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They want this place to stay put

North Hollywood residents fight to keep an 1880s bungalow from being moved to Highland Park.

February 08, 2008|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

The first house built in the eastern corner of the San Fernando Valley sure has gotten around in the last 125 years or so.

Legend says the tiny clapboard bungalow -- built in the 1880s in Storm Lake, Iowa -- was carefully dismantled and carried 1,700 miles west by owner Wilson Weddington after he decided to move his family someplace warmer.

It is said to have been reassembled in 1891, next to a barley field near the tiny Valley farming area then called Toluca. In 1904, the structure was jacked up and rolled 150 feet to a new foundation at what is now Weddington Street and Lankershim Boulevard.

In 1924, when the community was known as Lankershim, the dwelling that had come to be called the Weddington House was moved two blocks east, where it has sat ever since.

Now the area is called North Hollywood, and residents are fighting to keep the house from being moved 15 miles to Highland Park.

A Santa Monica builder, JSM Construction Inc., has acquired the dwelling's lot at 11025 Weddington St. for a mixed-use development. The firm has offered to move the house to the Heritage Square Museum -- a collection of Victorian homes and 19th century structures that includes a church and a depot beside the Pasadena Freeway.

Los Angeles preservationists say the 40-year-old, nonprofit open-air museum offers the best hope for the Weddington House's long-term survival.

But Valley residents say it should stay in North Hollywood.

"We think history belongs where it was made," said Gerald Fecht, a Tarzana resident who is president of the Museum of the San Fernando Valley. "I can't tell you how the Valley has been systematically stripped of its heritage."

People on the Los Angeles Basin side of the Cahuenga Pass need to be aware of the Valley's rich history too, countered Mitzi Marsh Mogul, vice president of the Heritage Square Museum. "We want everybody to know it."

The debate unfolded Thursday before the Cultural Heritage Commission, which last year cleared the way for the Weddington House to become Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument No. 883. With that designation, the panel must approve any relocation plans.

Both sides agree that the Weddington House is filled with history. Weddington family member Guy Weddington McCreary, who initiated the landmark designation for the house, traced its roots to Iowa.

There, it was the home of Wilson Weddington, a farmer who was the sheriff of Buena Vista County. Weddington came to the Valley in 1889 to visit his sister, whose husband was superintendent for the Lankershim Land and Water Co. He was dazzled by what he saw.

He moved to Toluca the next year and began farming. Three years later, he was appointed the township's first postmaster by President Cleveland. His little house was Toluca's first post office.

Weddington opened a general store and employed his two sons, Guy and Fred. Fred Weddington was appointed the town's first deputy sheriff. He made news in 1904 by using his horse to chase down two robbers who had assaulted a man and then fled into a barley field. They were convicted and sent to prison.

Fred Weddington went on to become a land developer, and he opened the town's first bank. He remained active in North Hollywood affairs until his death in 1967.

McCreary, who is Fred Weddington's grand-nephew, told commissioners he favored keeping the old house in North Hollywood. He asked officials to delay authorizing its move anywhere until Valley backers had a chance to find an alternative spot for it.

Renee Weitzer, chief of staff to North Hollywood-area City Councilman Tom LaBonge, said the house might be suitable at the new Tiara Park, where a former North Hollywood police station is being developed for recreational use. The city's Department of Parks and Recreation could oversee it.

"There's a lot of history in North Hollywood. There's an opportunity to create a historic 'North Hollywood Heritage Square, Valley edition,' " LaBonge told commissioners.

L.A. preservationists said active parkland was not an appropriate spot for a historic museum, and parks officials were not trained in rehabilitating old structures. They warned that delaying the house's move would leave it vulnerable to vandalism or destruction.

"If there's not a viable solution to keep it in North Hollywood, move it to Heritage Square," urged Highland Park resident Charlie Fisher.

But do it fast.

--

bob.pool@latimes.com

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