LONG BEACH — The old Harriman Jones Clinic, where some say half of Long Beach's residents were born, remains caught between the developer's wrecking ball and preservation while city officials search for alternatives to a plan that would turn the landmark into condominiums.
Amid protests from preservation-minded residents, the Planning Commission last week delayed efforts to destroy virtually all but the facade of the 1930 Italian Renaissance-style building, including the homey waiting room where fathers paced by a fireplace while awaiting the birth of their babies.
The proposal is now in the hands of the Cultural Heritage Commission, which could accept the idea of sacrificing most of the building to save some of it or insist that it remain intact, according to the city's historic preservation officer, Ruthann Lehrer.
The 15-member commission is already divided on whether to hold out for total preservation, a gamble that could scare off developers entirely and ultimately force demolition of the entire building at 211 Cherry Ave., members warned.
"If you take a hard-nose position, you could risk losing everything," Lehrer said. "Everyone looks at the fate of the Pacific Coast Club and says, 'Anything, but that.' "
The city learned a hard lesson from the Pacific Coast Club and the Jergins Trust Building, both of which were razed during attempts to save them. The sites remain undeveloped holes in the ground to this day.
The city is trying to work with Terry/Nikols Development Co. on a compromise for the Harriman Jones Clinic, which costs thousands of dollars a month to maintain while standing empty.
The plan to save the facade emerged as a compromise that seemed to please no one. It was agreed upon because, in Lehrer's words, "half a loaf is better than none."
Then residents turned out in ranks at last Thursday's Planning Commission meeting to protest compromise of any kind, complaining the new building would be too tall, the architecture too cheap and the attempt to preserve history too compromising.
"We have grieved over the loss of the Pacific Coast Club and anguished over the obliteration of the Jergins Trust Building," resident Rae La Force, who led the effort to save the clinic, told planning commissioners. "As long as the Harriman Jones building is still standing, a solution is yet possible. . . . Just say 'No!' to demolition."
The matter is due back before the Planning Commission on Dec. 28.