Off Topic: Preservation

Kleenex-small-boxWell. I had planned on reviewing the newest from Uncle Serge, but my friendly neighborhood summer cold decided to place a visit again, so that’s obviously not going to happen. So I am going way off topic.

The topic for today is preservation. As in architectural preservation. Now I gre up in New England, where the average age of a house is at least 100 years old and sometimes even older. When you buy a house in New England, you buy the house. You might want to change the wallpaper and combine some smaller rooms into a newer kitchen, but you don’t buy for “lot value” and nuke and pave.

For the longest time Beverly Hills didn’t have any preservation ordinances at all, and whole neighborhoods changed because of it. It the 25 years I’ve lived here I’ve seen the place change, especially in the area between Burton way and Wilshire. Small houses (some so cute you wanted to burp them) torn down to be replaced with cardboard McMansions jammed onto their lots almost like brownstones. But you know what? I do get the other side of the argument: you move to Beverly, you spent the mine and maybe it’s not fair for you to be expected to share one bathroom and 1927 wiring that means you can’t run a microwave and the icebox.

The real issue is the architectural gems that have been lost. After a few highly publicized name architect tear-downs, the Beverly Hills City Council at the behest of John Mirisch created a Cultural Heritage board and gave them the teeth to create landmark status for important buildings in the city. To date, they have done so with the cooperation of the owners, who can reap some tax benefits from the state. There has been one recently that was an issue- the property was by a noted architect and had an unusual history (Howard Hughes crashed his plane into it) but the owners wanted to raze it.

Eventually, the owners made a deal with the city that if the city dropped landmarking the property, the owners would sell and move on. Now personally, if I had Lotto winnings I’d scoop the place up in a heartbeat and love it and squeeze it and call it George (and landmark it and take the tax credits.) But I love that era of architecture and even a spec house of this caliber (by Wallace Neff) is worth preserving as far as I’m concerned.

What say you?

Image: Wikipedia commons

9 Comments
caseymaureen August 26, 2014

Well in England we have quite a variety of restrictions depending on age of property, architectural or social significance. We also have whole areas designated as conservation areas. Sadly this system didn't start early enough and in my home town aroound 1965 a significant Tudor building in the High St was raised to the ground to make way for a supermarket. Post WW2 many city councils used the excuse of bomb damage to destroy ancient buildings for propery development which were later exposed as seriously corrupt. Now I do know that you have a far greater number of people of a libertarian frame of mind in the US (they tend to be regarded as a joke here- but that's history for you!) perhaps I could ask them one question - if European cities had allowed unrestricted development what do you think would have happened to all those beautiful places here you love to vist??

Lynley August 25, 2014

Grrr. This heritage issue makes me really mad. I studied Cultural Heritage Studies at uni with an architecture specialisation, and worked as a heritage consultant for years, and for both state and local govt. There are so many people who just don't get it, and don't care. And it's not just the aesthetics. The State Register's criteria may be for aesthetic reasons but it may be social, scientific etc. Things like town planning movements or new technologies for the time. The biggest excuse for ignorance seems to be either 'but it's old' or 'but it's not old'. Perth was only founded in 1829 but there's been convicts, a goldrush and a heck of a lot since then and if they keep knocking them down they never will have a chance to Get old!

Diana August 25, 2014

I like (but don't require) preserving the facades of vintage homes. I am open to whatever revisions to the interior that the owner wishes to make--after all, its only the outside that the general public sees. The interior needs to be attractive and useful to the current resident. I live in a neighborhood where the houses were thrown up in the late 70's. They're cheaply made and poorly laid out so I wouldn't see it as a negative if an owner totally gutted and redid the interior, exterior, or just razed it and built something with more character in its place. Hate to see that happen to a Victorian, tho.

Liz K August 22, 2014

Don't think I could say it better than Donna S. Reasonable laws are pretty hard to come by though. The hundred year old homes in my area are pretty safe but I live in a midcentury development part of the city. One of the reasons I'm so sad about my upcoming move is that someone is sure to come in to my dated little early 60s house and rip out all the charm. The real wooden paneling with custom built-ins, weird terrazzo tile entryway, awkward room dividers, and well-kept gold fleck countertops are sure to go and it will be heartbreaking. The pale green and peach swirled tile in the bathroom will surely be history and they will probably re-clad the house in stone as is the trend here and destroy the weird gray and white accented brick. Several houses in the neighborhood have been updated to sell recently and they look ridiculous squatting amongst their former brethren, sporting fake tile roofs and stucco. Finding a new place to live that hasn't been updated is virtually impossible and McMansions are still the trend in my state so finding a home without granite, vaulted ceilings (how am I supposed to use my pole lamps?!), and open concept tiled emptiness is proving to be a hassle. Obviously, I'm on the side of the preservationists but only to a limit. There are areas that are in such poor repair that nothing can be done without going to extremes but couldn't we tear out some of those boxes built in the early 00s with plastic siding and no windows instead?

tammy August 22, 2014

The history lover in me, the tract-housing hater in me, both agree 100000% with you. The Libertarian in me is appalled that anyone would be restricted in doing what they wanted with their own home. What if you wanted to live in a certain area because of the schools or even the view, or some other frivolous reason, and you don't like post-modern style, or Craftsman or whatever? Grant you, if you know going in, you have a choice to not buy it, but part of me is skeeved out at that no one bats an eye about the city telling you what you can or can't do with your own property. (Beyond true safety regulations, at least)

Neva August 22, 2014

My opinion is that every city must protect works of architectual art or some historical importance. In my hometown, people living in such houses pay an additional monthly tax, but they get subventions and benefits when they redecorate and keep them in proper shape. Of course there are some gems that don't belong into the mentioned category but I love them because they have an air of grandeur and classical beauty. Whenever I pass them by I think the same way as you: ...If I won the lottery... :-;

Michelle August 22, 2014

The new stuff (thrown up, cheaply made, derivative and generally in bad tase) is never as good as the classic and vintage, except for a few niche selections ;)

solanace August 22, 2014

Hey Tom, I feel very passionate about this. Real state literally destroyed São Paulo, and they keep doing it. The coffee era art nouveau palaces keep going down, which makes my heart hurt, and now there is a stupid new thesis around, of the same level as equating clean energy sources with those that don´t emit carbon, leading to the conclusion that nuclear waste is not dirty... but I digress. So, now that is this understanding that exotic trees are a huge problem and should all be cut, for the joy of real state business, who can now cut entire parks and build old, lifeless condos in their place. I should mention here that almost all the big, old trees in the city are exotic, mostly eucaliptus from Australia, Southeastern Asia ficuses (is this the plural of ficus?), but also stuff from Uruguay, etc., because so was the fashion back then. Sophists! Thank´s for the rant opportunity, and get well soon.

Donna S August 22, 2014

Great read. Hope that cold gets better so you're back to scent sniffing in no time. I think it's a fine line between homeowner's rights and keeping homeowner's rights (both sides of the argument). Although I rest on the side of preservation of history and living within reasonably set ordinances. Have you seen the planned apt bldg that's going up in Harlem? Totally out of character for that area. Mod bldg with purple and blue balconies. Yikes!!! I was always impressed with how CA seemed to keep reason in their neighborhoods when it came to this type up topic. Guess it depends.