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Sam Hall Kaplan

Vote to Decide Huntington's Fate

May 10, 1987|SAM HALL KAPLAN

Historic preservation is the issue in a special referendum election in Pasadena on May 19.

Voters there are being asked whether they favor a questionable city ordinance approved last fall that, in effect, would allow the 80-year-old landmark Huntington Hotel to be demolished.

Until its arbitrary and abrupt closing a year and a half ago, the rambling, stately Huntington, designed by Charles Whittlesey and Myron Hunt on 23 well-landscaped acres in the Oak Knoll section of the city, had been a symbol of a graciousness that has marked the area's rich architectural heritage.

A "yes" vote will give the green light to a neophyte corporation of debatable development experience to level the hotel's distinctive tower and gut the balance of the main structure as part of an estimated $38-million plan to supposedly replicate the landmark.

The plan is based on the claim of Gemtel Corp., headed by Lary Mielke, that the hotel is seismically unsafe and would cost too much to rehabilitate; a claim that has been questioned by engineers and preservationists.

A "no" vote will delay the demolition and perhaps prevent it by prodding the city to explore how the historic hotel might be rehabilitated. Of course, that is what the city should have done last year when the issue first surfaced, instead of taking the developer's word--backed by a few flimsy studies--that it could not be economically done.

By initially conducting an independent engineering study of the historic structure, the city's board of directors could have saved the cost of the special referendum and its waning credibility.

If there is one undisputable fact in the debate over the referendum it is that once the hotel is demolished, there is no turning back. It will be gone. Certainly, the Huntington, which for so many years served the city so well with style, deserves to be saved if at all possible.

A "no" vote also will send a message to the city leaders that it should not be in such a hurry to hustle Pasadena's rich architectural heritage into oblivion.

BLOCKBUSTING, continued: That the Los Angeles Unified School District has withdrawn 12 neighborhoods from consideration as sites for new or expanded schools does not, in any way, justify its moving ahead on the other 30 sites.

If anything, the withdrawal of the 12 sites in wake of a few basic questions raised by local politicians and residents indicates how capricious the district's planning efforts are, and how arbitrary its action.

The district has yet to turn in its homework on how it came up with the projected increase of 75,578 students to justify the new and expanded schools, and what alternative sites and structures have been explored, if any.

One gets the sense that--desperate to pad its bureaucracy with a $250-million-plus construction program dangled in front of it by the state--the district hastily drew up the necessary maps and stapled the arbitrary statistics to them along with the usual gobbledygook.

Well, that's nice to keep up the activity in the "in" and "out" baskets, so critical in the ancient rites of administrations (unfortunately in this case with salaries that could be better used for teachers in classrooms).

But it is another, much more serious matter when those lines and projections, backed by the board's powers of eminent domain, mean the demolition of about 2,000 homes and the severe disruption of 6,000 lives.

It is time that the district's planning process be taken out of the back rooms of the board and be held accountable to the communities it is supposed to be serving. From a design point of view, schools should be community focal points of stabilization, not destabilization.

Certainly, the district should not be a vehicle for blockbusting.

If the homes that the board and the district bureaucrats are so capriciously threatening to destroy were their own, or that of some select legislators, no doubt, one would see some alternatives pretty quickly.

For the removal of the 12 sites the district gets an "E" for effort. But for not coming up with reasonable alternatives for most of the other sites, it is still gets an "F" for failing itself, the affected communities and the city.

The expansion plan as it still stands is more than incompetent; it is mean spirited, in the worst tradition of an insensitive bureaucracy just following orders and doing its job.

INSENSITIVITY, continued: Just doing its job also is Caltrans. In a fumbling effort to justify its bureaucracy and budget, the agency is moving ahead with a $1.3 million sidewalk-narrowing project along Santa Monica Boulevard in Westwood.

Being ignored are the current planning efforts of the community calling for increased pedestrian amenities, an imaginative strip park scheme designed gratis by the architectural firm of Appleton & Associates, and a recent $150,000 landscaping of a portion of the street's median by Century City.

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