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Another day has arrived for West Hollywood's 'Tara'

Council members scrap plans to turn the estate, which resembles the mansion in 'Gone With the Wind,' into a federally funded apartment complex for low-income senior citizens.

August 20, 2011|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times
  • After an eight-year campaign, Allegra Allison and other land-use activists have helped preserve the West Hollywood estate nicknamed "Tara" because of its resemblance to the mansion in the film "Gone With the Wind."
After an eight-year campaign, Allegra Allison and other land-use activists… (Arkasha Stevenson, Los…)

As a professional event planner, Allegra Allison has done studio openings, elaborate backyard parties and plush dinner soirees.

But it took her eight years to pull off her biggest challenge: the preservation of a last-of-its-kind West Hollywood estate nicknamed "Tara" because of its resemblance to the mansion in "Gone With the Wind."

City Council members this week voted to scrap plans to turn the two-story, Colonial-style home and its wooded grounds into a federally funded, 28-unit apartment complex for low-income senior citizens.

The 3-2 vote means the 2/3-acre site at 1343 Laurel Ave. will be used as a park and the sprawling clapboard house can become a community center.

Allison said that was the goal of owner Elsie Weisman when she deeded the residence to the city shortly before her death in 2000 at the age of 101.

At the time of Weisman's death, Allison was one of several tenants living on the property; she rented an apartment there for 27 years.

When the city announced plans to remove most of the 66 trees and 44 tropical shrubs on the property and construct a three-story, U-shaped apartment building around the house, Allison created an activist group called Save Tara and set out to defeat the development.

As debate over the plan escalated, it became heated.

"People were spreading stories about us being nasty anti-senior citizen people," Allison said. "They said I owned buildings all over town, which wasn't true. People were tearing down our signs, and one supporter's car was vandalized three times."

Preservationists filed two lawsuits against the city; backers of the project packed City Council meetings. "They hired tour buses to gather up members of the Russian community who had no idea what was going on. But they were given signs to hold at the council meeting and told they would get affordable housing if this was built," Allison said.

"It was horrifying to go to council meetings and have nobody speak to me in public. To be vilified and lied about when trying to preserve a historical monument was rough."

The city offered her $45,000 to end her campaign but she declined, Allison said. She estimates that the city spent $6 million on the ill-fated proposal — including more than $800,000 to cover the Save Tara group's legal fees.

During the drawn-out legal fight, the city lost the project's $4.2-million HUD grant. This week's vote means officials will not seek to have it reinstated.

The day after the vote, Mayor John Duran and Councilmen Jeffrey Prang and John D'Amico met with Allison and other preservationists in front of the house, which was built in 1915.

Dick Weisman, a retired Calabasas developer and son of Elsie Weisman, pointed toward the bedroom where he was born 85 years ago and spoke of his mother dying while she sat in the house watching her favorite movie, "Gone With the Wind."

He explained that the apartments Allison and others rented were designed by his father for family members' use shortly before World War II.

"My mother would have liked to be here for this," he said.

Duran credited D'Amico's election in March with changing the council's pro-development stance on the property. "Elections have consequences," he said.

Prang called the old house and its trees "an absolute gem" and "a snapshot of West Hollywood history."

Allison agreed. "For Tara, this is a whole new era. The Civil War is over, and now we can have Reconstruction."

bob.pool@latimes.com

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