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Which Comes 1st: Bigger School or Older Homes?

August 16, 1987|DAVID WHARTON | Times Staff Writer

Everyone seems to agree that Grant Elementary needs to be bigger. The Hollywood school holds 700 children, but there are just as many in the neighborhood who must be bused away.

So parents and school officials were elated in 1985 when the Los Angeles Unified School District picked Grant to be part of a $400-million project to build more classrooms in sections of Los Angeles where students outnumber school desks.

But now residents who live beside the school are complaining that the district has chosen a building site that will mean the ruin of their neighborhood.

Seven historic homes must be razed to make room for the new building on the 1500 block of Wilton Place. In a meeting last Wednesday evening, residents told city and district officials that the homes are essential to the character of their neighborhood.

'Mean-Spirited'

"Their plan for this expansion is inconsiderate and mean-spirited," said Sandy Melvoin, chairwoman of the Carlton Way/Harold Way Neighborhood Assn., a group of 92 homeowners and tenants in the area. "You don't come into a community and take away its nicest homes. It is important to us to maintain these older, unique houses.

"Granted, the children have got to have a place to go to school in this area, but let's consider some other sites," said Melvoin, who rents one of the houses set for demolition.

Parents who had earlier lobbied for expansion could not be reached for comment.

Grant takes up half a block on Wilton--between Hollywood and Sunset boulevards--in an area where homes built in the early 1900s stand beside modern apartment buildings and condominiums. The school district wants to construct a two-story, 445-seat building behind the existing school, thus taking up the rest of the block.

No Demolition Protection

Because of age and architectural designs, the seven endangered homes are recognized as historically significant structures by the city's Community Redevelopment Agency. But they do not fall into a category that is protected from demolition.

"My front room looks out on what will be, if they have their way, asphalt and a chain-link fence," said Bill Dyer, who owns a house across the street from the proposed site. "I think they could have designed this project and saved the historical buildings."

Councilman Michael Woo characterized association members as "part of a new breed of pioneers" who have moved into Hollywood to fix up residential neighborhoods. It is unfortunate that these people's well-intentioned efforts have been met with an order to vacate, he said.

Five other Hollywood schools are set for expansion, and residents in some of those neighborhoods also have fought having to sell their houses to the district and move, Goldberg said.

'Intense Feelings'

"There are very intense feelings on both sides," Woo said of the situation at Grant. "The parents have been promised for several years that there would be this expansion. There needs to be some sort of compromise."

Hoping to approach such an agreement, Woo, Goldberg and school district officials met with residents at Grant.

"Obviously the buildings are sitting on land that we desperately need for the school. The school is grossly overcrowded," said Bob Niccum, director of real estate for the district. "But we are committed to taking a look at these issues."

At the meeting, the neighborhood association suggested a number of alternative sites for the expansion, including several vacant commercial lots and buildings nearby.

But the district has already purchased four of the houses, as well as two apartment complexes, on the block and says it will not sell them back or change plans to demolish them.

May Spare 3 Houses

The district can, if it wants to, condemn the remaining buildings and force residents out. But in response to complaints, district officials say they are considering a plan that will spare the remaining three houses. They have also pledged to spend additional money on landscaping around the proposed school building.

Despite these concessions, residents labeled the meeting unsatisfactory. They say they will ask Gov. George Deukmejian for his help in saving all seven houses.

"We'll chain ourselves to those houses if we have to," Dyer said. "We're not giving up."

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