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Preservation in Beverly Hills

After a public outcry, the city is finally poised to offer some protection for historically important buildings. It's a good start, even if it may be too late for Richard Neutra's Kronish House.

August 15, 2011

Maybe it should come as no surprise that Beverly Hills — notorious for its outsized, sometimes gaudy homes — does not have an ordinance to protect architecturally significant structures. But that appears to be changing.

Prompted by a public outcry over the expected demolition of the iconic Kronish House designed by Modernist architect Richard Neutra, the Beverly Hills City Council has ordered its planning commission to craft a preservation ordinance that would offer some protection for historically important buildings.

In addition, the city is close to adopting a pilot program, under California's Mills Act, that would offer owners of historic structures tax benefits in exchange for restoring and preserving them.

The city's actions are long overdue — and possibly too late to stop the destruction of the house that Neutra completed in 1955 for real estate developer Herbert Kronish and his wife. The property, which is on Sunset Boulevard but is not visible from the street, had fallen into disrepair by the time the current owners — a limited partnership — bought it in January for $5.8 million. The owners invested roughly $2 million more, then offered it for sale in April for nearly $14 million before taking preliminary steps toward demolition. When those provoked protests and pleas for the house to be saved, the owners agreed to put their plans on hold until October.

As late as the city's actions are, it is heartening to see Beverly Hills make smart moves toward preserving and protecting historic structures that will put it in the company of other Southern California

cities. In Los Angeles, by ordinance, a demolition permit for a designated historic structure can be delayed up to a year. The goal is to give preservationists time to find a sympathetic buyer or devise another solution that saves the property. The cities of Santa Monica, Pasadena and West Hollywood go even further, with ordinances that allow officials the right to deny demolition permits.

We believe in a balance between property rights and historic preservation. We don't expect every house in Beverly Hills where a movie star once lived to be proclaimed an untouchable landmark. Nor will every structure by a significant architect be worth saving. But as Linda Dishman, the executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy, says, "Beverly Hills currently has no way to have the conversation." After years of acquiescing as structures designed by Neutra, John Lautner and other important architects were demolished, it's a relief that city officials want to raise their voices on the issue of preservation.

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