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

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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