The Cranky Preservationist: Won’t Anyone Think of the Squirrels? (episode 19)

Architectural historian Nathan Marsak loves Los Angeles, and hates to see important buildings neglected and abused, whether by slumlord owners or the savage public. Follow him on his urban adventures as he sees something that looks like crap, opens his yap and spontaneously lets you know exactly why this place matters.

Episode Nineteen finds Nathan in Pico-Union, on the 1100 block of South Westmoreland, where a pair of elegant 1930s apartments stand empty save some abandoned toys on the stoop. Here, 16 households were cast out into the cold by the landlord’s invocation of the Ellis Act, and demolition is nigh. The planned mega-project has fewer low income units than the existing structures, but makes up for that by also eliminating green space, and dooming the local squirrels to homelessness–or worse!

For this is how Los Angeles grows, when developers play the system to pencil out vast profit and City Hall happily rubber stamps every permit, blind to good planning, overstressed infrastructure, visual pollution or the suffering of constituents. Yet just down the block, a brand new building earns Nathan’s grudging respect, because it actually serves a purpose. Sometimes even a Cranky Preservationist can justify sacrificing a good, old building if its replacement truly serves a local need.

If you like these Cranky Preservationist videos, you’ll probably like Nathan’s R.I.P. Los Angeles blog.

Where will the Cranky Preservationist turn up next? Stay tuned!

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Third Strike, Wiseman

Not that your name is Wiseman, Messrs. Cohanzad, but whoever you are, you have done this for the last time. On behalf of Los Angeles, seriously, enough is enough. As Marsellus Wallace says to Butch, you’ve lost all your LA privileges.

RIPsters, we speak of Michael and Isaac Cohanzad; architect Isaac established Wiseman Residential in 1985. Wiseman Residential put their hearts into designing homes you’ll love.

That may be, but they put their efforts into illegally demolishing homes you already love.

Example #1. This was 419 N. Hayworth:

The Spanish number at left is 413-15 N. Hayworth; designed by the great Joe Eudemiller in 1931, who gave Los Angeles a lot of Spanish charm in the 1930s. The French Normandy with Chateauesque influence, center, is 419-21 N. Hayworth; it was built in 1936 and designed by David C. Coleman (check out his synagogue at 2521 West View) for the Spinning Wheel Corp.

The Spinning Wheel apartments were twins, in fact, facing a common courtyard, and absolutely pristine: original windows, hardwood floors, high ceilings, all of its moldings and turrets and whatnot. Until one day, this happened:

If you look verrrry closely you’ll see it say’s “SAVE THIS BUILDING” in the window on the building at far right. Guess how that turns out?

That day was February 12, 2015. Wiseman began tearing off the turrets, and also demolishing elements of the Spanish next door, without a permit from LADBS. Without green demo fencing. Without a thirty-day notice. Without clearance from HCIDLA. Without turning off gas and electric. There were no repercussions for this and the City gave them a permit to demo on March 13.

Building “Hayworth Hyde.”

FYI, the other half of the turreted eight-unit 1936 garden court apartments—well, the renters banded together to get it nominated as a Historic-Cultural Monument, citing that it was a rare intact piece of Normandy Revival, and that it was important culturally as an early piece of Jewish-built and owned property for a neighborhood famously Hebraicising in the 1930s. Michael & Isaac voice their “strong opposition to the proposed designation of the Property on both substantive and procedural grounds” and so forth; the Cultural Heritage Commission nix the nomination and this time Wiseman presumably get a permit:

Wisemanizing the whole block. That’s Hayworth Hyde at left. A two bedroom is 968sf. They start at $3895.

Let’s move on to

Example #2. This was 1332 N. Formosa Avenue:

Built in 1925 and designed by D. F. Hancock; check out Hancock’s four-unit at 1145 Gordon St., and 1257 Bronson/5910 Fountain

In this case, Wiseman tossed everyone out via the Ellis Act. Wiseman would be unable to Airbnb the apartments, because short-term rentals of evictions are decidedly, blatantly against that law (and reprobate), so that is therefore exactly what they did. HCIDLA told them to stop, and Wiseman responded by beginning demolition work. Again, without a permit. HCIDLA came out multiple times with stop-work orders and so Wiseman finally destroyed the building—with the electricity and gas still on—on January 21, 2017. Read more about it here and here.

The cute little Storybook had quite a view to the north there…for a little while…
Hey look at that big thing they built there. Because again, not even a slap on the wrist.

Up next is

Example #3. This is 7050-60 Hawthorn Ave:

Yep, you can barely see its Colonial Revival glory behind the foliage. It’s a damn tranquil oasis in the middle of Hollywood
No, seriously: this is the heart of Hollywood (that’s the Hollywood Roosevelt at bottom left) and 7050 Hawthorn, center-right, is the sole, solitary green spot in all of town. We must do away with that grass! say the do-gooders, conveniently ignoring that grass traps stormwater runoff, reduces noise pollution, keeps the air cooler, cleans the air, traps CO2, produces oxygen, reduces dust pollution, and filters groundwater…

7050 Hawthorn was built in early 1941; the architect was Gene Verge. Among his works are Buster Keaton’s pad; St. Luke’s Hospital; and these rather grand houses.

Well you know where we’re going with this. In every survey commissioned by the City, Verge’s 7050 complex is identified as a historic resource. Did that worry its owners? AKA Isaac, Benjamin, Michael and Lillian TRS Cohanzad and the Family Trust of Cohanzad? Of course not! They had the place half-rented as an illegal short-term rental hotel, and it was time to get the remainder of those pesky long-term renters out. They began Ellising those folk in October 2019—but that’s always a tricky time, ‘cuz Ellising indicates a building is likely to be demolished, and that red flag might trigger a monument nomination.

So in the middle of the night, with the gas still on, no permit from LADBS, no thirty-day notice, no notice to neighbors, no HCIDLA clearances, they started demolition. No no no, they insisted, this wasn’t demolition, this was abatement.

Uh-huh. This was the abatement of the historic, character-defining features, making it ineligible for landmark designation. (A trick they learned, apparently, from Philip Rahimzadeh—another prolific developer who literally knows everything about LA development law—but when he had recently illegally demo’d the facade of an effing Paul Williams he said “gosh, who knew?” and the City said “golly, oh well!”)

Let’s take a look at what abatement looks like. This is the sort of abatement—not demolition, mind you, but abatement—that occurred over the course of one night.

Before
They were abating what, exactly?

And you know what else? The three I’ve spoken about above are just the illegal ones. The Cohanzads have this pathological fetish for destroying particularly wonderful Los Angeles structures. I don’t have an up-to-date list, but I do know that in just 2017 alone, five Historic Cultural Monument applications were filed for buildings owned by Wiseman LLCs. None lived to tell the tale; each met the wrecking ball. Here’s one of the best—moved forward with a positive recommendation from the Cultural Heritage Commission, the whole bit:

106 S. Kings Road. Built by Joseph J. Rees for Samuel Aidlin in 1936, it’s Streamline Moderne, a fine and iconic early representative of the Beverly Square Development Tract. From 1936-40 it was as well the home of Rudolph Ising.
At the bottom of a landfill now.

So that’s my issue. There’s three million buildings in the county, and Wiseman’s abjuring each empty lot and every strip mall in favor of every Streamline-Colonial-Spanish-Norman interbellum apartment complex they can get their hands on, provided they’re pristine and have a surfeit of charm.

And not, you know, the fact that they evict rent-controlled tenants through the Ellis Act and then Airbnb the units, dozens of documented times, which is immoral and illegal. (Which they do because the City will never so much as slap their hand.) They’ve demolished about forty Rent Stabilized apartment buildings in Los Angeles; something like 300-350 RSO apartments removed from the housing stock—all replaced with million-dollar condominiums and $4000/mo apartments. (Which they do because we need housing, says the City.) Hey, remember that piece in Curbed, “Ten of the Worst Landlords in Los Angeles“—no? Probably not, because Curbed retracted it when they were bullied by said landlords! Well, guess what it said.

So if any or all of this irks you, dear reader, I’ve got an idea: you might want to show up at the PLUM meeting on Tuesday, February 4th (yes, tomorrow). 2:30pm. It’s number five on the agenda. Mitch O’Farrell has nominated Hawthorn for Historic Cultural Monument status! Hollywood Heritage and the neighborhood are pressuring for Wiseman to rebuild. If not, they need to get the Scorched Earth punishment (no development on the site for five years). (Personally, given their absurd repeated bad faith, they should be barred from developing altogether—go RICO on them, prevent them from fraternizing with the owners of bulldozers. And so forth.)

Wiseman & Co. are going to be there, lawyered up all and smart-talkin’, so it’s important to have you good folk speak in favor of this nomination at public comment.

Excelsior!

The Cranky Preservationist: Who Breaks A Butterfly Upon The Wheel (episode 18)

Architectural historian Nathan Marsak loves Los Angeles, and hates to see important buildings neglected and abused, whether by slumlord owners or the savage public. Follow him on his urban adventures as he sees something that looks like crap, opens his yap and spontaneously lets you know exactly why this place matters. Episode Eighteen finds Nathan in Pico-Union, on the 800 block of South Mariposa, where he is horrified to discover that the row of endangered early 20th century apartments that he came to celebrate are at this very moment being reduced to rubble by a guy driving an excavator. Nathan laments his failure to properly document a lost slice of classic Los Angeles and urges concerned Angelenos to hop to it when they see those green demolition fences go up, whether it’s with their camera, a pry-bar or by protesting, landmarking and electing better public servants so our beautiful city stays that way.

If you like these Cranky Preservationist videos, you’ll probably like Nathan’s R.I.P. Los Angeles blog, too, so check it out.

Where will the Cranky Preservationist turn up next? Stay tuned!

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Catch all the rants

The Cranky Preservationist: The Battle of Normandie (episode 17)

Architectural historian Nathan Marsak loves Los Angeles, and hates to see important buildings neglected and abused, whether by slumlord owners or the savage public. Follow him on his urban adventures as he sees something that looks like crap, opens his yap and spontaneously lets you know exactly why this place matters.  

Episode Seventeen finds Nathan in the Byzantine-Latino District, aka Pico Heights, deeply troubled to find half a long block of early 20th Century bungalows and apartments boarded up behind razor wire, pending demolition for an upzoned Transit Oriented Communities project. Nathan laments the loss of green space, setbacks and neighborhood character, fails to charm a doggie, snickers at the disingenuous claim of developer-funded Sacramento pol Scott Wiener that single family homes are somehow “racist,” and reminds his fans to put on a sweater already.

If you like these Cranky Preservationist videos, you’ll probably like Nathan’s R.I.P. Los Angeles blog, too, so check it out.

Where will the Cranky Preservationist turn up next? Stay tuned! 

1517-23 W. 8th St.

They won’t be happy until every shingled building in Los Angeles is gone. I mean, they’re kind of obsessed with them. They who? Everybody. Both sides of the political spectrum. Social engineers on their path of well-intentioned apocalypse in concert with the developers who play them for useful idiots, that’s who. I honestly don’t care who. Just stop tearing down all the wooden houses already.

The surface lot next to the Adelphia (Leonard A. Cook, 1913), and two adjoining single family homes, is to be built upon with a TOC project developed by the Nemans.

1521; 1523, left, behind the tree
Poor Adelphia, tallest thing on the block for 107 years, now to have a seven-story building gleefully five-foot side yard all jammed up against your windows

It’s unclear when these two were built; the Assessor doesn’t list build dates and they’re not on DBS, which places them pre-1905. 1521 West 8th is listed as a fine six-room house for rent “to responsible party with references” in November 1902; it is soon occupied by Edward A. Geissler, Vice President of the George J. Bickel Company, who stays through 1906.

Also in the early years of the century, its neighbor 1523 was taking in boarders, and by 1906 you could go to an auction of all their nifty stuff:

Same old story: developers replace two large houses with a piddly few low-income units, and’re therefore given carte blanche to build tall and dense with no open space, and God forbid you have a car

Some will argue, but these aren’t that good. Or important. But I want you to remember them. Because soon there won’t be any of them. There will be nothing but eighty-foot boxes with no open space—just like this project—because that’s what y’all voted for with your Measure JJJ, bless your little hearts.

4201 S. Crenshaw/3600 W. Stocker

Down on Crenshaw there’s The Liquor Bank, which is my kind of place to make a withdrawal. And appropriately named because it is, in fact, an old bank. Look closely, see the ship on the sign pylon?—that’s the USS Portsmouth, erstwhile symbol of Bank of America. (San Francisco B of A founder Amadeo Giannini was enamored of the Portsmouth, as it had secured his city-by-the-bay for America during the Mexican War.)

This Bank of America was built in 1949 and designed by Raymond Raleigh Shaw AIA, with William D. Coffey, Consulting Structural Engineer. Raymond Shaw is best known for his 1920s designs, like the Pacific Southwest Building and San Joaquin Light & Power, both in Fresno.

Shaw did some number of Bank of America branches; he altered the exterior of the B of A in Beverly Hills on Wilshire in 1948 (although that was subsequently redesigned again in 1963 in New Formalist/Brutalist style by Sidney Eisenshtat—which after being deemed eligible for listing on the National Register, was dutifuly torn down by Metro as part of the subway extension). Here is a 1951 example of a Shaw B of A at 8501 Pico—

Still standing, and still a Bank of America, but do yourself a favor and don’t go on Google Streetview to see what’s become of her
Getty

Shaw designed banks across the southland through the 1950s, but received his largest commission when he was hired, again using Coffey as engineer, to produce the Corporate Modern Banco Hipotecario in San Salvador in 1958. He retired soon after and died in 1967.

In any event, back to our pal at Crenshaw and Stocker: it’s 1949, and 1949 was smack in the thick of the Great Age of the Late Moderne. Late Moderne was born to Southern California and defines Southern California as well as—no, better than—any other architectural style. What is this Late Moderne, you ask? The sleekness of Streamline, and the ribbon-window rectangularity of International style, melded in the late 30s, and flowered in the mid-40s, to produce a new vernacular. You know it when you see it: warm materials form large simple volumes locked in asymmetrical sculptural compositions, with irregular angles and curves, punctuated by certain ornamental motifs—egg crate sun shades, grills, bezeled windows, tapered and punctured fins, canopies, and of course large sign pylons with bold neon. Well, that’s a lot of words; it’s those buildings what look like this.

The style was short-lived, though, as Modernism went another way and the likes of Lautner and Eames and Armét & Davis began to explore the structural expressionism of trusses and cantilevers. Thus every Late Moderne is a treasure, and some are preserved, like Wayne McAllister’s Bob’s Big Boy, while some just hang on, like Stiles Clements’s Windsor Hills Shopping Center, yet some are criminally demolished, like Clements’s Mullen & Bluett.

In any event, Shaw’s bank is not long for this world. Or at least what’s left of it; in all honesty, half of it has already been removed. As you can see, the structure once ran all the way to the corner, but had a chunk of its front removed in September 1976 when it became a liquor store, and Liquor Bank hired Van Nuys architect Andrew F. Gutt to design a new facade.

via USC Digital Archives

What I find additionally sad about losing this cool pylon-sign is that it’s just down the street from one of the great pylon-signs in all Los Angeles, the 1947 Albert B. Gardner/Edward W. Carter-designed Broadway Department Store, which has the greatest Moderne façade that ever was. Read more about the Crenshaw Broadway here and here. Fortunately, the Broadway and A. C. Martin’s May Company are being worked into the mall’s current redevelopment (ten-story office tower; eight-story, 400-room hotel; thousand condos and apartments; the whole bit). If Capri Capital can work those historic buildings into their mall redevelopment, maybe developer Axiom will incorporate the Liquor Bank!

Uh, probably not. Let’s take a look at another one of Axiom’s projects, just up the road at 3831 Stocker. This was a hospital built by Lester M. Morrison in 1953, using architects Riener C. Nielsen and Gene E. Moffatt. Axiom has razed everything and it’s to be 127 market rate units (or so says their website; according to this, though, they’re only allowed 74 units even with the density bonus).

The firm of Nielsen & Moffatt designed all over the southland and opened an Oakland office in 1959. They specialized in hospitals, medical-clinical buildings, homes for the aged, and similar institutions
Ooo, check out the concrete sunscreen
Gosh, didn’t even leave a tree
I suppose we can expect something vaguely like this for the Liquor Bank site

Postscript—if you dig Late Moderne and want to learn more, no, there isn’t a book about it, and yes, there should be. Best I can do is point you to here where you may read about Late Moderne in general (pp. 36-37) and the great Rowland Crawford in particular (pp. 43-46; see accompanying images on pp. 70-81.) More importantly, there is a book that discusses Late Moderne, and better yet, in relationship to its rarely-studied expression in residential construction. I can’t recommend it enough, and you should buy it now.