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Strict Limits Imposed on Filming at Historic House : Los Feliz: The city restrictions appear to be a victory for neighbors, who objected to noise, traffic and disruption.

May 09, 1991|LORI GRANGE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles city officials have imposed stringent restrictions on filming at the historic Ennis-Brown House in Los Feliz, the latest blow in a protracted, bitter battle over management of the house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright about 1924.

The decision appeared to be a victory for neighbors of the publicly owned, Mayan-style block structure at 2607-2655 Glendower Ave., and a defeat for Augustus (Gus) Brown, the curator and former owner of the house.

Brown, 79, who is being investigated by the state for alleged mismanagement of the house, said the restrictions will limit his ability to raise money to restore the crumbling structure, which needs more than $1 million in repairs.

The Board of Public Works last week approved a limit of seven filming permits a year. Only one production may be shot during any given month and may not exceed three days of filming.

The board also voted to require companies to meet with a board representative and to notify neighbors before filming, limit to three the number of trucks parked on the street, and bus the cast and crew to the house.

The rules are some of the most restrictive governing filming in the city, said Charles Weisenberg, director of the board's motion picture and television division.

The action resulted from complaints from neighbors that too much filming was causing disruption, noise and traffic in the hillside area. In 1989, the neighbors successfully petitioned city zoning officials to prohibit parties, weddings, receptions and other public assemblies at the house.

Brown, a former union organizer, bought the house in 1968. In 1980, he donated it to the Trust for Preservation of Cultural Heritage, a nonprofit organization that he formed to raise funds for the building's upkeep. He has continued to live in the house as curator under an agreement connected with the donation.

Brown and Howard M. Zelener, an attorney representing the trust, said the restrictions will strangle the trust's last remaining means of raising money to restore the house.

An estimated $120,000 was earned last year from filming, according to Brown. Before zoning officials prohibited them, receptions and other public assemblies brought an additional $100,000 annually.

"Filming is absolutely the bulk of the income of the trust," which has about $100,000 in its restoration account, Zelener said. "Through some of their actions, the neighbors are injuring the ability to restore the house, which is the source of their aggravation in the first place."

The neighbors said they were pleased with the board's restrictions but skeptical that Brown will abide by the new rules.

"I have a lot of confidence that the film division is going to administrate this agreement," said Fred Chriss, who lives across the street from the house and has led a neighborhood revolt against Brown. "I have no confidence that Gus Brown can be trusted to keep the agreement."

Chriss and other residents have accused Brown of violating the zoning restrictions by disguising fund-raising events as film productions. In October, they said, Brown rented the house to a wine-tasting party for more than 200 guests. Brown said the event was a still-photography shoot for a winery.

The neighbors blame Brown for the film controversy and the trust's inability to raise funds for restoration. They claim Brown has alienated preservationists and rejected offers by nonprofit art groups to buy and restore the structure because he fears losing control of the house.

Similar allegations are contained in a 40-page complaint submitted last fall to the state attorney general's office by seven former members of the trust's board of directors and by Jack Rubens, a former lawyer for the trust.

The complaint, which is being investigated by Deputy Atty. Gen. William Abbey, alleges that Brown mismanaged the trust's finances, improperly wielded too much power over the nonprofit group and interfered with restoration efforts.

Zelener said he believes that the accusations stem from a "cyclone" of personality conflicts rather than from actual wrongdoing. Brown denies the allegations, saying he believes that the neighbors and former board members are conspiring to remove him from the house.

"They want to get rid of me," Brown said. "That would be my reward for saving this house--to be ousted from it."

Abbey would not comment on the specifics of his investigation, saying only that he is attempting to negotiate an agreement with Brown and the trust.

But Zelener and Rubens said Abbey may propose a broad reorganization of the nonprofit group and its bylaws, which could make the board of directors more independent and establish an executive director to oversee the restoration.

Although it is uncertain what level of control Brown would retain, the curator would probably be allowed to continue living there, the attorneys agreed.

Abbey may propose an agreement later this month, according to Zelener. But the battles seem bound to continue.

Brown and Zelener said they will attempt to overturn the city's prohibition of public assemblies at the house for fund-raising, either through negotiations with neighbors or in court. Chriss said he and others will fight that effort.

And Brown has vowed to hold a festive party at the house in late June to celebrate his 80th birthday--regardless of restrictions.

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