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Downey Acts to Save Its Past : City Takes Emergency Steps to Spare 23 Threatened Historic Homes


DOWNEY — The city has taken emergency measures to save at least 23 historic homes threatened by new development and soaring land values.

It has declared a moratorium on the demolition of historic residences that were built before 1939 and are on property that can be subdivided. The city's endangered list includes Victorian, Mediterranean, California cottage and bungalow, and English country-style houses.

The homes chosen for preservation are sound structures, requiring no major alterations, according to Ken Farsing, director of community development.

Although the city has received no requests for permits to destroy these properties to build new housing, Farsing said the city still is concerned with protecting historic residences. Once these buildings are demolished, the architectural and cultural benefits cannot be replaced, he said.

In recent years, several historic homes have been destroyed and replaced with modern housing, Planning Commissioner Joyce Lawrence said. She is former president of the Downey Historical Society.

The Barnes house, a California redwood cottage built in the 1880s, the Kenney house, a Victorian-style home built in the 1890s, and the Willeford house, a hollow-tile structure built in 1919, were all torn down to make room for new housing.

"The smaller homes, such as the bungalows and cottages, are most threatened because they don't stick out or are as intriguing as the others," Lawrence said. "People drive by and think they're expendable, and don't give them the preference they give the larger homes.

"They have a place, too, in the representation of our earlier era," she said "That was what was in."

Farsing said the moratorium will provide the city with time to study historic preservation and to develop general guidelines for an ordinance to preserve these homes.

Among the historic residences are the Rives Mansion and Casa de Parley Johnson, both listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Arthur and Mary Hendricks bought the Rives mansion five years ago. Arthur Hendricks, former publisher of two Swedish-language newspapers, died in 1987 and left the house and business to his wife and his daughter, Jane. They are only the third owners of the house, which was built in 1911.

The late Superior Court Judge James C. Rives built the mansion on the northwest corner of Paramount Boulevard and 3rd Street. It is also listed as a local historic site by the Downey Historical Society.

Its style is similar to the classic antebellum Southern mansion with large white Greek columns supporting the front porch. It is the last of the Greek Revival homes remaining in Downey, Lawrence said.

Casa de Parley Johnson is a two-story Spanish Colonial Revival residence of the Monterey genre. Lawrence said it was built in 1926 by the noted Southern California architect Roland A. Coate. He built it for prominent citrus grower and oilman Parley Johnson.

It is an L-shaped house on Florence Avenue surrounded by courtyards, patios and gardens. The Spanish influence can be seen in the white stucco walls, red tile roof and French doors.

Coate was a major proponent of the Monterey style in Southern California. His blend of Colonial and native California form revealed itself in a formal, yet country style.

Lawrence said that the colorful ceramic tile and woodwork have hardly been altered. The history and the architecture of the house make it worthy of preservation, he said.

The house is owned by the Assistance League of Downey, a philanthropic organization established in 1953. The house was donated to the league three years ago by Mrs. Parley (Gypsy) Johnson.

But not everyone agrees with the city's plans to preserve these homes.

Mary Maniaci, of 8572 Cherokee Drive, whose house is also on the city's list, spoke against extending the moratorium during a recent City Council meeting.

"I don't want to be told what to do with my property," she said.

She explained later that she did not want any restrictions on her property because she and her husband might decide to sell it later. Maniaci's Mediterranean-style home was built in 1919.

The City Council is expected to vote on adoption of the preservation ordinance sometime this year.

Until then, owners of the 23 homes selected by the city must apply for conditional-use permits before demolishing their buildings. If the city decides that a house has historic value, it will give the owner the alternative of selling the house and allowing the buyer to move it to another location to preserve it.

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