Echo Park - The Los Angeles City Council Planning and Land Use Management Committee voted unanimously today to oppose the Cultural Heritage Commission's recommendation that the Stires Staircase Bungalow Court be added to the Historic-Cultural Monument.
The nomination will still go before the full City Council for a vote.
The Stires Staircase Bungalow Court in Echo Park has 10 freestanding bungalows built in the Mission Revival style in 1922. The units surround a long stairway that climbs up the hill on the north side of Sunset Boulevard between Innes and Marion avenues.
The new owner of the building, developer AYM Investments, plans to demolish the bungalows to build a 70-unit apartment complex. In May 2019, tenants received eviction notices to vacate by December, according to Curbed L.A., which spoke to a tenant who cleans homes for a living and payed $878 a month for her rent-controlled bungalow.
Councilman Gil Cedillo, who represents the part of Echo Park home to the Stires Staircase Bungalow Court, pulled his original support for the nomination, saying the developer is going to "preserve the affordability in every unit." According to the Los Angeles City Planning website, the new building would only include six affordable units.
Cedillo also said that tenants were provided relocation assistance in accordance with the city's Rent Stabilization Ordinance. He urged his colleagues to oppose the designation, and said that Los Angeles is in need of more housing, and that going from a 10-unit building to a 70-unit building would help the city's homelessness and affordable housing crises.
Cedillo's office initially said last August that he would back the Cultural Heritage Commission's narrow decision recommending the bungalows for historic status. The councilman's representatives also emphasized at that time, however, that they were focusing on more protection for the property's renters.
Cedillo today released a statement noting other sites for which he has sided with historic preservation. In the case, however, he could not move forward without a feasible preservation plan.
"We learned from preservationists that converting the units into market-rate would be the only economically viable way to offset the expensive costs of renovation," Cedillo stated. "One experienced preservationist advised that it would not be appropriate to expect a party stepping in to restore the units to charge low-income rents, and that imposing an affordable requirement would remove any incentive to restore the buildings."
He also noted that the City’s Office of Historic Resources had originally told the Cultural Heritage Commission the property failed to meet any of the three criteria associated with historic landmarks.
The Silver Lake Heritage Trust has led the campaign to save the bungalows and applied for the property to be added to the Historic-Cultural Monument list, which would make destroying the bungalow court more difficult for the developer. The Cultural Heritage Commission voted 3-2 to recommend City Council to add the bungalows to the list.
The Silver Lake Heritage Trust argued to the commission that the bungalows meet all three aspects of the Historic-Cultural Monument criteria.
The bungalows reflect the broad cultural, historical and economic history of the community, they argued, by being "a rare surviving example of housing typography introduced during the early stages of Los Angeles rail transportation." The working class bungalows were built without vehicular access and were instead built to utilize a local street car line.
The heritage trust also argued that the site is identified with historic personages, as the idea was conceived by "pioneer investors Vernon and Pearl Stires and built by the noteworthy Fideroff Brothers." The property was also owned for a time by Lilly Baldwin, one of the first female banking executives in Southern California. The New York Times called her a "financial genius" in her 1938 obituary.
The Silver Lake Heritage Trust also said the bungalows are architecturally important, as a surviving Mission Revival style complex.
Additional reporting by The Eastsider staff.