Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Landmark protection proposed for Echo Park area office complex threatened with demolition [update]

Former MWD offices designed by William Perriera

Former MWD offices designed by William Periera

Last month the owners of a Mid-Century office campus located between Echo Park and Downtown let the city know of its intention to demolish the Sunset Boulevard buildings designed by noted Los Angeles architect William Pereira. But now, a developer that owns a swanky apartment tower next door is seeking to have the buildings declared a city historic landmark, a move that would keep the bulldozers at bay.

Developer Linear City  filed an an application with the city to have the former headquarters of the Metropolitan Water District designated as a historic cultural monument.  Ken Bernstein, manager of the city’s Office of Historic Resources, said his staff will issue a preliminary recommendation on the application this week. The Public Heritage Commission is scheduled to take the application under consideration during its meeting on July 21. If the commission votes to consider the application, the demolition process would be put on hold during the review.

Yuval Bar-Zemer, principal with Linear City Development, said that his firm does not oppose the redevelopment of the adjacent property. But he said Linear City supports developments that are “sensitive to the context of the community and the cultural heritage” of the city.

Linear City owns The Elysian, a former MWD office tower at Sunset Boulevard and White Knoll Drive, that has been converted into pricey apartments. The tower was once part of the neighboring MWD campus at the base of Victor Heights.  Completed in 1963, the complex  contains several low-rise buildings that were designed by Pereira, an influential and prolific Los Angeles architect who designed numerous corporate and government buildings across California. That campus, which the water agency sold off to a church in the 1990s, is now owned by Palisades Capital Partners, which has proposed building a “mixed-use residential project with retail facing Sunset,” according to the L.A. Business Journal.

“We have just completed a restoration of part of the MWD Campus that we purchased in 2012, and it is obvious to all that our interest is to see the rest of the campus restored in a similar attention to detail and respect to the original architecture,” Bar-Zemer said in an email. He notes the landmark designation would also apply to his firm’s apartment tower as well. The firm is not interested in purchasing the part of the campus owned by Palisades Capital.

The church built a new sanctuary along Sunset Boulevard but the original buildings designed by Pereira, which are clustered around a courtyard and surrounded by reflecting pools, remain standing, according to the historic monument application filed on behalf of  Linear City.  Why are these buildings worthy of becoming historic landmarks? Linear City’s application says:

“The Metropolitan Water District campus and buildings, developed for this major Southern California institution, symbolize the establishment and maturation of Los Angeles and Southern California as a major US city and metropolitan area, no longer considered a distant western outpost. With a reliable water supply the City and region was able to grow into a major population center supported by investment in civic infrastructure.”

A statement from Palisades Capital Partners  said the buildings in their current state “raise concerns about public safety and blight,” prompting the firm to initiate “the removal of the derelict complex to improve the safety of the neighborhood.”  The buildings have also been “significantly altered,” which would disqualify them from a historic designation, according to the statement.

“Palisades has consulted a leading historic resource expert who completed extensive research about the impacts of the alterations and concluded that the property does not qualify for designation at the city, federal or state level. This report will be provided to the Cultural Heritage Commission as part of the process.”

Update: Responses from Linear City and Palisades Capital Partners have been added to this story.

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  1. demolish that gross ass building.

  2. Wow. The brazen hypocrisy of Linear City is shocking. They modernize a derelict building, fill it with expensive apartments, put a fantastic restaurant that the neighborhood loves in it’s ground floor — but then when the neighbors want to do the same thing, Linear City files for landmark status so that a new building doesn’t obstruct their building’s views of downtown LA. Unbelievable. Linear City has no interest in the historic quality of the neighboring property. They just don’t want their views of downtown blocked by a new building!

    • No, it’s really not the same at all. I don’t doubt that you’re correct re: the root of their intentions, however they refurbished, rehabbed and re-used their building. They did not tear the Elysian down and start anew, thank god.

      The owners of this office building could also rehab and remodel without demolishing. It does have a rather pleasing design integrity and could be used as live/work spaces. In the right hands, the building and grounds could be made to be quite beautiful working from the existing structure, which is also a more environmentally sound decision. I feel confident doing so would result in a more pleasing outcome than erasing what’s there and slapping up some quick, cheap, and easy structure. Based on what I’ve seen going up in the area, never is anything of quality, artistic merit or designed by renowned architects. I’d be delighted to be proven wrong though.

  3. It’s not just the developer next-door who thinks Pereira’s MWD campus merits preservation. Architectural historian Alan Hess lays out a compelling case in a video, shot on site on Sunday.


  4. Btw, David Lawrence Gray Architects who did the adaptive re-use on the Elysian, did a beautiful job in my opinion. (I’m speaking solely from an architectural design perspective, not to be confused with my personal feelings about gentrification i.e. if it’s gonna happen anyway, you might as well make an effort to do a good job). Since the two buildings are so close together and kind of visually flow into one another, perhaps the owners could give them a crack on doing the same for their structure.
    And I laugh at Palisades Capital Partner’s “concern” about the building’s safety and blight. Yeah, it’s derelict and blighted because you let it get that way. I love how developers wanting to demolish and sidestep historical designations will halt all maintenance and upkeep, allowing their properties to get totally run-down and falling apart, and then use that as a reason for why they should be allowed to demolish.

    • live up the street

      LOL, Palisades has owned the building for maybe two years. They bought it derelict and run down out of bankruptcy. That site has been empty and a magnet for graffiti, property crime, and homeless for many more years before that.

  5. Hurrah!

    A monumental complex warranting designation.

  6. Hi folks. Ever wondered where the Elysian tenants park? Most of them park on the surface parking lot of the MWD campus. There is an easement agreement that gives them the right to park there, so Linear wouldn’t want to see that changed. Obviously, Palisades could incorporate the parking into their project…in fact it would be better probably, something tells me that’s not the safest parking lot at night even if they have security. And Palisades could stage the demolition and eventual grading/development of the site so that there is always parking. But regardless, Linear probably doesn’t want to see that. Further more , past articles have indicated that Linear wanted to buy the MWD site…but they couldn’t pay as much Palisades. Because Palisades wants to do what makes more sense in my opinion from an urban planning standpoint, they could pay what they paid. Linear was talking about doing a boutique hotel or something with the existing bldg thus that use wouldn’t have penciled at the price the BK court was trying to get for the property. I’m a third party who’s not directly involved in this, but I just wanted to give the insight that I have. There’s more to the story than Linear just being the neighbor.

  7. @jesse I live in this neighborhood and no one likes that stupid fucking restaurant! Additionally all these dumb, greedy motherfuckers keep putting these expensive, pos in the middle of the neighborhood causing more car break ins. Its literally a nightly thing now. Most don’t report it to the police so it’s not in the crime reports. If you are paying 4K for a bedroom overlooking Jack In The Box you need to realize you are a magnet for crime.

  8. What an ugly piece of crap.

    • CShow, Please share your architectural history credentials that helped you arrive at such a well spoken building appraisal.

  9. Both of these assholes suck. Give this plot of land back to the people and restore it to the city park that it once was!

  10. It’s the odd buildings, our open spaces, our views that brought most of you here to Echo Park. My park like drive home is now a pain in the Kester, OVER DEVELOPMENT.
    My question where’s the water coming from?.

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