A landmark Art Deco building that was the first major structure built on Wilshire Boulevard's Miracle Mile was designated a cultural historic monument Tuesday by the Los Angeles City Council.
The unanimous vote to grant monument status to Wilshire Tower, at 5514 Wilshire Blvd., came on the heels of an unusual agreement reached between homeowners who were trying to save the 58-year-old, block-long structure between Dunsmuir and Burnside avenues, and its owner, who wanted to tear it down.
Under the agreement, engineered by Councilman John Ferraro, who represents the area, the building, with its nine-story tower, curved corners and Egyptian-inspired carvings, will remain standing. But zoning changes will allow owner Moussa Shaaya to construct 150 residential units and an art gallery in the parking lot behind the building.
The accord ends a dispute that began in September, when homeowners learned that Shaaya had obtained a demolition permit. They joined the Los Angeles Conservancy, which works to save historically important buildings, in seeking city landmark status for the building. The Cultural Heritage Commission then voted to recommend designation, and the matter was referred for a City Council vote.
City monument designation, which ordinarily provides up to a one-year moratorium on demolition of a landmark building, in this case reinforces a compromise already reached between opposing groups.
"It's a creative solution," said Jay Oren, architect for the Cultural Affairs Department, "and fairly unique. The owner was lucky enough to have vacant space there. Open space was its (Wilshire Tower's) savior."
Ferraro's office, according to aides, began looking for a common ground when Shaaya sought his support to demolish the building and the homeowners asked him to help save it. Shaaya maintained that his building was an economic white elephant, while other areas of Wilshire Boulevard were being redeveloped and revitalized.
Homeowners said it was the largest and most important of the 19 Art Deco buildings on the Miracle Mile, between La Brea and Fairfax avenues, and the key to their efforts to place the buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.
"I like to preserve these buildings, but it's got to be economically feasible," Ferraro said. "As we see revitalization of that area, this example shows we can blend new buildings with preservation of the old, and I trust this will set a trend for other sites in that community."
"It was a very good compromise," Ken Spiker, a consultant, said in behalf of Shaaya, who could not be reached.
"We will both end up getting what we need and we want," said Nancy Michali, a board member of the Miracle Mile Residential Assn.