The owner of the historic but now vacant El Mirador apartment building is making plans to demolish it.
Owner Jerome Nash told Weho Patch he intends to have the building that sits on the northeast corner of Sweetzer and Fountain avenues torn down by the end of the year. Nash said he’s already gotten the application papers for the demolition and is ready to go to court to get demolition approval.
Nash’s decision comes just two weeks after the City Council turned down his request to convert the 32-unit, 7-story Spanish Colonial Revival building designed by noted architect Charles Lee into condominiums or an urban inn.
in part because of the building’s shortage of parking. Built in 1929, the building has 24 parking spaces in its underground garage. Current city zoning codes would require it to have 63 parking spaces if approved as condominiums (2 spaces per unit) and 16 spaces if approved as an urban inn (.5 spaces per unit).
The Council said an urban inn would not be appropriate for that location, even though the parking worked out. The Council said it also couldn’t approve the condos because it was reluctant to put an extra 39 cars on the street in an area that already has a severe shortage of nighttime street parking.
“The Council said it was an obsolete building because it doesn’t have enough parking,” Nash told Patch during a recent tour of the building. “The sad legacy is that the only way I can get my money out of it is to tear the building down. I’ll take it as a casualty loss.”
An ‘Art Project’
Nash, who owns multiple apartment buildings across the nation and six other apartment buildings in West Hollywood, bought El Mirador with a partner in 2002. He said he loved the building and wanted to restore the deteriorating building it to its glory.
“I viewed it as an art project,” Nash said. “I knew I would never make any real money off it, but I wanted to restore it. I have the money, means and knowledge to do it.”
When his business partner was reluctant to spend the money on rehabilitation, Nash bought him out in 2006 and started making plans for that rehab.
About that time, the glass from a 4th floor window overlooking the front entrance fell out of the frame. The city’s code compliance department cited him and shortly after that the Rent Stabilization Commission gave a rent reduction to the tenants because of the decaying windows.
Nash said he had already made plans to replace the windows, many of which were “leaking like a sieve and rotting around the frame.” He had lined up Marvin Windows and Doors, a company that specializes in replacing historic windows.
“Everyone deserves working windows and screens,” Nash said. “I was ready to put in water-tight windows and frames, replace the pipes and paint the building.”
Because the city designated El Mirador a “cultural resource” in 1992, the Historic Preservation Commission had to approve any replacement windows. However, the HPC did not approve that request saying the windows Nash wanted to use did not adhere to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s standards for historic windows.
Nash showed Patch a 2008 city-commissioned analysis recommending he repair the windows rather than replace them. He reported that the windows are not original, that they were replaced in the 1960s and many don’t even close tightly since the frames are rotting. Thus he said replacing them was the only viable option.
After going back and forth with the city over the windows for many months, Nash said he finally threatened to use the Ellis Act to evict all the tenants in the building. After a year with no progress about the windows, he carried out that threat, emptying the building in September 2010, thereby going out of the rental business.
He said he paid over $300,000 in relocation fees to the 20 tenants who were living in the building and another $10,000 to the city for Ellis relocation counseling.
Once a building is Ellised, the owner cannot reenter the rental business for five years. If he were to reopen the building prior to the five years, he would have to offer units back to the original tenants at the same rent-control prices they were previously paying. Any units not taken by the original tenants could then be leased at market rates.
Nash said he was more interested in transforming El Mirador into an urban inn. He told Patch he got the idea from the Embassy Hotel Apartments on Third Street at Washington Avenue in Santa Monica. Built as apartments in 1927, that 38-unit building has no on-site parking and states on its website that guests must park on the street.
Nash said it was City Attorney Mike Jenkins who suggested he convert the building to condominiums. When Patch attempted to confirm that, Jenkins did not respond.
Nash said he and Jenkins worked out a development agreement offering both the urban inn and condo options. Nash wasn’t keen on the condo idea as he didn’t want to sell units, but allowed that to be one of the options offered if it would get things moving so he could rehabilitate the building.
In March of this year, the to the development agreement, but in May, the .
When the development agreement came to the City Council, it essentially boiled down to an issue of historic preservation vs. land use. The Council ended up giving more weight to the land use aspect, voting 3-2 to deny it, citing concerns about setting a precedent.
“There are many other historic properties that are also in need of repair,” Mayor Jeff Prang told Patch. “I’m willing to look at a more comprehensive review to see if we can come up with ways to accommodate these buildings. We need to find something that applies to everyone equally and fairly, not just to one building.”
Nash noted that he was not asking for any financial assistance in the development agreement except for a waiver of certain fees. He said he was prepared to completely fund the rehabilitation, an undertaking that would cost $5 million or more.
City ordinances require approval from the Historic Preservation Commission before a historic building can be torn down. Nash said the Commission would never approve demolition of El Mirador, so he intends to bypass it and go directly to the courts.
The prospect of demolition upsets Councilmember John D’Amico, who favored working out some kind of arrangement with Nash.
“I’m concerned that we are ignoring the facts on the ground and putting aggressive public policy ahead of useful public process,” D’Amico told Patch. “I’m very concerned that Mr. Nash has all the cards and we will have to fight to save that building now. And we may loose.”
Nash told Patch the city is welcome to buy El Mirador from him, but Prang doubts that would be feasible.
“Acquiring a multimillion dollar building and renovating it would be a costly proposition and likely the wrong use of public funds,” Prang said, noting the public would have to weigh in on the matter too.
But demolition may not be the only answer left as the City Council is apparently going to reconsider the case. Nash reported that earlier this week Jenkins contacted him saying he had put El Mirador back on the Council’s agenda for its Aug. 6 meeting.
“I guess we’ll try this one more time,” Nash said. “Maybe we can work something out this time.”
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