The Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission voted Thursday to recommend that the San Vicente Boulevard building that houses Dutton's Brentwood Books be designated as a historic-cultural monument.
The matter will next be considered by the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee, or PLUM, and then by the full council.
After the 4-0 commission vote (with one abstention), about 50 supporters broke into cheers and applause in a 10th-floor City Hall hearing room. They were on hand to support Diane Caughey, daughter of the late architect Milton Caughey, who designed the modernist building in 1950 at the behest of David Barry, then the owner.
Barry recently sold his interest to his sister Nancy Munger and her husband, billionaire Charles T. Munger. Early this year, Munger, 83, said he planned to tear down the existing structure, known as the Barry Building, and replace it with 60 luxury condos and some retail shops, including Dutton's or another independent bookseller. At the time, he described the location as "the ultimate redevelopment site."
Word of his plans came as a surprise to Caughey, who immediately launched a campaign to preserve the building. An architect and a Jungian psychotherapist, she delivered a report at the hearing, noting the building's "simple, abstract aesthetic," popular courtyard and the influences of such prominent modernist masters as Piet Mondrian, Le Corbusier and Rudolf M. Schindler.
Last week, Munger said that he was scotching the condos and proposing instead a two-story retail complex that would create a better and bigger Dutton's and allow the store to stay in place during construction. He laid out the plan at the hearing, suggesting that the economics of trying to save an outmoded building that didn't offer its owners enough return would work against Dutton's.
"If the council votes to approve this, Dutton's will die as sure as God made little green apples," Munger said after the hearing. "These people are trying to save Dutton's [but are] using techniques that will destroy it."
Munger, who is represented by the influential land-use law firm Latham & Watkins, said the controversy might tempt him to sell the property to someone who didn't have such close connections to Doug Dutton, the bookshop's proprietor. Munger has been a Dutton's customer for years.
Representatives for both sides noted that the issue is far from settled. If the council approves the designation, any proposed demolition or alterations would face review by the Cultural Heritage Commission, which could object. That review and objection process would provide a year for the developer and the preservationists to try to come to terms.
Under the California Environmental Quality Act, a developer would be required to prepare an environmental impact report before demolishing a designated historic resource, said Ken Bernstein, manager of the city's Office of Historic Resources.
If the council votes against the designation, then Munger could request a permit without facing a review. However, the building's proposed design would face analysis under a plan governing the San Vicente corridor.