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Laurel Park in West Hollywood Opens

After a long legal battle between the city and residents of West Hollywood, the front portion of a historic home known as "Tara" has opened as a passive park for residents.

A new pocket park officially opened on Saturday on a site embroiled in controversy for the last eight years.

Laurel Park opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Saturday morning at 1345 North Laurel Avenue (halfway between Fountain and Sunset), a site once slated for 28 affordable housing units. Those units may still be built, if the city can raise the money. But in the meantime, the front portion of the property is now a park for people and dogs alike complete with benches, picnic tables and lots of huge old trees.

“It’s thrilling to open this magnificent resource to the public,” Councilman  said. “What you’re seeing right now, these old growth trees and vegetation around this beautiful old house, is not much different from what it looked like in 1914. This may be the only site in West Hollywood which can boast that.” 

During opening ceremonies, Mayor said, “There has been a bit of controversy about this site, but one thing that was never in dispute was the importance of the park space here.”

“This is a dream come true,” Allegra Allison said, who lived for 27 years in the house located on the site. “I only hope we can make this a permanent park and preserve Elsie Weisman’s vision for the property.”

Property owner Elsie Weisman donated the 90-year-old house known as Tara and the surrounding property to the city of West Hollywood in 1997 with the stipulation that the city preserve the property and do no further development on the site. However, Weisman only made those wishes known verbally; she did not put them down in writing as part of deed transfer.

The city designated the house a cultural landmark, a designation which prevents it from being demolished. But the city did not extend that designation to the surrounding acre of property. So, in 2003, the city began eyeing the property as a site for affordable housing for low-income seniors and received a $4.2 million grant from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The city planned to convert the house and chauffer’s cottage into seven apartments and build two additional buildings with 21 more apartments at the rear of the property. Knowing this violated Weisman’s wishes, Allison spearheaded the Save Tara campaign, a campaign that ultimately filed two lawsuits against the city over the property.

One of those lawsuits made it all the way to the California Supreme Court which ruled the city violated state law by not getting adequate public input before proceeding with the affordable housing plans (the city had already applied for the HUD grant before the first public hearing regarding the property was held; thus the court ruled the public process was merely a justification for a pre-determined decision).

“The city had to pay $818,000 for our attorney fees,” Allison said. “Plus they had to pay their own attorney and staff to fight the lawsuit. The money spent fighting it could have used to build affordable housing somewhere else in town.”

Even though they lost the lawsuit, the city still plans to eventually build affordable housing on the site. The HUD grant expired while the city was busy fighting the lawsuit, so now they must find another way to finance the affordable housing, one which has not yet materialized.

So, for now, the city has a new park. Prang, like many others, hopes the park will become a permanent park. “I’m all for affordable housing, just not here,” Prang said. “Mrs. Weisman is a saint for giving us this property. I just wish she had given us more specific direction when she deeded it to us.”

During opening comments, Councilman acknowledged Allison’s fight to preserve the property, saying, “Allegra has been the embodiment of Save Tara,” a comment which brought thunderous applause and cheers from the audience.

A year ago when it became obvious the city would not be able to raise the funds for the affordable housing anytime soon, Duran and Prang pushed to open the front portion of the property as a park. The main house, however, will remain closed to the public.

“Why should the property sit fenced up when people could be enjoying it?” Duran said, who initially supported putting affordable housing on the site but has since changed his mind. “It just made sense that we should open the park. I think it will be heavily used by residents in the area.”

The opening ribbon cutting ceremony brought out almost 100 people, many of whom brought their dogs. The event which featured a string orchestra and a catered breakfast, also brought out many of the candidates for the city council election on March 8, all of whom were seen working the crowd.

Richard de Gout, a 20-year-resident who was chatted up by several candidates, joked, “I’ve been so busy meeting politicians, I haven’t had time to enjoy the park yet.”

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me February 21, 2011 at 08:24 AM
howDARE heilman and the others even show their faces there!!!!!.....the following says it all as to why "the 3" should be out of office come march: “The city had to pay $818,000 for our attorney fees,” Allison said. “Plus they had to pay their own attorney and staff to fight the lawsuit. The money spent fighting it could have used to build affordable housing somewhere else in town.” The HUD grant, which could have been transferred to another site in the city, expired while the city was busy fighting the lawsuit. Now they must find another way to finance the affordable housing, one which has not yet materialized.
Christian Morrision February 21, 2011 at 05:27 PM
Vote them out! Vote them out! Vote them out!
opinion February 21, 2011 at 05:57 PM
It'd be nice if things that ar ebeing presented as fact actually were facts. The HUD grant could not have been transferred to another site. This claim was made by the opponents of the affordable housing, but it's not true. HUD grants are site-specific; they might or might not have agreed to issue a similar grant to another site. And when Elsie Weisman donated the property to the city, there was no stipulation in the gift that the city preserve the property as is. The opponents of the development argued that Mrs. Weisman made some verbal statements, but no court has yet accepted that claim, which the city disputes. So to present it here as undisputed fact if just lousy journalism.
Christian Morrision February 21, 2011 at 06:13 PM
The fact is, they wanted to destroy this property. FACT!
brad February 21, 2011 at 06:20 PM
I just don't like that there aren't any bathrooms! LOL , okay that's fine. What's funny is John Duran is in the picture, but distanced himself from the "3". He's a great guy and cares alot about the city.
Bob February 21, 2011 at 08:08 PM
This is communism. They took a nice looking house and the front yard has to be shared with bums and winos. With all those trees I would be afraid for my safety. How do they call this a park?
Bob February 21, 2011 at 08:10 PM
The Bums and Winos will burn that House to the ground in 2 years. Just like the Plummer Park house was burned.
allegra February 21, 2011 at 11:50 PM
The HUD Grant was site specific...and, the millions of dollars fighting for the project... EIR, city attorney, Latham & Watkins attorneys, architects, etc. would have built a lot more units on a different site. We proposed Sierra Bonita as an alternate site & were told it was too small. Now, there are 42 units on that lot. Their proposed project is set to cost 16 million dollars for 24 units. That could certainly build couple of units elsewhere. The park is in the plan but, what John Heilman probably forgot to mention was that, unless they use toy trucks to dig out, and build, it would be one with no trees. This was all a political posturing to look like good progressives...or they just aren't smart enough to do the math.
Bob February 22, 2011 at 01:18 AM
Who cares if they tore this property down? How is going to serve anyone? It looks like they have a big ugly gate in front of it. It is just going to attract bums and winos when open. This reminds me of Wattles park which is a big scam. Only 1 family has lived in wattles park for the last 30 years and the whole property is fenced off. Same thing with a private park just below the Hollywood Bowl. This is just going to burn down eventually from bums that like to smoke and fall asleep drunk.
Bob February 22, 2011 at 01:26 AM
How come liberals do not ever put their money together to fund low rent apartments? Show me 1 liberal who is a landlord that gives cheap rent.
me February 22, 2011 at 03:26 AM
This site was NEVER a good fit for this housing for many reasons; it doesn't take an expert to figure that out. I know there is a need for affordable/low-income/senior housing, but it seems like West Hollywood is building waaaaay more of its fair share of it, and so I have to question why this is. But in this case, John Heilman and his cronies just don't like ANYONE challenging their authority and standing in the way of what THEY want. This property is a throw-back to beautiful era and unless it and our history is preserved, our city will become an ugly concrete jungle of boring and cheap architecture that future generations will never be proud of, nor try to preserve. Corporate GREED is ruining this city as we speak, and our current council is in bed with them. Vote them out this March and choose a new direction for our village. Enough is enough!! These 3 are counting on the electorate to punch holes for names they recognize on the ballot, without doing their homework regarding their failures in office. I also want to challenge the others on the ballot to do MORE in the remaining days to educate the votes. Do not sit on your hands. Fight the good fight. The time is now. Take back of city.
Bob February 22, 2011 at 03:47 AM
There is no such thing as affordable low income senior housing near the Sunset Strip near should there ever be. The only people who get in when there is an opening is elderly Russians who never paid 1 cent or contributed 1 cent to America in their lifetime. They show up with missing legs from Moscow and get first priority over Americans. Why should I care about low cost living for people who were trying to blow up America in the 1960s? What do I owe them? They lost the cold war and now they get to live high on the hog while Americans sleep in alley ways.
Bob February 22, 2011 at 03:50 AM
Wait until somebody gets raped or killed on that property. Then the whole thing will be fenced off. It is impossible to operate as a public park. Where is the parking going to come from? Is this park just basically for the neighbors to enjoy?
Nancy C. Rodriguez February 22, 2011 at 07:43 PM
Correction--- Hi everyone, thanks for your comments. Just wanted to clarify the details about the HUD grant being transferable. The grant could not have been transferable to another site in West Hollywood, but it could have been transferable to another city. Sorry about the confusion. We've updated the story to reflect that.
Brian Hamilton February 23, 2011 at 04:58 AM
Abbe Land and John Heilman don't get to decide what is done with the house and property, the citizens of West Hollywood do; and we have overwhelmingly supported a public park and community center--NOT another over-developed monstrosity. Any attempts to do so will be defeated.
Bob February 23, 2011 at 05:12 AM
What's wrong with making this site a 20 unit apartment building? All the rest of you live in 20 unit Apartment buildings. Every other property on this street is some kind of multi unit building. How is it fair to lock up any property for the use of a next door 20 unit apartment building? If I live in a house and my neighbor builds an apartment building first I lose because his new tenants will want to use my front lawn for a park. This is basically the story of this house. Somebody held onto it too long and now ordinary renters who have no money invested in West Hollywood now determine what happens on adjacent private property. How are the neighbors any better who live in multi unit buildings? Why don't they just move out so we can make their unit space a park as well.
joninla December 28, 2011 at 04:36 PM
Picture of the year? This was the worst case of politics and the West Hollywood City Council's numerous acts taken that were bad for the city, was in direct violation of a generous gift to the city (weather or not the donor put it in writing, THEY KNEW THAT SHE WANTED IT PRESERVED), and was carried on through the Courts at a financial cost that exceeds the propertirs entire market value (putting all legal fees of both sides - a total waste. BUT THE WORST IS THE SAME CITY COUNCIL SPINNING THIS TO THEIR DECISION TO MAKE THIS FOR THE PEOPLE ... AS IF THEY MADE THE DECISION. THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA MADE THE DECISION. THIS SHOUD BE AMONG TO 10 WORST PHOTOS OF THE YEAR!
joninla December 28, 2011 at 04:44 PM
ISSUE: Building Low Income Housing Units in WeHo Let it be known that the only reason the City Council is constantly pushing low income units, is so they can be counted as/towards the State Incentives that gives Developers the right to EXCEED building size, height and number of units built on a lot zoned for a maximum number of units, but the Developer gets to add 30% more housing by inckuding low income units in or near the new multi use giant box projects going up all over weho. The City is offering public land for these units so the developers can profit by building so much more than zoning permits. The City Council has been bought by the Weathy Developers and have fabricated an entire false image espoused endlessly about caring for the poor with these units.
me December 28, 2011 at 08:18 PM
this piece was written nearly a year ago and yur just commenting now to this and other old articles????.....i wish you'd put all of that mega-energy into creating positive change in our city.....actions speak volumes over words
joninla June 16, 2012 at 01:27 PM
I agree, But I think their appearance is based on 'hypocracy' - but on a much larger scale than an average person would ever consider. Must have years of unaccountable power over the city, and everything in it. P.S. Mr. Prang - Until the City goes ahead and cuts down all the trees in Plummer Park for a $40 Million Dollar Underground parking garage, this is NOT the last or only remaining place where one can enjoy large old growth trees dating back perhaps ever farther than 1914 (though I suspect ALL of the trees were a whole lot smaller back in 1914 - the don't grow overnight - despite what Heery Construction says about planting new tree saplings over a parking garage to replace huge old growth trees)
joninla June 16, 2012 at 01:32 PM
ABSOLUTELY CORRECT BRIAN! WHERE DOES THE CITY GET OFF TAKING CITY PROPERTY AND CONVERTING INTO NON-PUBLIC SPACE. Regardless of Ms. Weisman's express request the property remain in tact and preserved. She could have donated to a charity who could have then sold it for the money if she did not care so much about preserving the house and land for the City's use (not the City Council's Use). If the City didn't agree, they could have turned down one of the most altruistic bequests to our City from one of it oldest residents.
joninla June 16, 2012 at 01:47 PM
Allegra - I think what was really the motivating factor to spend so much to have Latham & Watkins was the fact that they were the same attorneys for the Developers of the failed Movieland Development - which was granted extra size/height/units if in exchange the developer agreed to build a certain number of Low Income Housing Units. The City & Developer (with the same personal connections to the Lawyers at Latham & Watkins) came up with the scheme to have the City use the Hud Grant and on CITY OWNED PROPERTY to build those promised units the Developers of Moviland was committed to build to get the zoning variance to build such a huge over sized project on the old trader joes lot. The timing of the Supreme Courts ruling and the sudden decision to abandon all plans to develop the old trader joes lot (and not 'bad' feelings between the developers) adds confirmation to what appears to have been the real story. I wasn't following it, but the Movieland Project was first slated to begin a long time ago and delayed, delayed, delayed then dropped .... which I suspect coincides with the first law suit all the way to the CA Supreme Court ... and all that money wasted on attorneys fees. I think you (Allegra) are a true hero for the the City and the next quarter million dollar fountain be named after you and not a City Council Member.
allegra June 16, 2012 at 10:55 PM
Jon, LOL about the fountain. I’d like one like the one at Santa Monica & Wilshire. My email address is SaveTara@sbcglobal.net. Write me with your phone number & I’ll tell you the whole Tara story. I’ve started to respond to you a few times but, there’s so much....too much to write.

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