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150-Year-Old Adobes Given Protected Status : Preservation: The two structures have been declared historic monuments. Condos can be built near them, but they will stay.

May 10, 1990|JOHN L. MITCHELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The decaying remains of two 150-year-old adobe structures in Baldwin Hills were recently granted historic-monument status by the Los Angeles City Council, saving them from demolition threatened by plans for condominiums.

The council's decision last week will allow Consolidated Realty Board of Southern California, owner of the structures at 3725 Don Felipe Drive, to move forward with plans to build a 52-unit condominium project but requires that the original adobes remain undisturbed.

"It is about time that communities like Baldwin Hills had their historic monuments recognized just like other communities, like Hollywood," said Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, whose district includes Baldwin Hills. "There is history in every community, and these are some of the oldest buildings in the county."

The adobes, with thick walls and high, redwood-beamed ceilings, were once the center of the 4,000-acre rancho La Cienega o Paso de la Tijera owned by Vicente Sanchez, alcalde --or mayor--of Los Angeles in 1830. In the 1920s, an addition was built linking the structures and the building was converted into a larger clubhouse by the Sunset Golf Course.

Consolidated bought the building in 1972 and maintains its headquarters there. About two years ago, Consolidated came up with the condominium plans that called for the demolition of the 11,000-square-foot building that houses the firm's offices, a large auditorium, two other large halls for meetings and a fully equipped kitchen.

Those plans were placed in limbo when the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission recommended that the entire building be given historic-monument status. The City Council's arts, health and humanities committee proposed a compromise that would make only the original adobe structures historic, and the council agreed.

Consolidated accepted the compromise.

"It turned out OK," said Reginald Ballard, a Consolidated spokesman. "We plan to build a condominium on the property and incorporate the historical significance of the site into the design and planning."

Consolidated plans to build its condominium around the two adobes on the 1.3-acre parcel, an area known for its Indian artifacts dating to prehistoric times.

"Its location on a hill provides a great vantage point to view the rest of the basin," said Alma Carlisle, a specialist with the city's bureau of engineering. The first written evidence of a structure on the site appears in maps of Rancho La Cienega o Paso de la Tijera dating from the early 1850s, she said.

La Cienega means "the marsh" and La Tijera refers to the narrow scissor-shaped valleys between the hills.

According to the late Virginia French, who wrote a book on the old adobes, Gov. Manuel Micheltorena granted the property to Vicente Sanchez in 1843 for his "valiant soldiering and good citizenry." At the time, the rancho extended from what is now Exposition Boulevard to Slauson and from La Cienega east to about 4th Avenue.

When Vicente died, the property was taken over by the Sanchez heirs. The Sanchez descendants remained prominent in the early history of Los Angeles. Vicente Sanchez's son, Tomas, was elected sheriff of Los Angeles County seven times.

Eventually, the ownership of the Sanchez Ranch was turned over to E. J. (Lucky) Baldwin, after whom Baldwin Hills was named. Baldwin divided much of the acreage and sold most of it for development.

As part of the agreement to preserve the structures, Galanter promised to assist the owners in obtaining the permits needed to complete their project.

Ballard said his group's project will not only provide jobs but result in housing that the community will be proud of.

"We want to build something that our children and their children can be proud of," he said, "Those buildings may be 150 years old, but 150 years from now we want someone to look up at this hill and see what my heritage has done."

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