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Can historic designation save an Echo Park bungalow court?

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By BARRY LANK

ECHO PARK – Are a set of bungalows from the 1920s historically significant?

As developers try to replace the Spanish-Revival style dwellings at 1456 Echo Park Avenue with as many as a dozen new three-story homes, one tenant has nominated the 94-year-old cluster of residences as a historic cultural monument.

“These bungalows are a piece of history, and they should be treasured rather than torn down because of a loophole in a law,” said Lena Kouyoumdjian, who submitted the application to the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission. The commission is scheduled to decide whether to take the application under consideration at its Jan. 19 meeting.

The owner – Bixel House LLC. – has filed an application with the city planning department to level the seven bungalows on the property and replace them with 12 townhouses under the small-lot development ordinance, which allows for more dense development of single-family homes.

“I also find it absurd that my landlord, someone who has never spent any time in this neighborhood, thinks he can make a decision that would greatly alter the fabric of the neighborhood,” said Kouyoumdjian, who works in TV and who moved to Wurfi Court in 2011.

Attempts by the Eastsider to reach Bixel House have received no response.

In arguing for the cultural significance of the bungalows, Kouyoumdjian’s application for historic status says these buildings reflect the rapid expansion of Hollywood and surrounding areas during the late 1910s and early 1920s. The bungalow court was built in 1922 by Louis Wurfl, who worked on some prominent steel projects in the L.A. area, Kouyoumdjian said.

“There is no housing structure more quintessentially Los Angeles than the bungalow court,” she states in the application.

Kouyoumdjian also says in an online petition that Wurfl Court is one of the few of its kind left in Silver Lake and Echo Park.

Nominations for historic preservation do not have to be supported by the property owner, according to the city’s Office of Historic Resources – though the owner usually participates in the designation process.

Update: Historic nomination for Echo Park bungalow court moves forward

Barry Lank grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, then went away for a seriously long time. He has worked in TV and radio, and currently helps produce The Final Edition Radio Hour.

Screenshot 2015-12-10 at 3.10.51 PM

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76 comments

  1. Sorry, there is nothing historically significant about those particular stucco boxes.
    Yes, LA had a lot of bungalows developed in the 20s because they were cheap and so was the land. That doesn’t mean all the bungalows must now be frozen in amber.

  2. My buddy living in that court has already been paid out. So long old school Echo Park metalhead crew, the last of you is making an exit this next month. Until then, rock on in that shabby garage of yours on Fairbanks! Good bye lemon tree.

    • Yeah, so sad… sniff sniff… watch the gang graffiti around there leave to

      • You seem to be confusing “young residents” and “artists” and “working class families” with gang members. The only ones getting hurt by the continued gentrification of Echo Park are the people who aren’t making $100k a year.

        • There is no confusion about the continuous presence of gang graffiti right at the bunglalow court on Fairbanks. Draw your own conclusions.

          • CanaryintheCoalmine

            That’s not gang graffiti. The residents have been allowing young street artists to paint murals on those garages.
            Perhaps you are confusing all street art as being “gang related”?
            I live across from there and that is the inside scoop.

          • This is not about “the bungalow court on Fairbanks.” Please show me where residents of this particular court are involved in gang activities and/or graffiti.

            Additionally, gang activity, graffiti and historic preservation are mutually exclusive. It is entirely possible to want to see vandalism eliminated but also to see historic homes saved. Sorry your ignorance prevents you from seeing as such!

      • CanaryintheCoalmine

        Kat, he’s talking about the garages attached to the bungalows that are on the Fairbanks Place side of this particular court.

  3. There is no reason to save these properties.
    If the neighborhood values them so much they should buy them.
    The ppl who live in the new stuctures will probably enjoy their in-unit washer/dryers and central heat/AC.

    • shut up!
      “they should buy them…”

      • Who are you telling people to shut up? The thought police.
        Yes they should buy them. I was a lowly Carpenter and I bought my place. Don’t be such a ” I could never afford to buy” loser. Make the sacrifice. I didn’t go out to eat or do anything but work for three years to be able to buy my property. Maybe you should look at your lifestyle. Shut up indeed.

  4. We must not let them destroy our heritage. We must stop Bixel House attack on America.

  5. NO RESIDENT wants to see huge over development. My family has decided, this project gets approved, our property goes up for sale, TIME TO GET OUT OF DODGE!

  6. “‘I also find it absurd that my landlord, someone who has never spent any time in this neighborhood, thinks he can make a decision that would greatly alter the fabric of the neighborhood,’ said Kouyoumdjian, a TV writer who moved to Wurfi Court in 2011.”

    Isn’t that how private property rights work? Seems like an odd position to take.

    • It’s not absurd if you acknowledge that cities already put all kinds of limits (zoning, building codes, etc.) on what people can do with private property. And it’s an outright injustice when seen in the context of communities across America being eviscerated due to the vagaries of big capital. If it’s not an urban setting like this one, where property buyers and financial companies actively promote gentrification, it may be a small town where rents might be cheap, but there are no jobs since the factory closed down and moved to Asia. We live in a fundamentally unfair system that privileges wealth and generates massive inequality. It’s not absurd for communities to want to take steps to protect the human beings who live in them from being swept around like dust by big money.

      This development would replace rent-stabilized units with market-rate homes. Even if these homes could house more people, it’s not helping the human situation if you’re forcing out long-term, possibly working-class tenants with few alternatives for housing in order to make room for wealthier people who do have those options. The new residents may not even intend to live in the homes (perhaps they live in China and are buying as an investment), but instead rent them out to other comparatively well-off people via airbnb. LA does need new housing stock, but forcing people with few options out of their homes is not the way to do it.

      • Oh man, first world problems are so rough……

        • Yeah, homelessness… such a first world problem.

          • What you are describing IS a first world problem. There is nearly unlimited affordable housing across this country. There is even a lot of very affordable housing in California, but rather than take advantage of it, you are too spoiled by first world luxuries to pick up and move. Take your first world problems to Guatemala, India, or Venezuela – poor me, I have to move out of Los Angeles and move 45 minutes away because rent is too expensive…everything is just so unfair – and they will literally laugh out out of the country.

      • Presumably the new development is allowed by the zoning and building codes… otherwise that’ll most certainly be an issue. And it sounds like tenants get a payout for their troubles under the law. I agree, concentration of wealth is putting the squeeze on a lot of people… but capitalism is not the root of the problem, corporatism is. We should be making it a helluva lot easier for smaller investors and mom and pop developers, instead of so complicated and costly that only big business can afford to play the game.

        • Relocation assistance for tenants (those who surrender their rights to try to stay, and don’t fight the eviction in court) can be several thousand dollars, but that will quickly be eaten up by having to pay market-level rents.

          • Guess what, Los Angeles is an expensive city; one of the most expensive in the country. Move somewhere with cheaper rent…not that hard. Why do you think so many family relocated to Santa Clarita? It’s not because of the ocean views…that’s for sure.

      • Spoken like a true renter. Someone who has condemned themselves to a hard life believing their lot has already been predetermined. Sad bolsheviks rail against the one thing that has dashed poverty more then anything. CAPITALISM.

  7. Lena wants to protect her rent amount that was negotiated 5 or 6 years ago and can barely be raised due to rent control which has not improved things for people since there is still a housing crisis. Having underutilized land constantly be saved and frozen from new development is what is causing rents to be so high, but Lena’s in the boat already and she’s pulling the ladder up, gang! Furthermore, her comment, “I also find it absurd that my landlord, someone who has never spent any time in this neighborhood, thinks he can make a decision that would greatly alter the fabric of the neighborhood,” is so weird, I don’t even know where to start. So no one can buy land anywhere and develop unless they are an established member/resident of that community? God forbid Lena ever make any money and decide to stop relying on rent controlled housing, then she decides to buy a home somewhere…and what if she wants to remodel it, but the senior citizen next door says this newcomer is altering the fabric of their community without having spent time there. Or if she bought land anywhere for that matter, but according to Lena’s law, you can’t develop unless you’ve “spent time there”. Something tells me that she isn’t a native Echo Parkian, but now that she’s been there during the current hipster cycle she’s the self-appointed mayor and area historian/preservationist!

  8. Yes, the Taj Mahal it ain’t, but the idea that this tenant is partaking in a sort of hipster NIMBYism is beyond absurd. I guess it’s difficult for many of the folks who comment on these sorts of articles lately to understand that communities like Echo Park were once more than square footage to be jogged upon. You can have your faux urban experience in your 800,000 dollar faux townhouse. In 20 years it’ll be an eyesore and you’ll be in Thousand Oaks in a Tuscanized cardboard box. However, don’t you think it’s slightly unfair to future urban adventurers to leave nothing behind? How will the cycle repeat itself?

    • Not really sure what infill density has to do with Thousand Oaks. Have you been there? It’s a master planned, slow growth suburb. If anything, those who oppose small lot subdivision and mixed use infill development in City of LA are arguing for a similar approach to development here (car-oriented neighborhoods, built to a finished state and preserved in amber — as if the city is just a museum of the past.)

      Sure, if there’s a building that’s truly historic we should preserve it. Perhaps this complex is? I dunno… I’ll leave that to the experts to decide. But it looks an awful lot like a run-of-the-mill bungalow courtyard… nothing you can’t find up the block, or a neighborhood over in Los Angeles. And it sure sounds like the tenant is pursuing this as a last ditch effort to stay in her rent controlled apartment indefinitely (understandable I suppose… but so is her landlord’s desire to invest in his property.)

      I’m inclined to agree with you that whatever replaces this will be a step backwards architecturally speaking. But cities grow, they change, that’s life. And LA has a crazy housing shortage right now. We absolutely need property owners to build more densely on their land if we wish to solve that problem for those of us being priced out of the city (myself included.)

      If you’re upset that newer townhomes are $800k, that’s essentially a land use problem. It’s certainly possible (and profitable) to build new housing in Los Angeles at different price points. However, we’ve made that very difficult for mere mortals. Only corporate developers with deep pockets and a team of lawyers have the time and money to navigate the complexity of local development. And whenever the city tries to make that process easier (i.e. updating neighborhood plans, allowing granny flats in R1 neighborhoods, reducing parking requirements near transit, etc. etc.) they get held up in court for years by wealthy homeowners.

      And it’s not even NIMBY’s half the time… Robert Silverstein (the guy who sued the Hollywood Community Plan) doesn’t even live in Los Angeles!

    • I don’t get why the townhouse is “faux” and the experience of living there is “faux urban”. If anything in this drama is faking it, the bungalow court is “faux suburban”, right? The townhouses are just a denser (more “urban”?) version of the bungalows.

  9. I’m born and raised in LA. I’m not anti development, but this bungalow court IS WORTH SAVING. We can’t keep tearing down examples of history. Folks like this woman taking on the the task of keeping this court from being demolished are our only hope of actually keeping parts of history alive. More power to her. I know I’ll back historical monument status for this courtyard and I know many other long time Echo Parkers who will join her in this fight!

    • Why is this court so historic and worth saving? Looks pretty run of the mill. It’s not like an angelino heights queen anne.

      • These properties are rapidly disappearing because of attitudes like this.

        In 5-10 years, everyone will be saying “Oh, remember those cute bungalows we used to have everywhere? I wish we could have kept those.” We’re already saying this about Bunker Hill, old homes in Hollywood, etc.

        Hindsight is 20/20 y’all.

  10. CanaryintheCoalmine

    My main concern is that if this building plan does come to fruition is the surrounding property tenants being tortured by the building process. They are going to demolish those old buildings full of lead paint and asbestos and all that crap is going to get into the air and there are quite a few elderly people in the area with health problems already.
    Also the traffic on Echo Park Ave is already terrible- what about when they have to tear up a street to put in the electric? What about the parking situation on Fairbanks Place- which is ALREADY a nightmare?
    This is a terrible place to put in a bunch of ugly ass townhouses.
    And the rent control deals aren’t that great people. After over 20 years of paying a 3% rent increase every year (and believe me we all paid that increase even when the neighborhood wasn’t Up and Coming) you are still paying a pretty penny to live in these bungalows with no parking, laundry, central air, etc.
    For all of the people in Echo Park that are in favor of this demolition and build- well enjoy your traffic nightmare on the Avenue. Baseball season will make this even more fun for you all.
    Enjoy!

  11. The Wurfi bungalow court is 100% culturally and historically significant. It is one of the few remaining capsules of a historic period of expansion for Los Angeles, representing the industry and preserving the architecture of the period. How many century-old bungalows will we have to destroy before Los Angeles history is erased and replaced with 21st century boxes? As new development springs up all around these bungalows, how will we remember the neighborhood as it was? What gems will be scraped off the earth? When will it stop?? Where do we draw the line? Here. We draw the line HERE.

  12. It’s a very attractive bungalow court and should be preserved. Tired of all the ugly boxy townhouses and the entitled yuppies that think they’re awesome.

    • Not to mention the homes that dwarf nearby structures and bathe small, single family homes in total darkness. Look at the ugly monstrosities on Glendale.

      The only people buying those (notice they’re still mostly empty) are transplants with money to burn. Local Echo Park residents can’t afford these overpriced, ugly homes.

  13. Wow, nothing better than listening to a bunch of spoiled people living in one of the most expensive cities in America have a debate about the cultural significance of some house in Echo Park, increasing rent, infill development, bla, bla bla…

    First world problems are so rough…I can’t imagine how you all have the strength to get through the day…oh wait, maybe it’s because you live in Los Angeles where the weather is beautiful ALL THE TIME and you have access to just about anything and everything you could ever want within a 20 minute drive!

    • CanaryintheCoalmine

      Yes, a 20 minute drive without traffic.
      And when you live in a neighborhood for 20 years you develop relationships with people that are your infrastructure. In this part of Echo Park we all still look out for each other. There are elderly and children living here. When someone gets sick everyone helps each other out. This is not about houses- this is about people.

  14. Echo Park Avenue, on the block of this proposed development -and basically from the Lake all the way up the hill- has nothing but historic (pre-1950’s) bldgs. Courtyard apts, small Spanish & craftsman style homes and bungalow courts.

    This proposed development -does not fit the character- of the neighborhood and would destroy units with historical significance and replace them with ugly yuppie townhouses.

    Plus, as a tenant who lives next-door to this property, the proposed development would create a noise/traffic nightmare that would last for YEARS, with each day of demolition/ construction ruining the quality of life for everyone within blocks, from dawn until dusk.

    Also, the possible longterm health issues to neighbors, pets and wildlife caused by demolition asbestos & lead dust is undeniable.

    EchoParkers! Lets get to word out to everyone you know to call Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office to voice opposition to this project. Let’s protect historical housing and save our neighborhood from this noise/traffic/health endangering catastrophe.

    • FYI: the Jan. 19th LA City Off. of Historic Resources 10:00 a.m. meeting, is on the 10th flr of City Hall.
      The filed historic preservation petition is being reviewed at this meeting.
      This meeting is being chaired by Ken Bernstein, the City Planner Principal.
      His contact information is : (213) 978-1181; [email protected].

      And our contact person for this issue in Councilman O’Farrell’s Office is : Juan Fregoso, EP Field Deputy office at: 213 207-3024 , [email protected]

      Calls or emails to Ken Bernstein & Juan Fregoso in opposition to this project would be very helpful.
      And if anyone can attend the 1/19 meeting LA City Meeting, that would be appreciated.

      We need to all pull together and stop this neighborhood disrupting / historic courtyard destroying project !

    • CanaryintheCoalmine

      Chauncey- you said it! Right on!

  15. I know these bungalows well. They are beautifully maintained and a wonderful example of the amazing, historic and character-filled architecture of old Echo Park. One only needs to look at the neighborhoods where these massive boxy developments are popping up in Echo Park — namely along Glendale Blvd., the Blackbird development and the new development on Echo Park Ave. / Morton — to see how the small lot loophole is allowing this historic area to be blighted with out-of-scale development. We cannot let greedy developers with no vested interest in the Echo Park community continue to exploit the area, drive up costs of living and force working class/young residents to move. Have we no respect for history anymore?

    • To answer your last question Kat, based on the overriding tenor of these comments, the answer is “no”.

      What always hurts me is knowing how this beautiful craftsmanship, which is no longer practiced, will be replaced by cheap, poorly constructed junk. Think of those hardwood floors, thick solid-wood doors, beautifully detailed door knobs, porcelain coated iron tubs and pedestal sinks, hand forged iron work and on and on … that just gets bulldozered away and replaced by Styrofoam and plastic and aluminum and fiberglass and cheap materials that will not last. There’s a reason why these and others like them are still standing and being lived in 100 years on … they were incredibly well-built by people who took great pride in their work and usually lived in the neighborhoods they were built in or very nearby. Now it’s just get ’em up as quick and fast and cheap as possible, make as much $$ as possible, and then move on to the next somewhere else. See, back then people actually put their names to their buildings. For posterity. They wanted to be remembered for something they’d crafted that they hoped would last for generations and would serve others long after they were gone.

      There’s an enormous sub-set of people who prefer living in homes with history, and the features mentioned above are seen as assets and can actually command premium rent. There’s a reason why these get called out in rental ads … “hardwood”, “French windows”, “Batchelder tile”, “original beamed ceilings” “original light fixtures” etc.. I cannot attest to what these particular units have or don’t, but I can guarantee you that whatever replaces them will not be around in 100 years and in 50 nobody will be jealous of, or clamoring to save, your plastic windows and fiberglass siding.

      • I should more properly word my first sentence to say, “no, we do not seem to have any respect for history anymore”

        • So dramatic!

          Have you considered the possibility that people respect history and historical architecture, but don’t classify a small, cheaply built Echo Park bungalow historically significant? Have you also considered property rights? Shouldn’t you have some say in what you can do with your own property without a bunch of whinny neighbors attempting to seize control of it crying about historically significant architecture? Sheeesh…first world problems at their worst!

      • Well said! I’ve always lived in old homes in Silver Lake and Echo Park and their age and design are what drew me to them. Our 1911 bungalow in Echo Park is an absolute dream, and I thank our landlord constantly for respecting the history and character of his property.

  16. And that’s where you’re completely wrong. They’re absolutely not “cheaply built”. They wouldn’t still be standing and in good shape 100 years on if they were. In fact, buildings from this era were so well-built and from such fine materials that it’s impossible to build in this manner in this age because costs are prohibitive. It’s whatever replaces it that will be cheaply built.

    And you’re right, it’s probably truly not historically “significant”, but it is definitely “historical” and the designation is being used as a “whatever means necessary” to save it from the wrecking ball. I personally applaud that. And while I firmly believe in the property rights of individuals, things get a little more hazy for me when it’s the rights of corporations. I’m offended when large developement companies come in and buy up charming, well-built, older bulidings that lend character to a neighborhood … the kind of buildings that once they’re gone you’ll never see them again because people don’t/can’t build like that anymore, and then destroy them and replace them with some crappy, by-the-numbers stucco boxes that are not charming, not wanted by the majority of the neighbors who live there, and will be derelict in 35 years. Why don’t they buy-up late 70’s/80’s buildings that were built in the same cheap, crummy, tasteless manner as what will replace them? Why do they always go after the pre-wars that are of a style and quality loved by thousands that once gone we will never see again?

    And I’ll take the “first world problems” epithet if it means that I appreciate the beauty, craftsmanship, artistry and history around me enough, and the character of a neighborhood enough, that I think steps should be taken to preserve it. If I were poor and under educated and struggling to just get by, you’re right, I probably wouldn’t give a rat’s ass. Perhaps you would prefer it if all the denizens of this city didn’t give a shit. What a great place to live this would be then.

    • But why not preserve your own “historical” property if that is something that is important to you and mind your own business when it comes to other people’s property?

      I truly don’t understand the mindset of people who think they should have say in what is done with property owned by someone else.

      • For the same reason a builder can’t go into a neighborhood of single family homes and knock down one of those homes and put in an auto repair shop. Based on your thinking, it’s his property, he should be able to do whatever he wants, right? For the same reason I can’t put an addition onto my house that goes right up to your property line. My house, my property, I should be able to do whatever the hell I please, right?

        Some people understand that property owners shouldn’t always be given free rein to do whatever they please, so as not to negatively impact the quality of life of others that live in that community. If the majority of people who live directly adjacent to the proposed construction are firmly against it, then yes, I think their desires should be given consideration and should hold some sway.

        • Apples and oranges, ese. They are not proposing an auto repair shop but what is already legally allowed by the current laws.

          • And there are many people working to change the small lot developement laws, as well as trying to enlarge historical districts around the city because they feel the current laws are negatively impacting the neighborhoods.
            The point I was trying to make to bicurious, who can’t fathom that anyone should be able to tell a property owner what they can and can’t do to their property, is that we already do do that, expressly for the purpose of protecting neighborhood livability issues. It’s not some new or subversive socialist idea.

      • Anybody can nominate any property in the City of Los Angeles as a Historic-Cultural Monument because buildings like this, as much as they are financial assets to their owners, are a cultural resource to the community.

        As with zoning (which L.A. was the first city to implement), there are no absolute freedoms for an owner’s use of their property.

      • Are you asking for zoning changes?? YES.. Then it is all our business as this development will directly effect everyone near by. There are zoning restrictions in residential areas for a reason or are you too entitled to realize that?

  17. And something I want to mention too is that these developers who don’t live in these neighborhoods are really missing the boat when it comes to these older pre-war properties. They just don’t “get” the mindset of a lot of people … people with assets … who choose to live on this side of town.

    For a whole lot less money than it would cost to demolish and rebuild, they could completely restore these units to the highest level … refurbish everything, upgrade and replace where needed while respectful of the history, with all new modern amenities … new plumbing, electrical, a/c, built in washers/dryers, new landscaping etc., and then sell them off individually. The creatives with money who live here, and who live here precisely because of the characterful buildings that give the neighborhood it’s flavor, would snap these right up for nearly the same price as they’d get for a new build, without nearly the investment. There’s a dearth of smaller properties available for singles or couples w/o kids who don’t need a 2,000 SFH, but who also have no interest in living in some basic boring 80’s condo. The developers would walk away with a tidy sum pocketed and the neighbors would be placated by not having to live next to tall, ugly, crummy construction they don’t want and that doesn’t fit-in with the feel of the neighborhood. And a little bit of the history of old L.A. would be salvaged.

    • On the flipside… increasing the number of units on a parcel of land increases profit for the property owner, increases tax base for the city, and adds additional housing supply to the community.

      It’s unfortunate that new construction tends to be more cookie cutter. But a lot of that is baked into the zoning. Even if a local homeowner wanted to build something similar to these charming bungalows today, it’d be virtually impossible without violating numerous regulations.

    • Thank you.

    • “Completed in 1923, the Edinburgh Bungalow Court is an excellent example of early twentieth century multi-family residential development. Though the architect and/or builder are unknown, the Spanish Colonial Revival property responded to the need for new housing in Los Angeles as settlement patterns pushed westward, and it reflects high quality workmanship.

      The one-story residential units are situated around a central courtyard, featuring a distinctive arched entryway reminiscent of the Mission Revival style. The stucco-clad buildings are distinguished by flat roofs (with clay tile detailing), arched doorways, and wood-framed windows.

      The Edinburgh Bungalow Court is also closely associated with the rise of Hollywood. This type of development expanded significantly during the 1920s and 1930s to accommodate people who worked in the nearby entertainment industry.”

  18. Again in Hollywood, these look pretty similar to Wurfi:

    https://www.laconservancy.org/locations/hollywood-bungalow-courts

    • “Built between 1921 and 1925, the four properties at 1516, 1544 and 1554 North Serrano Avenue and 1721 North Kingsley Drive exemplify the type of housing that largely characterized residential development in Hollywood during the early twentieth century. Built in the Bungalow, Mission Revival, and Spanish Colonial Revival styles, these four historic bungalow courts retain many of their historic features, including built-in ironing boards and rare pull-down tables.

      These bungalows were built on land that later was rezoned to a much higher density, and they became targets for demolition in the early 2000s. Due to their historic significance, the owners decided to instead rehabilitate the bungalows, as they had suffered from deferred maintenance and inappropriate additions over the years. This project earned a 2010 Conservancy Preservation Award.”

  19. I’m gonna miss that dirt lawn.

  20. What’s the historical significance of the window AC facing the street? They probably would allow that in South Pasadena, nor the 6′ wrought iron fence with spikes…such a welcoming site in a welcoming neighborhood.

    • Don’t think AC unit would be that big of an issue. If the original windows fit the curved cutouts and are obviously no longer there that would be a bigger concern IMO. Also, how much of the original tile work etc. would have to be intact could be an issue.

  21. But what about affordable housing for the poor? NIMBY snivelers. Just like prop S.

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