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Point / Counterpoint

Should a Studio City carwash be preserved as a cultural monument? : FOR: JACK McGRATH

June 25, 1989

Developer Ira Smedra wants to replace a 60-year-old gas station, a 35-year-old carwash and a 28-year-old cafe at Ventura and laurel Canyon boulevards with a mini-mall. Opponents argue the three structures epitomize San Fernando Valley culture and should be preserved. Others say if a carwash is culture, it's a culture they choose not to embrace.

Jack McGrath, a 43-year-old real estate broker, organized the group known as Save Our Corner, which supports preservation of the carwash, gas station and Tiny Naylor's cafe. He has lived in the east San Fernando Valley since 2948 and believes important landmarks of the area's past are being razed by short-sighted development. He lives in North Hollywood with his wife Maria and two stepchildren.

Q. Why should we think of this as anything more than a ploy to block the development?

A. This is one of the more unique designs for a carwash that we have anywhere in Los Angeles. Its designer has said that those three 55-foot metal diagonals are unique in the U.S. Now, it's not equal to the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building or the Arch in St. Louis, Mo. But in the East Valley, it is a monument.

We're not the East Coast. We're not downtown L.A. The Valley took off post-World War II. And we don't have many cultural reference points to go back to. We can't communicate our history to our kids, and have them be able to communicate it to their kids, if everything is gone.

Q. But there's more to this than preserving significant architecture, correct?

A. Yes. Growing up, Tiny Naylor's cafe was our hangout, so the corner became significant in our social development. All the clubs from North Hollywood High School and other schools met at Tiny's.

So for me and for a lot of other people, this has been a very important part of their lives. And to listen to them talk about tearing down something like this, it really hits you in the heart.

Now there's a resurgence of the 1950s' look and they're building cafes such as Tiny Naylor's from scratch, bringing back the jukeboxes, the malted milks and that kind of thing. That tells me there is a very strong feeling about the 1950s. Things were a little more serene, less complicated. We weren't so driven by greed.

Q. But are these fond memories in any sense universal and part of the larger culture?

A. Well, there are a lot of people who share those memories. I've been involved in a lot of community issues through the years, and I have never seen one with this level of support. We had 5,000 cards from people who wrote to the City Council in favor of making the carwash and gas station a cultural monument.

We've seen so much destruction of other landmarks and things that were important to Studio City's development. We used to have pony rides at a little park on Ventura Boulevard.

We just pave everything over and knock things down. We've got to start looking at the 1950s because the meter's running and we're losing time.

Q. Should we preserve something just because people are fond of it?

A. I think so. The policy and language of the city ordinance is very broad. Anything that has a social, economic, political or architectural impact on the total community can be considered for landmark status.

But we're not saying to the developer: "Mr. Smedra, you can't do anything with the site." He's got 68,000 square feet there and I just think he's been very shortsighted, even from a business standpoint. That carwash and gas station alone bring in about 1,000 customers a day. If he were to integrate some retail space on the back of the lot, even the way the project is designed now, he could have a very, very successful development.

Q. This has confirmed in the minds of people here and elsewhere that Los Angeles is frivolous and wacky. But you take this very seriously, don't you?

A. Oh, I do. We don't have many historical monuments here in the Valley. If you look at the 321 historical landmarks designated by the city of L.A., if we had 20 in the Valley, I'd be surprised. The Valley's always been short shrifted because we're just not as well-organized.

Q. One of your supporters said this was an effort to "preserve the sleepy, small-town atmosphere" of Studio City. Is there really any of that atmosphere left?

A. There is! There is! It's a little slower. People are a lot more friendly. There's not the hectic pace of elsewhere. You've got to be kind and considerate, or you won't be part of Studio City.

The major retailers along Ventura Boulevard have been there 30, 40 years. I would guess there isn't anywhere in Los Angeles where retailers stay in the same business for so long.

Studio City also has the highest appreciation rate of homes anywhere in Los Angeles. That tells you that people will pay through the nose to live there. Because of the quaintness.

Q. Is this primarily a cultural issue or a planning issue?

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