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Rescue of 6 Early Buildings to Be Honored : Landmarks: Los Angeles Conservancy to recognize historic structures that continue to play viable role.

May 12, 1991|EVELYN DE WOLFE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The successful preservation of six buildings will be honored at the Los Angeles Conservancy's 1991 Preservation Awards luncheon Wednesday in the Biltmore Hotel, an event that also marks the 25th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 that created the National Register.

Award recipients include an old hotel on a narrow downtown lot, an abandoned waterworks building in Beverly Hills, the first hangar at Los Angeles International Airport, an unused tire factory, a produce market and a vintage Craftsman bungalow.

Each survivor, born during the century's teens and its second decade, is proof that "historic" need not be seen as "outdated" and "unusable" or an excuse for demolition, said Gregg Davidson, the Conservancy's associate director.

"All of these buildings are economically viable and continue to be on the city's tax rolls. Each is a striking example of what creativity and imagination can do to give older buildings new life," he said.

The Checkers Hotel (formerly the Mayflower Hotel), built on a 60-foot downtown lot in 1927, was written off as obsolete until Ayala Hotels acquired it and, after extensive renovation, reopened it in 1989 as a small European-style hotel. The hotel was designed in a Renaissance Revival style by Charles F. Whittlesey, architect of the Wentworth (later the Huntington Hotel) in Pasadena.

The Beverly Hills Waterworks (now the Center for Motion Picture Study) was built in 1927 as a treatment plant to allow the city of Beverly Hills to use water from its own wells. In 1976, threatened with demolition after the city began purchasing its water from the Metropolitan Water District, a group of preservation-minded citizens (Friends of the Waterworks) pushed for approval of an adaptive reuse of the structure as an alternative to demolition.

Concurrently, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was searching for larger quarters to house its library and archives. In 1988 the city of Beverly Hills accepted the academy's proposal to rehabilitate the Waterworks and make it the new home for the Center for Motion Picture Study.

The 1,700-foot wall of the former Samson Tire Plant, a familiar landmark for motorists on the Santa Ana Freeway, now serves as the impressive entry to the Citadel, a 35-acre mixed-use project that includes retail outlets, a hotel and office space.

Built in 1929, the Assyrian-styled tire factory was inspired by the Palace of Sargon in the ancient city of Khorsabad. The new project included renovation of the original administrative building and restoration of ornate bas-relief figures of griffins and kings.

The Seventh Street Market, formerly the Los Angeles Union Terminal Produce Market built in 1917 for Southern Pacific Railroad, suffered over the years from major changes in the produce marketing system and merchants threatened to move away if the outdated facilities were not replaced.

The challenge for architect Alison Wright was to protect the architectural integrity of the building originally conceived by John Parkinson, architect of City Hall and the Memorial Coliseum.

Hangar No. 1 (Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 44), oldest surviving structure at Los Angeles International Airport (Mines Field), was built in 1929 for $35,000. Rehabilitation, estimated at $2.7 million, will put the hangar back to use as a cargo facility.

The Henry Weaver House on the rim of Santa Monica Canyon, built for hotel magnate Henry Weaver in 1910, was designed by the architects of the Chinese and Egyptian theaters in Hollywood (Meyer and Holler).

Current owners, David and Lauren Rickey Greene, have painstakingly restored the 17-room Craftsman structure, earning for it the National Historic Landmark designation in 1989.

The Los Angeles Conservancy's preservation awards serve to demonstrate how many opportunities there are for older buildings to remain commercially viable and contribute to the historic perspective of the city, Davidson said.

"Too many architectural landmarks have already become 'historic parking lots,' " he said. "The old Coulters Department Store Building on the Miracle Mile is a typical example.

"The classic example of Streamline Moderne architecture was demolished in 1980 amidst much hype about a new mixed-use project, but all that's left 11 years later is an empty hole in the ground."

On the brighter side, Davidson said, a proposed change to the city's cultural heritage ordinance (an anti-vacant lot provision) would require that all necessary permits be in place for an immediate start of construction of a new project before demolition of a historic structure occurs.

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