For the record, let me state at the outset: I revere the Catholic faith. I believe the Church to have had a vastly civilizing influence on humanity—yes, an enormously unpopular opinion, as society now considers statuedestruction and churchburning the ideal Sunday outing. Do admit, though, what are your temples of the Enlightenment compared to the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore or York Minster or Nantes Cathedral (or what’s left of it)?
Point being, in that I love its doctrine and architecture (above and beyond any fetish for thuribles and a preference for Jameson over Bushmills) I don’t want it to seem that I’m picking on the Church—but.
The Church in Los Angeles has had a troubling history with historic buildings, religious and otherwise. Let’s look at just a smattering:
The Oviatt Building. James Oviatt’s eponymous high-rise haberdashery/office tower (Walker & Eisen, 1928) is one of the great Art Deco monuments of Los Angeles, and therefore the world, known for its cut glass, rare woods, neon clock tower and incredible penthouse. Mr. Oviatt was renting the land on which the tower sat from the Archdiocese. In the late 1960s-early ’70s, with demand for non-polyester clothing on the outs, Oviatt tried to sell his building, to pay back rent owed to the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese sabotaged several escrow attempts by making financially unfeasible demands (installation of central air, replacement of the elevators, etc.) on potential buyers. James Oviatt died in 1974 and the building’s trustees voted to give the structure to the Archdiocese in forgiveness of past rent. The Archdiocese immediately put the building on the market as a teardown, informing realtors it would provide the ideal site for a multistory parking garage.
St. Joseph’s. Los Angeles was once a forest of church spires, few as prominent as the twin spires of St. Joseph Catholic Church, dedicated on the Feast of St. Joseph, May 3, 1903, at 12th and Los Angeles Streets. Saint Joseph’s architects were Brothers Adrian Wewer and Leonard Darscheidt, German Franciscan monks famed for their church designs. St. Joseph’s was heavily damaged in a September 1983 fire that collapsed the roof, but the walls stood fast and the towers remained. The Cultural Heritage Board reasoned with the Archdiocese that the surviving elements of the church—declared Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Monument #16 some twenty years earlier, in 1963—could be easily rebuilt. But the Church would have none of it, and demolished the structure, to build a modern edifice.
Cathedral of St. Vibiana. This tale is so famous it hardly bears repeating. But anyway: St. Vibiana’s—our first Cathedral, and parish of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese—was built in 1876 and designed by Ezra Frank Kysor of Kysor & Mathews, basing its design loosely on Barcelona’s 1755 Sant Miquel del Port; famed architect John C. Austin made the façade less Baroque and more Roman when he oversaw additions in 1922. Vibiana’s importance to the Church is one thing, but its importance to Los Angeles in general is so deep and undeniable I won’t even begin to elucidate.
His Eminence Cardinal Roger Mahony wanted to tear down the 1876 Cathedral. After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, his structural engineer told him the structure was sound, although the bell tower required shoring; the Church did not shore the bell tower. In May 1996 Mahony began the process of removing statuary and the windows of the structure; illegal for a Historic-Cultural Monument. On June 1, 1996—early on a Saturday morning (and when, conveniently, all of LA’s top preservationists happened to be away at a conference in San Jose)—demolition crews set to work illegally demolishing the structure. Concerned parties rushed to the site but were ignored by guards at the fence; it took a Superior Court Judge to get him to stop.
Mahony thought he had an ace in the hole. He kept repeating “if you don’t let us tear this down, we’ll move out of downtown!” But nobody was buying that. Everyone rememberd, for example, when in 1982 the Gas Company at Eighth and Flower said “if you don’t let us tear down neighboring First Methodist to expand our building, we’ll move out of downtown!” So despite protest, they were allowed to demolish First Methodist (John C. Austin, 1923), all its Tiffany mosaics and stained glass, wood paneling and terra cotta, and then the Gas Company said “oh yeah sorry, we’re actually gonna build something new a few blocks north at Fifth and Olive” …and First Methodist remained a parking lot for 35 years.
A legal battle ensued, St. Vibiana did not become a parking lot, and Mahony finally swapped his little church for six acres of County land bordered by Grand, Temple, Hill, and the Hollywood Freeway. Mahony’s stripped-down, deconstructivist, $250 million church broke ground in September 1997 and was consecrated in September 2002.
Which brings us to today’s topic.
B’nai B’rith, 846 South Union Ave. (S. Tilden Norton, 1924). You might be asking, what does a Hebrew congregation have to do with the Catholic church? Well.
First of all, do not confuse the B’nai B’rith about which we are speaking with Congregation B’nai B’rith—LA’s first (chartered) Hebrew temple began in 1862, Congregation B’nai B’rith first holding services in their Ezra Kyzor-designed synagogue on Fort Street (now Broadway) between Second and Third in 1873; in 1896 B’nai B’rith moved further south, to Ninth and Hope, to a grand new onion-domed temple designed by Abraham Moses Edelman (son of chief rabbi, Abram Wolf Edelman); they then moved further west, and built one of the greatest synagogues in the world in 1929, and changed their name to Wilshire Boulevard Temple.
Rather, we are discussing B’nai B’rith, the service organization (which also functioned very much like a fraternal lodge). The International Order of B’nai B’rith, begun in New York in 1843, founded its Los Angeles chapter, Orange Lodge No. 224, in 1874, and another, Semi-Tropic Lodge in 1883; they merged to become Lodge 487 in 1899. In the 1880s B’nai B’rith met at Bryson’s Hall on Spring Street; in January 1904, when they had 170 members, they dedicated a fine new hall at 521 West Pico. By 1918 they had moved to a new lodge hall at 17th & Georgia. In the January 13, 1922 issue of The B’nai B’rith Messenger, under notices about Lodge 487:
Note that their stated goals were 2,000 members and a new building. They achieved both: at 2,000 members in 1923, Lodge 487 became the largest B’nai B’rith Lodge in the nation. And, they built a swanky new building:
It contained “two large lodge-rooms, banquet hall, dancing floors, library, kitchen, elevators, committee-rooms, spacious lobby, gymnasium, shower baths and eight handsome stores” according to this. And its architect was Samuel Tilden Norton.
S. Tilden Norton is of such glaring importance to Los Angeles’s built environment that…I won’t make this post any longer by detailing his work here. Go read his Wiki page.
Note that the exterior is done in Batchelder tile. Like S. Tilden Norton, I don’t have to tell you of the importance of Batchelder tile.
By the mid-1930s, the IOBB 487 have moved, presumably because of the Depression, into a room at 742 South Hill St. 846 South Union becomes the home of other fraternal organizations, like the Blue Devils Post of the American Legion and the Los Angeles Aerie 102 Fraternal Order of Eagles. In 1938 it becomes a little more labor-related, when the Safeway Employees Associationmoves in. By 1942 it was a full-blown temple of labor, as the former B’nai B’rith was now home to Bakery Drivers 276, Dump Truck Drivers 420, Warehousemens 598, Grocery Warehousemens 595, Dairy Haulers 737, Milk Wagon Drivers 93, Meat and Provision Drivers 626, Truck Drivers 208 and 403, Hay Haulers 737, Garage Automotive and Service Station Employees 495, Laundry Workers 52, and Wholesale Delivery Drivers and Salesmen 848.
By 1945 it was just known as the “Teamsters Hall,” “AFL Hall” or the “Teamsters Building.” Here’s a shot outside 846, showing worker’s wives protesting the Teamsters’ throwing their husbands out of work for the holidays:
Teamsters Hall was renamed Roosevelt Hall in 1960. The Teamsters moved out about 1977 and in 1978, 846 South Union became the location of California International University and Southland College, later known as the Southland Career Institute. The Lighthouse Mission Church purchases 846 in March 1989, and it has been a church these past thirty-some years.
And that brings us around back to the Church. The property, and its large adjacent parking lot, was purchased in September 2018 by Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, Inc., which is the social service arm of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Catholic Charities intends to demolish the building:
This, then, is my message to Catholic Charities’ Executive Director, the Reverend Monsignor Gregory Cox, and its Chairman of the Board of Trustees, the Most Reverend José H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles:
I support you, of course, unwaveringly, in your alleviation of the material and spiritual poverty of the poor and disenfranchised. Breaking the cycles of poverty, homelessness, illiteracy and violence is especially important for boys and young men transitioning out of foster care, and I applaud the concept of a village catering to their needs and to that end.
Union Avenue Village is a wonderful concept in achieving your goal. But this is a very large property; the 1923 B’nai B’rith structure takes up only about a third of it. And it was initially constructed with all manner of convenience (showers, gymnasium, kitchens, etc.) conducive to housing young men. Might I suggest adaptive reuse of the property? Rejuvenating this building would certainly fulfill attractive concerns of sustainability and of the circular economy, to be certain, but I would also argue a more esoteric point—that retaining and maintaining a beautiful old building such as this, a touchstone of the neighborhood and link to the past and our shared cultural heritage, is good for the soul. I would say it uplifts the soul, and serves the people of Los Angeles, to retain 846 South Union and incorporate it into the forthcoming Angel’s Flight shelter for homeless boys and housing for Transition Age Youth. Moreover, keeping 846 South Union would reverse the trend of the Church’s propensity toward demolishing historic buildings.
There’s a very special part of the world. Beverly Boulevard. You go ahead and cross town on (shudder) the freeways; or traverse the city on, what, Santa Monica (bless your heart); I go in for cruising Beverly when it comes to making my way across Los Angeles.
My favorite stretch on Beverly is this one run, that stretch between Virgil and Western, especially the ten-some blocks between Vermont and Normandie—by and large all one and two-story Spanish-style 1920s structures; the odd car wash; a wonderful 1955 Catholic church by the great Ross Montgomery at Arlington Avenue; an excellent Late Moderne medical building, also from 1955, by J. Don Hartfelder at 3919 (oh wait they just ughed that one up pretty bad); and of course looming above it all the famed 1926 Richard D. King-designed Dicksboro at 3818 Beverly.
I wrote about Beverly in general, and the magical corner of Beverly & Heliotrope in particular, twenty years ago in Los Angeles Neon:
Also smack dab in the middle of it all—at Heliotrope, across the intersection from our beloved Beverly Mart Liquor-Deli—is the Rancho Sinaloa Market, known for its Moderne detailing and corner bar the One Eye Jack.
Take a look at the following images. This is one damn amazing structure.
How is it that stepped pylon remained standing after the Parapet Ordinance of 1949, Sylmar, Whittier, Northridge, and a fire in 1985? Incredible. These kind of intact mid-30s Moderne markets are rare as hen’s teeth and a valuable part of the built environment. (Heck, I bet even Kaplan Chen Kaplan would agree with that!) In short, it is a rare surviving example of its type and retains its integrity.
3967-3977 Beverly was designed by Edwin Felix Rudolph (1895-1942) and built in the summer/fall of 1936. It was funded by Mrs. Alice B. Cohen who lived next door at 301 N. Berendo (more on 301 N. Berendo later). In 1939 it was the Continental Grocery, by 1945 it was the B & B Meat Market (although I suspect the B & B Meat Market was located inside the Continental Grocery).
Who was Edwin Felix Rudolph? He’s not particularly well-known, Sinaloa Market being, in my humble opinion, his best work (or best known work, there’s a lot more research to be done on Rudolph). Here is his 1939 Streamline Moderne industrial building for Central Realty at 3101 East 12th St.—
And this is his 1937 industrial building for the Brin Brothers at 631 South Anderson:
Rudolph’s also responsible for the 1939 Safeway packing plant on Vernon east of Alameda; a 1939 San Fernando warehouse and feed mill for San Fernando Milling in Van Nuys; a 1934 market at 1070 West Jefferson (damaged in the ’92 riots, it was thereafter helpfully demolished by the nonprofit “Rebuild LA” thus ensuring nothing would be rebuilt there, ever); and was structural engineer for a number of buildings including the recently-landmarked Sunset House/Hollywood Reporter.
In late 1954 the Continental Grocery/B & B Meat Market became the dental offices of the Hotel and Restaurant Union. In 1967 the market became the home of a typography/printing/darkroom shop called Ad Compositors. It reverted back to groceries in 1975 when it became the Wai Wai Market (and one of the few places in town, noted the Times in 1981, to find Thai staples like makrut, nam pla and pickled egg yolks). It was purchased by Vietnamese refugee Luong Truong in 1985, becoming the Cathay market, and although Truong suffered a disastrous fire there that year, he persevered. It became the Rancho Sinaloa sometime around 2000.
Its corner shop at 3977 began life as a malt shop, became a cleaners, was an insurance agent’s office in the 1950s, and got its bar license in 1965, originally called The Yukon—and was a gay bar, according to the records at the One Archives—and was renamed One Eye Jack sometime around 1972.
And because this is RIPLosAngeles, you know where this is going. Yep:
Brought to you from the good folks of 4D Development and Investment. The design is by AFCO Development. Every time I do one of these posts I think “well, we’ve finally hit bottom. A rendering can’t get worse than this.” And then I’m pleasantly surprised-horrified.
And yes, it’s TOC-ridden: because seven units shall be low income, it gets a sixteen foot increase in legally allowed height, to sixty-six feet; and a 25% decrease in open space around it. Floor area ratio is upped by 14%, and the whole project has a 70% increase in density. There’s only a half a parking spot for each unit.
So, here’s the Department of City Planning report on the site. It’s prepared by some guy named Jason Hernández who, because he works for the City, God bless him, doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. For example, he states that the 1936 market is built in 1942, and two houses from 1919 are from 1922, etc. I mean why should he bother to be sensitive or accurate? After all he works for the City so kind of has to ensure they get torn down—and the poor kid only makes $92,000 a year (and that’s just part-time), so why should we even expect him to be good at his job?
But then, he’s probably just getting his information from what he was given by Kaplan Chen Kaplan, who did the Historic Resource Eval report for City Planning. Hernández wrote on page 26: “According to the Historic Resource Evaluation conducted by Kaplan Chen Kaplan on November 22, 2019, none of the four (4) existing buildings were found to have historic significance or have the potential to be a historic resource. “ Well of course not! KCK are high-priced consultants-for-hire, utilized frequently by government and developers, routinely hired to tear down your neighborhood, a fact about which I go into some detail here. The Office of Historic Resources also says our subject properties are of no historic importance—but only, it states, did it decide so “after reviewing the Historic Resource Evaluation.” Which was just partisan propaganda and, though I guarantee you it was over 200 pages long, contained less pertinent and accurate information in it than this stupid little post does. C’mon OHR, you can do better.
So that, being demo fencing, is that. But wait! Don’t answer yet! You’ll also receive THE DEMOLITION OF THESE THREE SINGLE FAMILY HOMES!
That’s right, immediately to the east, at 301 North Berendo (where Alice B. Cohen lived, who built the Continental/B & B Market, remember?) is this lovely little house, which the City report refers to as a “commercial building,” which I suppose is fair. It began as an SFD, and became a commercial building, converted to a restaurant:
301 was constructed in 1919 by builder Samuel W. Spangler, who acted as its architect; Spangler was one of the many LA entrepreneurs who built and sold concrete bungalows in the teens. It was a restaurant by 1942, when owned by Lucille Rowley, and through the 1950s was Lucille’s Cottage.
In 1961 it became, briefly, Young’s Oriental Inn—”The Oriental Gourmet Spot of Los Angeles.” In 1963 it became the site of the first Peruvian restaurant in the United States. Others would follow, but Inca’s was first and always considered best, a highly-regarded red table-clothed affair run by Carlos and Ofelia Binasa and managed by son Gabriel, as the only Peruvian easting establishment to feature serious and authentic dishes; it also had art showings. The space became Atlactatl in September 1989, and has (had) the best pupusas in town (the southland’s best pupuserias are located in my neighborhood, but these, these merited driving to).
This it Atlacatl’s neighbor to the north, 307 North Berendo:
Like Spangler, Ira Allison Marshall was a local realty man, who built, bought and sold bungalows across Los Angeles in the teens, perhaps as many as 250, mostly in the Westlake district. Marshall built this in early 1919. It has a wonderful clipped gable roof, and the traditional American Colonial boxed eave return above the porch. Look at all those original windows! In December 1979, 301-307 N. Berendo became the International Institute of the Maitre-D’, which transformed into the National Restaurant Academy in September 1980, and which apparently dissolved in mid-late 1983.
To the west of our friends on Berendo, at the north of our market, is 306 North Heliotrope:
Again, American Colonial built in 1919, this time for a Ms. Gretta C. Sutherland; the builder was Charles MacMillan. Gable roofed, hipped n’ clipped, with a wonderful matching clipped hip porch gable. Tough to see through the security bars but, like the house behind it on Berendo, original sidelights and windows (double hung in this case) and, I hope I don’t have to point out, marvel of marvels, neither house has been stucco’d.
So as I was saying. All this gets dumpster’d in favor of this—
Built to the edges of the street—and monstrous—is a fate we must accept solely for no other reason than it having seven affordable units within. Because you cannot disagree with housing, because we don’t build housing! Except…there’s a million of these things going up every day, everywhere. There were 58,437 market-rate units built in Los Angeles in 17-18-19, plus another 10,877 low-income units; for example, in 2018 specifically, Los Angeles gained only 2,000 residents yet built 16,525 units. And the number of units added to market in 2020 (although I am without precise numbers as the Department of Finance has yet to release them) has skyrocketed, in part because of implementation of the ADU Ordinance, even despite COVID (not to mention the 8,000 new units for homeless families, built via PropHHH).
So why, then, are rents so high? Well, as regards newly-built units added to the housing stock, it has much to do with the exorbitant cost of building in Los Angeles—apart from our high land acquisition costs, it runs about $400/sf to build here, given the very steep cost of labor, high cost of construction materials, and meeting our particular building regulatory codes (solar, sprinklers, etc.); our permitting fees, which are nothing compared to all the escalating school, parks, and other government-mandated fees (LAUSD’s fee alone for this project will run about $425,000); the pricey soft costs of architects and engineers, and then you have to deal with property taxes, and so on. No-one is going to build if they can’t recoup their investment (unless it’s a government project, of course) and they wouldn’t build this if it wouldn’t turn a profit; not turning a profit makes people get fired. It stands to reason, then, someone is paying $4,000/mo to live in a studio.
That said, there has been much talk about how many of these new units are built as luxury units, and many sit empty, and the answer therefore is slapping the owners with a vacancy tax. I would contend, however, that it is not the private sector’s responsibility to alleviate social ills. But they do, in fact, indirectly—the bulk of LA’s upkeep is paid for by real estate: of the City of Los Angeles’ $5billion annual budget, $3.5billion comes from property taxes and permitting/fees. This year we’ll spend nearly a half-billion of that haul on the homeless crisis, which many contend is not nearly enough. You know, $130million of this year’s budget is going to the City Attorneys office—that could build subsidized units rather than pay for those endless $400/hr attorneys, right? $52million is earmarked to pay salaries at City Planning, who—as I’ve demonstrated—hire incompetents and worse, pay for expensive, lavish studies written by venal jackals (who, in their defense, are at least competent atturning out those depressingly repetitious “this significant structure is insignificant!” studies). Cut their budget and spend that money on affordable housing—you know, without cutting Office of Historic Resources, naturally.
But forgive my thinking out loud—I’m neither an authority on housing crises nor their resolutions, so don’t take to me task on the previous paragraphs. I just like to look at old buildings. Which is becoming an increasingly difficult pleasure, since developers keep tearing them down, aided and abetted by a local government that’s making bank on the process.