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Commentary: West Hollywood Needs an Historic Preservation Organization

If you're angry about losing so many historic buildings in West Hollywood, attend the initial meeting of the new West Hollywood Historic Preservation Organization, Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

By Hillsman Wright

When the demolition of West Hollywood’s Edward Fickett-designed library was opposed by architectural historians and preservation activists, City Manager Paul Arevalo stated, “The building is slated for demolition. We’ve already approved the project. We’ve funded the project and it will move ahead.”

A new West Hollywood historic preservation organization aims to advocate for the preservation or adaptive re-use of important historic structures well before the wrecking ball arrives.

Preservation begins with planning. Preservation must become a priority in a community that has already lost so much of its history and still has more to lose. The City of West Hollywood professes to “recognize the importance of preserving its cultural resources” (weho.org). Recent failures do not support this statement.

In the last several months, the City has had two opportunities to support historic preservation – the redesign of Plummer Park and the redevelopment of the Pickford Fairbanks Studio (aka The Lot). There is still some hope of preserving the historic structures and landscape of Plummer Park, but two place-defining buildings at The Lot have been demolished. Lost forever.

Shortsighted planning, which supports an unsustainable level of new development, threatens not only our historic environment, but also the foundation of the city itself. City Hall is intent on increasing revenue at the expense of preserving the unique character of West Hollywood.

In 2007, when West Hollywood was named as One of America’s 12 Distinctive Destinations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, then-Mayor John Heilman stated, “We have a strong commitment to protecting the City’s character and historic buildings and will continue to work hard to preserve the historic and scenic assets of West Hollywood” (weho.org).

Clearly, that commitment is now in question. Over-sized retail, high-rise buildings and traffic gridlock do not evoke the “charm and small scale of a village,” which was once a source of pride in West Hollywood. Since the inception of the Historic Preservation Commission in 1989, our city has repeatedly signed off on the demolition of historically significant properties.

The last Historic Resources Survey was completed in the same year, nearly twenty-three years ago. The preservation plan that grew out of that survey is outdated and in need of immediate revision.

The leaders of the ongoing effort to Save the Pickfair Studios aim to help create a community-based organization to advocate for the preservation of our historic buildings, districts and landscapes. Plummer Park, the demolished Fickett library, El Mirador Apartments and The Lot (Pickford and Goldwyn buildings now demolished) are indicative of a systemic failure of planning and vision that threatens our quality of life.

We, as a community, must preserve these endangered buildings and landscapes. It is an obligation to our past and a requirement for our future. Historic places are vitally important in making a one-of-a-kind community – they create character, an unmistakable sense of place, a special quality that no other city can duplicate.

Without its unique social history and the districts, neighborhoods and structures that reflect that culture, past and present, West Hollywood would not be West Hollywood. It would lack its defining characteristics and energy, the things that make it special. It could eventually resemble any other city in America. West Hollywood should set its sights higher.

A community-driven preservation organization is long overdue for West Hollywood. A meeting for the creation of such an organization is set for Tuesday, May 29, at 7:30 p.m. at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Boulevard. The guard at the front gate will direct attendees to parking and the Historic Chapel meeting site located by Sylvan Lake.

We invite the WeHo community and its friends to attend, participate in the discussions and help build an effective grassroots historic preservation advocacy organization. If you are interested in the preservation of West Hollywood’s heritage, its neighborhoods and historic environment, this is the perfect opportunity to become involved. Together, we can make a difference in preserving the charm and history of West Hollywood.

Please email SaveThePickfairStudios@yahoo.com if you will be attending or would like further information. It is time for members of our community to project a stronger, more unified voice for the preservation of West Hollywood’s heritage.

We hope to see you there!

Manny May 29, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Sounds like a worthwhile idea....But why is the meeting in Hollywood?
hillsman wright May 29, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Hollywood Forever was chosen as the organizational meeting site for several reasons. The space was offered to us for free without the charges involved in meeting at a WeHo public facility such as Plummer Park, the auditorium at West Hollywood Park, or the new City Council chambers. Free parking. Hollywood Forever is a preservation success story.The park-like greenspace is a reminder of what we stand to lose if the destruction of Plummer Park is allowed to go forward. It is WeHo adjacent, within easy walking distance and convenient to public transit. When donations come in, the group can afford to use WeHo public facilities. Ideally, a business or organization will step forward and donate space for future meetings. The organizers hope that people who are not necessarily WeHo residents, but love our city, will join and participate, as is the case with the membership of Hollywood Heritage, the LA Conservancy, LA Historic Theatre Foundation and numerous other preservation organizations. For these reasons and many more, I hope folks will not allow the gift of a free organizational meeting site detract from the important issues a WeHo preservation organization can and will address.

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