The Heritage Square Museum, which operates a cluster of Victorian-era buildings in Montecito Heights, has spent several years preparing to build a corner drug store exhibit on the museum grounds next to the Arroyo Seco Parkway. The Simons Colonial Drug Store would contain the entire contents – everything from cabinets and wall paneling to pill bottles and beakers – one housed in the Simmons family drug store, which operated in Los Angeles during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But after winning approval from various city agencies and groups, the drug store project came to a standstill when plans were submitted to the city’s Building & Safety department.
Under current building codes, the addition of the exhibit structure would require Heritage Square to create a parking lot with about half a dozen disabled parking spaces in the middle of the museum grounds, said Mitzi March Mogul, a museum volunteer who is working on the drug store project. The lot would have to be built even though motor vehicles are normally prohibited on the 10-acre museum grounds, where gravel paths wind their way through lawns and under trees.
“There goes any idea of a 19th century environment because suddenly you come on this parking lot,” said Mogul. Added museum Executive Director Jessica Maria Alicea-Covarrubias: “We are trying to replicate late 19th Century Los Angeles. It [the parking lot] would ruin the look, it would ruin the purpose” of Heritage Square.
As a result, Heritage Square has asked the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission to declare the entire museum grounds a historic landmark in part to avoid building the parking lot.
Moguls and Alicea-Covarrubias said they have worked to accommodate people with disabilities and meet new building code requirements while retaining the property’s historic character. Bathrooms with disabled access have been added and the museum’s Octagon House can now be reached with a ramp. The new drug store exhibit structure will also meet modern building code requirements and also be accessible to the disabled, Mogul said. But the idea of building a parking lot on the museum grounds was too much. “It’s just a bad idea.”
Last week, the Cultural Heritage Commission agreed to consider naming Heritage Square a city cultural historic monument, a decision that would eventually have to be approved by the City Council. By having the entire property declared a city historic landmark, Mogul said Heritage Square could take advantage of a different set of building codes that are more sensitive and flexible when it comes to historic properties. That would allow the drug store to proceed without the parking lot, she said.
“We do have the money for that exhibition space,” Mogul said. “Once those [parking lot] issues are resolved … then we are off.”
- Heritage Square cultural historic landmark nomination. City of L.A.