Council panel opposes monument status for bungalows

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Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — The City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee unanimously voted Feb. 4 to oppose the Cultural Heritage Commission’s recommendation that the Stires Staircase Bungalow Court be given Historic Cultural Monument status.

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 paid $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, said he received the commitment of the developer to:

• Replace all lost 10 units with affordable housing on a one-to-one basis.

• Offer the right for all previous and current tenants to live in the newly constructed apartments at the same level of affordability.

• Double the number of affordable units offered in the building.

• And redesign the building’s architecture to fit in with the neighborhood’s hilly topography and character.

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.

In the end, we were faced with an incomplete choice: designating a monument should go hand in hand with a feasible preservation plan. No such plan emerged,” Cedillo said in a statement after the vote.

He claimed preservationists said the only economically viable way to offset the cost of renovating the property would be to convert the bungalows into market-rate units.

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 said.

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.

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