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8 Westwood Buildings Are Declared Historic Monuments

June 23, 1988|DEAN MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

The towering Fox Village Theatre, the domed Janss Investment Corp. building in the heart of Westwood Village and two North Village apartment complexes designed by renowned modernist Richard Neutra are among eight Westwood buildings declared historic-cultural monuments on Tuesday by the Los Angeles City Council.

The designations, in the works for two years, mark the city's most significant commitment to historic preservation in Westwood, which has grown over the past half-century from a quaint college town with a Mediterranean motif into a rowdy collage of restaurants, trendy stores and new apartments and condominiums.

Two of the designations--the Elkay Apartments at 638 Kelton Ave. and the Gayley Terrace Apartments at 959 Gayley Ave.--came despite strong objections from the buildings' owners. The owners said they feared that restrictions on demolition and renovations would hurt the resale value of the properties.

'Extreme Economic Burden'

"This will be an extreme economic burden on me," said Karen Bruderlin, owner of the Elkay Apartments, a Neutra-designed building constructed by her parents in 1948.

Jean Taylor Lawrence, who has owned Gayley Terrace for 42 years, appeared near tears as she appealed to the council to leave her property alone. Lawrence said she was being punished for keeping her Spanish Colonial-style building in good repair.

"Our corner looks beautiful, and it was because of my hard work," Lawrence said after the council vote. "They have torn my heart out."

Since early last year, several other Westwood buildings, including two by Neutra, have been designated historic monuments, but Tuesday was the first time the council endorsed widespread preservation in Westwood. Encouraged by the action, city planning officials and residents said they will push for designations of about half a dozen other structures, including several UCLA sorority houses in the North Village.

"When you have lost as much as we have lost, what you save is that much more precious," said Laura Lake, president of Friends of Westwood, a homeowners group. "This shows that Westwood was a hub of important, distinctive architecture. Maybe this will offset some of the hamburger places."

Added City Planner Daniel Scott: "This was really a big win for us."

The historic-cultural designation, although important to preservationists for symbolic reasons, also has one important practical implication. The city's Cultural Heritage Commission has the authority to block owners of the monuments from demolishing or altering the buildings for up to one year. During that period, the city could attempt to negotiate an agreement with the owners to spare the building. However, if no agreement is reached, the commission has no power over the building.

None of the eight Westwood monuments face demolition, but city officials said they wanted to get the safeguards in place as a precaution.

"This was an effort to anticipate, rather than be reactive--to try to be pro-active--about historical buildings," said Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents Westwood. "We tend to be criticized very often for designating historic buildings under the threat of demolition. People ask us 'Why didn't you designate in advance?' This is the advance."

Four of the newly named Westwood historic monuments--the Fox Village Theatre, the Janss building, the Fox Bruin Theatre and the Bratskeller/Egyptian Theatre--are in Westwood Village, the community's commercial hub south of UCLA. The other four monuments--all apartment buildings--are in the North Village, a residential enclave west of the campus.

"These are eight of the most significant landmarks in Westwood," said Christy McAvoy, a consultant hired by the city to catalogue buildings in Westwood. "The collection of the Neutra buildings, in particular, in the North Village is substantial."

The Vienna-born Neutra came to Los Angeles in the 1920s while working with Frank Lloyd Wright. He steered away from the popular Spanish influences of the time, concentrating instead on modern designs based on simple construction that integrated interior and exterior spaces. He is credited by historians with spawning a branch of Southern California architecture based on open and straightforward designs.

Revised Community Plan

The eight buildings were selected by the city's Planning Department from an inventory of historic structures compiled as part of the Westwood community plan revision. The revised community plan, approved by the council in January, specifically calls for the "preservation and enhancement" of Westwood's "distinctive" character.

Two studies, one of Westwood Village and one of the North and East villages, pinpointed more than 20 potential city monuments, including several that could qualify for the National Register of Historic Places. The studies also suggested the creation of several so-called "historic preservation overlay zones," which would designate entire neighborhoods as city preservation districts.

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