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Sylvia Park Clubhouse Earns a Landmark Vote : Topanga Canyon: A historian says the structure, built in 1930, has had multiple personalities--from boarding school to nightclub.

October 14, 1992|AMY PYLE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles County supervisors recommended Tuesday that the Sylvia Park clubhouse in Topanga Canyon, a rambling Spanish colonial-style structure built in 1930, be declared a historic building by the state.

Architectural historian Peter Snell described the building in a letter to the board as "a reminder of how the region has been shaped by boosterism and real estate promotion" because it was originally constructed as a social hall to attract buyers for nearby cabins. The country club was named for one of the developer's daughters.

Snell said that during its 62-year history, the club also served as a boarding school, a gay nightclub, a classical music hall known as the Mermaid Tavern, a commune and a rock 'n' roll club.

It is currently being restored by commercial artist and illustrator Bill Buerge for use as his private residence.

Tuesday afternoon, Buerge said he was pleased by the board's unanimous seal of approval. The board's recommendation that the club become a "point of historic interest" will be forwarded to the state Historical Resources Commission, which tends to follow a county's lead in deciding whether to grant historical status.

Although state historic designation could carry the possibility of some tax advantages, Buerge, 45, said his primary motivation was simply recognition of the work he has done and the building itself.

"I would really like to see this building preserved forever," he said. "It's this wonderful space . . . I find this place totally enthralling."

The 4,739-square-foot club on 2.62 acres of land off Callon Drive cost Buerge $650,000 in 1989 and he estimates he already has spent another $400,000 on reconstruction and restoration.

For 3 1/2 years, he has lived in the run-down building, with construction going on around him. At first, he moved into the small bell tower until its roof collapsed during a rainstorm. Then he switched to what will become one of five downstairs bedrooms.

His first project was restoring the swimming pool, which had been filled in with dirt and used as a horse corral and garden. Buerge said he turned to the pool first because he wanted a ready supply of water in case of fire. But he had no idea that under the dirt he would find a garbage dump that included such large items as a swamp cooler and a motorcycle.

Then came the arduous and messy replacement of the building's entire foundation and other seismic upgrading at a cost of more than $125,000.

Finally, in a week or so, drywalling will begin in the club's 1,500-square-foot great room, which Buerge said can hold up to 200 people.

Buerge hopes to complete major construction by year's end and then begin finishing work, some of which he plans to do himself, including installation of 1930s tile he has collected.

"It feels to me like I'm so close to being finished," he said, acknowledging that the club may still look like a disaster to others. "Maybe it's because I know how far it's come . . . from when there were 30 truckloads of concrete foundation in the front yard."

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