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Historic Hillview in Danger : Owners May Demolish Damaged Hollywood Apartment House

October 13, 1994|SCOTT COLLINS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Some of the elderly tenants at the Hillview Apartments have lived or worked in the landmark building long enough to remember when trolley cars rattled past on Hollywood Boulevard.

The historic Hillview, at Hudson Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard, could soon go the way of the streetcars, leaving a couple of dozen low-income senior citizens hunting for a new home.

The southernmost third of the pink stucco, Mediterranean Revival building was red-tagged by the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety after the Jan. 17 earthquake. The rest of the building is considered safe.

But building owners say that recent damage caused by Metro Rail subway construction along Hollywood Boulevard may result in the demolition of the apartment house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was built by movie mogul Jesse Lasky in 1917 for movie actors.

An MTA spokesman said a cursory inspection by a private structural engineer found no damage directly related to subway construction.

However, about 12 tenants have been living in a local hotel since mid-August when gas service was interrupted as a result, according to the Hillview's owners, of Metro Rail construction. Last week, one of the owners told the remaining 10 or so tenants to move out within 20 days, ostensibly to prepare the way for demolition, a move that has drawn opposition from Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg.

"Because it's so badly damaged, we can't afford to fix it," said D. V. Hanneken, one of the building's owners. "There's not enough income from rentals to run it."

Leif Hetland, representative of a trust that owns half of the Hillview, confirmed that he and the other owners are seriously considering demolition and are also planning to file a claim against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for unspecified damages from subway construction.

Hetland said that the owners have not yet applied for a demolition permit from the city. Because of the building's historic status, the proposed demolition would be subject to an environmental review.

Goldberg, who hopes to save the building, is objecting to the landlord's action on grounds that the city's rent control ordinance requires a 30-day notice and $5,000 relocation subsidies to elderly tenants in the event of demolition.

"When you have an elderly person who's been in an apartment for a long period of time, evicting them is tantamount to a death sentence," said Rod Field, a lawyer at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, which is advising tenants. "You're taking them out of their world, a place where their family is each other."

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Field and others said the tenants would probably have a hard time finding other affordable housing in Hollywood. Rents at the Hillview start as low as $375 for a single apartment.

For 21 years, Margaret Vargo has lived alone in a small, second-floor apartment at the Hillview. The 80-year-old retired bookkeeper said she has no plans to leave, even though she's packed a few of her belongings just in case.

"It's cool here in the summer, and nice and quiet, at least when the windows are closed," she said one evening this week. "Some of the old things should be preserved, shouldn't they?"

Last Friday, Carter Wright, 83, boxed up cables, lights, movie posters and furniture collected during his 47 years as a talent agent and vocal coach with an office in the Hillview. A visitor arrived just as movers were trundling his upright piano to a new office down the street.

"It's like leaving my home," Wright said, pulling off his brown fedora. "This street had everything: streetcars, lovely trees. My gosh, I could tell you enough nostalgia for you to go boohoo."

The Hillview Apartments were originally intended as housing for movie actors, who were viewed as undesirable tenants by many Hollywood landowners early this century.

Signs in the windows of some area boardinghouses read, "No actors, no dogs."

In the wake of the January temblor, preservationists have lost battles to save several historic buildings in Hollywood, including the Brown Derby on Vine Street and the Hastings Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard.

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