's Community Redevelopment Agency and a smattering of private pledges, the total of nearly $500,000 is just a fraction of what is needed to do a proper restoration of the 60-year-old landmark.

The same problem perplexes the various public agencies and private nonprofit groups that oversee most of the other landmarks in the city. Funds for minimum maintenance are scraped together out of sparse budgets and by holding endless benefits, conducting tours and renting out facilities for film locations or weddings, or anything. Little is ever left over for any substantial rehabilitation.

Meanwhile, the rich, diverse architectural landmarks of Los Angeles continue to deteriorate.

Most of the deterioration may not be as vivid as the growing pile of crumbled concrete blocks lying on the slope beneath the proud Ennis-Brown House, but it is happening. Any person or institution with an appreciation of art history must be moved.

With this in mind, it is time for yet another appeal to the Getty Trust.

Though the trust in the past has deflected such appeals, using arbitrary guidelines as an inflexible shield, the logic for its involvement remains.

Certainly the landmarks present a wonderful opportunity for the Getty to make a magnanimous gesture to its host city while also reaffirming its incorporated commitment to the preservation of art.

The timing also could be auspicious for the Getty. Recently, the trust has been the subject of some strong criticism of a few of its administrative policies and priorities and personnel, and could use such a challenging program as historic preservation to demonstrate its institutional mettle.

In addition, the Getty is scheduled within the next few months to request from the city needed zoning approvals for its ambitious art center proposed for the hills above Brentwood. An extra dose of local good will, generated by aiding the needy landmarks, might help to overcome some of the criticism that the siting of the center consciously isolates an imperious Getty from the city at large, while impacting a particular area.

Aside from the planning issues, I am hopeful that the design of the center by noted architect Richard Meier will be both sympathetic and singular. With its 162-acre setting and a projected $100-million-plus budget, the center does promise to be an imposing edifice for the Getty and an architectural landmark for the city.

Such philanthropic organizations do like their edifices, as demonstrated, for instance, by the luxurious landmark that Kevin Roche and the late John Dinkeloo designed for the Ford Foundation in New York City.

But while the foundation did expend a considerable amount on the building and, in particular, the interior design, it also established a generous fund for its host city.

Known appropriately as The Fund for City of New York, it was set up to receive in lieu of tax payments from the Ford Foundation to be used for social sciences and services on the local level consistent with the Ford's commitment on the national level.

Whether its creation was motivated by guilt or good will, the fund has served New York City well and could serve as a precedent for the Getty's relationship with Los Angeles.

Specifically focused on the preservation of architectural landmarks, such a "fund for the city of Los Angeles" certainly would be consistent with the Getty's local prominence and international purpose.

As for the fund's budget, a modest 10% of the Getty's mandated annual expenditures of an estimated $156 million seems a reasonable beginning. That would be about $15 million, which also is just about 15% of what the Getty is projecting it will spend in attempting, with the help of Meier, to create its own architectural landmark.

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