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Old Eyesore or Historical Fixer-Upper? : Architecture: Residents want to refurbish the mixed-style house in West Adams as a community center. But the city says the structure is hazardous and may demolish it.

August 28, 1994|ERIN J. AUBRY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When some city officials look at the house at 2301 W. 24th St. in the West Adams district, they see a run-down, boarded-up eyesore whose fading aqua paint is sloughing off like sunburned skin.

Many residents and preservationists look beyond the weeds piled high in the front yard and see nothing less than an architectural treasure whose marriage of turn-of-the-century Edwardian and Polynesian styles is unique in Los Angeles.

At a homeowners meeting Wednesday, residents bought some time to save the house from demolition. Councilman Nate Holden agreed to give preservation forces until Dec. 31 to come up with a plan to save the building.

"It's in bad shape, but it just endears itself to people," said Karen Haas, who lives across the street from the house.

Built in 1902 by Los Angeles music patron Joseph DuPuy, the two-story "South Seas Edwardian" house is actually an amalgam of several styles--Craftsman, Gothic, Queen Anne and Victorian, to name a few.

Its most dramatic feature is an oversized, sharply pitched roof unlike any other constructed in that era, preservationists say. The clapboard outer walls, arroyo stone pillars and triangular attic vents lend touches of whimsy that distinguish the structure from neighboring Victorian and Craftsman houses.

The city acquired the house 23 years ago with the intention of tearing it down and widening Arlington Avenue, a plan that was never carried out. Now city officials say the house attracts trouble and is better off razed. But about 100 homeowners are working hard to retain and rehabilitate it, applying to Holden for help because the house is in his council district.

Resident David Raposa presented a proposal Wednesday to Holden aide Louis White that outlined plans to rehabilitate the house and bring in local nonprofit groups to operate youth programs. The 50 residents at the meeting backed the proposal, and White guaranteed the group that it would get the four months they said they need to raise $100,000 to fix the structure and line up tenants.

"We're willing to work with the community, but we can't afford to let the building stand as it is," White said. "The house is a total blight to the area. If we don't have something in writing saying how it's going to be saved, we have to move on it."

"I gave them my word I would work with them," Holden said before the meeting, "and I intend to do that."

Last month the City Council voted to demolish the house. Holden said he introduced that motion because the house endangers residents by attracting vagrants and vandals and poses a fire hazard. He said many longtime residents have asked him to get rid of the structure.

"A lot of people are tired of looking at it," he said. "I can't keep vagrants out of there forever. At some point, we have to protect the city from potential lawsuits that could result if someone is hurt."

Holden said that, if he decides the community proposal to save the house is viable, he can help residents acquire the house from the Recreation and Parks Department, which plans to level it to expand 2nd Avenue Park at the west end of the street.

Some neighbors say they don't want to see the park expanded because the existing one is a magnet for drug dealing, shootings and other trouble. They point out that another house stands between the South Sea home and the park, and it would have to be acquired before expansion could take place. That, said resident Laura Myers, could take years.

"Look, nobody is saying that they want the house to stay the way it is," said Myers, who was co-author of a recommendation to the Cultural Heritage Commission that the house be granted historical monument status. "We just want the chance to save it."

The commission has not yet made a decision on the application.

Residents say they have been in touch with nonprofit groups, including the Los Angeles Conservation Corps and the Getty Institute, that are interested in moving their administrative operations or youth job training programs into the house.

Martin Ludlow, a director with the Conservation Corps, said that he is skeptical that Holden will follow through on his latest pledge of support. Holden initiated the motion to demolish the house shortly after promising the West Adams Heritage Assn. in May that he would work with residents to save it. "A hundred residents shouldn't have to come together and scratch up money to do this," he said.

"Tearing it down is a knee-jerk reaction to the problem--you don't like it so just get rid of it," said Raposa, a Los Angeles Conservancy board member who lives on 4th Avenue and who has helped restore several homes in the area.

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