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EARTHQUAKE / THE LONG ROAD BACK : Fallen Fame : Landmarks Suffer Damage, Including Frank Lloyd Wright House. Egyptian Theater, Churches Among Those Hit

January 20, 1994|LARRY GORDON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At his masterpiece Hollyhock House on a hillside above east Hollywood, architect Frank Lloyd Wright placed 14 rooftop spires, each four feet high and molded in concrete to resemble the many-petaled hollyhock flower that inspired his 1919 design.

On Wednesday, five of those spires had been toppled--two shattered beyond repair--by this week's earthquake and aftershocks. The massive Mayan-style fireplace in the city-owned house showed hairline cracks, its library room foundation had slipped, and concrete garden walls had tumbled down the westerly cliff of the Barnsdall Park cultural complex.

"It's going to be a very expensive proposition, but structurally the building is not in bad shape," Hollyhock's curator Virginia Kazor said of possible repairs, as she led an entourage of architectural preservationists, city cultural officials and state and local politicians through the house Wednesday.

The tour was part of a still-emerging effort to determine earthquake damage at Los Angeles-area architectural, historical and cultural landmarks. Building by building, street by street, volunteers and government employees are inspecting those treasures of the Southland and urging owners of damaged landmarks not to move too hastily toward demolition.

"It's important to us to stay ahead of the curve before people get firmed up that the buildings can't possibly be saved. Maybe they can't," said William F. Delvac, an architectural preservationist who works at a Hollywood-based firm called Historic Resources Group.

For him and others involved in the ongoing surveys, this week brought back bad memories of the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. According to a report by the state Office of Historic Preservation, more than 100 buildings damaged or destroyed in that civil unrest were historically, architecturally or culturally significant. Some are still awaiting repair.

It may take weeks to come up with such a count for the earthquake. The temblor's effect on landmarks varied widely, depending on geology, construction methods and sheer luck.

The Downtown Los Angeles Central Library, which burned in 1986 and reopened last fall after $214 million in renovation, came through Monday's temblor with little damage. The two-century-old San Gabriel Mission church, which reopened in September after a $1.2-million project to repair damage caused by the 1987 Whittier quake, suffered only plaster cracks this time. The Hollywood sign and most historic structures Downtown emerged in good shape. The stone mansion McGroarty house, at the McGroarty Cultural Center Park in Tujunga, was nearly unscathed, officials reported. The exterior of the Art Deco Bullocks Wilshire building in Mid-Wilshire had no visible cracks.

The Watts Towers showed more than a dozen cracks, but Rodney Punt, assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, said those appear to be minor problems. The Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard now has huge holes in its rear tile walls that were thought to be repairable, as were the exterior cracks behind the massive screen in the nearby Chinese Theater.

A recently restored 1920 Art Deco building at 5620 Hollywood Blvd., designed by John Parkinson, one of the architects of Los Angeles City Hall, had its pyramid-shaped crown knocked loose from a tower that looms 95 feet over the two-story structure. The pyramid was dangling precariously Wednesday, but the former bank building will be fixed, declared its owners, the Johns & Gorman Films television commercial production company. The structure is eligible for the national and local landmark status, experts say.

More threatened are a host of beloved churches and apartment buildings in Santa Monica. St. Monica's Roman Catholic Church, a 1925 Romanesque structure, showed fractures on its tower top to bottom. The Spanish-style Charmont apartments on California Avenue and the El Cortez apartments on 4th Street were both in bad shape. So was the Henry Weaver House, a distinguished 1910 example of the Craftsman style which, like the Egyptian and Chinese theaters and Hollyhock House, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The owners of the building, Lauren Greene and television director David B. Greene, spent more than $400,000 restoring the two-story Santa Monica house since 1985, and now are not certain if they can afford massive repairs, Lauren Greene said. In the earthquake, bricks flew off the foundation, sinking vertical timber beams that are supposed to support the massive porch roof; the roof is collapsing in several spots, she explained.

Owners of some other historic or architectural landmarks may use earthquake damage as a pretext to tear down structures that could be otherwise saved, said Linda Dishman, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy, the preservationist group conducting the surveys.

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