The beloved Brentwood bookstore, Dutton's, is long gone, but the building that housed it remains standing. If the owner, Charles Munger, had his way, the building would be long gone too, demolished to make room for his proposed commercial development on the prized swatch of real estate along San Vicente Boulevard. Instead, it is the subject of a battle between Munger and almost everyone else: preservation advocates, the city's Cultural Heritage Commission, neighborhood residents and the local councilman, who all argue that it is a cultural landmark to be saved. After years of hearings, meetings and environmental studies, Munger should relent and build around the existing structure in the interest of preserving the community's history.
This became a protracted struggle in part because the building is on the city's list of Historic Cultural Monuments, a status that guarantees it at least a temporary stay of execution and a review by the Cultural Heritage Commission. There are now more than 1,000 designated monuments, and they include not just structures but parks and plantings as well.
Being on the list doesn't guarantee existence forever. But the Barry Building, as it is known, is considered a rare, well-preserved example of mid-20th century California architecture. Designed by Milton Caughey, the two-story, flat-roofed structure is built around a leafy and inviting courtyard, with curving staircases connecting the first and second levels of walkways. It is austere, not grand, and blends into its surroundings. It is what passes for historic in Brentwood, a neighborhood of recent commercial buildings and few old homes.