LONG BEACH — Facing stiff public opposition to the demolition of the historic Pacific Coast Club, the City Council this week agreed to take another look at how the castle-like building may be saved from the bulldozer. But it may be too late.
Owner Robert Bellevue, who has waited almost a year for the city and preservationists to come up with an alternative plan, said on Wednesday that the building will be torn down as soon as he receives a city demolition permit--expected within the next two weeks. Before beginning demolition, he said, he will once again contact preservationists and the city manager's office "just to make sure there is no hope."
"I think we've exhausted every possibility," Bellevue said.
Nevertheless, members of the Coalition to Preserve Historic Long Beach said it was "significant" that the council agreed to ask City Manager James C. Hankla to study alternatives and report back in three weeks. The vote signals the first time the council's nine members have taken a united front on the 62-year-old edifice, coalition president Renee Simon said.
Little Effect Seen
Others, including several City Council members, say the move is likely to have little effect.
"I don't think it's hopeful," Councilman Evan Anderson Braude said of the prospect for saving the club.
Hankla, who already has reviewed eight different plans for the club, said if the city is to do anything "it has to encompass by its nature a redevelopment solution," which is a time-consuming process.
Under redevelopment, the city could use public funds to help subsidize the project. That could be important because Bellevue has argued that most of the plans to save the structure would not be financially feasible. Plans Bellevue has presented that would allow saving some of the structure, however, also call for building out onto the beach. The council has nixed that idea, saying that hotel proposal would infringe on the public beach, block views and set a bad precedent.
But preservationists have argued that there must be some way to save the club. Two residents have collected 2,000 signatures and received more than 1,000 names via phone calls in support of saving the club. About 100 people showed up for the council meeting Tuesday--most in support of saving the building.
In an election year, that kind of public pressure is not going unheard. "Personalities are very much involved here," said Rita Woodbury, immediate past chairwoman of the city's Cultural Heritage Commission. "Once again, the building is becoming a part of a political battle."
Last May, Mayor Ernie Kell was in the majority when the council voted 5 to 3 against delaying a final vote on the $50-million hotel project presented by Bellevue that would save at least part of the club but would extend onto the beach. By delaying the vote, the council--in effect--reversed a Planning Commission approval of the project.
On Tuesday, Kell--who is running to become the city's first full-time mayor--made the motion to ask Hankla to look at ways to save the building. Reading from a statement, Kell said "It's not whether we save it, but how we save it."
Councilwoman Jan Hall, who is also running for mayor, told Kell she was "pleased you seem to have taken a shift." Hall was in the minority last spring in voting for the delay.
Kell quickly responded he had not changed his position. He said he always supported saving the club but could not approve--before or now--of the owner's old plan to partially restore the club because it called for extending the development 90 feet farther onto the beach than the existing club.
Since that May meeting, Bellevue revised his plans and went before the city with a proposal to demolish the club and, in its place, build a $40-million high-rise condominium complex. The Planning Commission approved that project in September.
Council members, preservationists and others praised Bellevue Tuesday for attempting to find an alternative that would save the club, one of three buildings in Long Beach on the U.S. Department of the Interior's National Registry of Historic Places. "We're very, very fortunate that Rob Bellevue is the owner of that building. That guy has bent over backwards," Councilman Wallace Edgerton said.
Bellevue has worked with the Coalition to Preserve Historic Long Beach, which wants to save the building in its entirety. The coalition is proposing converting the structure to senior citizen housing, which would cost residents somewhere between $1,800 to $2,000 a month and include meals and other amenities. A restaurant, a health club and retail stores would go on the ground floor, said Doug Otto of the coalition.
Otto said the coalition has refined the details and found that it would be profitable. Bellevue, however, said that he looked at the coalition's project on Friday and found that it would lose at least $10 million a year.