Preservation in Young Adulthood - Too Mature Too Fast
by Ryan Gierach
West Hollywood Tribune
December 5, 2004
Burgers joins the list of the "threatened"
in West Hollywood which Landmark is next to fall to
the wrecking ball?
For a city on the cusp of its legal majority, the hew
and cry raised throughout West Hollywood over development
in the last year seems an odd fit: how many youths of
20 object to the wholesale replacing of old building
with new or the filling of vacant lots?
This youthful city, for one, appears to object to turbocharged
development. Over the past year public outcry has led
the City Council to reconfigure or put on indefinite
hold housing and business developments that would have
replaced aging structures with new ones, improved land
use by accommodating more housing, and beautified what
can only be described as "urban blight" across
the street from city hall.
Residents protesting development planned for "Tara"
on Laurel Ave. (four housing units expanded to 40 senior
housing units), the Ramona on Harper Ave (replacement
of a "courtyard" apartment complex with condos)
and Irv's Burgers on Santa Monica Blvd at Sweetzer Ave.
(a business development containing a Peet's Coffee)
base their opposition in historic preservation and urban
quality of life arguments.
One city hall employee who declined to be named because
of their direct involvement with the development/preservation
issue, asked plaintively, "What will do without
Irv's? A little spot of California history will be bulldozed,
a little ray of sunshine will be snuffed out and our
village will become a little bit more corporate."
Developers point to a dire need for more housing, business
activity and more effective land use while reminding
resident that a good deal of historic protection has
already been accomplished in the city.
According to the developer of the Irv's site, Gregg
Seltzer, "Much of the important and urgently needed
preservation in West Hollywood was done after the city's
survey of historic properties in 1984."
"Some of these remaining [properties] just don't
meet the threshold for historic protection." Mr.
Seltzer asked, "Is Irv's Burgers a Tale O' the
Pup? A Barney's? A Formosa? Hardly."
West Hollywood, even with a reputation for preservation,
today finds itself often at odds with tenants, preservationists,
and quality-of-lifers who say they've been repeatedly
frustrated by the City Council's decision to vote against
recommendations of their own Historic Preservation Commission
to allow developers to demolish the old and build anew.
But anti-development activists are split as to their
reasons for this board opposition. For example, the
tenants at "Tara" are angry with what the
consider broken promises about the use of the city wide
estate and its lush grounds and have filed suit to prevent
Tara residents claim that Elsie Weisman, now deceased,
intended the city to preserved of its open space and
buildings when she gave the city the property. Buildings
forty unit, four story senior housing block behind Tara
"destroys the visual impact of the site while protecting
the house's facade, which is absurd" according
to Allega Allison, a Tara resident.
Proponents of saving the Ramona see "a whole way
of life being destroyed. When they tear down the Ramona
they will tear down lives, not just a building,"
said Thomas Wright, an expert on court style living
in Southern California.
"What makes [courtyard apartments] so nice is they
encourage community," said Heavenly Wilson about
the endangered buildings, one of which she herself faces
She and others claim that by replacing the green space
and courtyards with modern, security-obessed condos
will fray the tapestry of civic life. "Passing
neighbors in a passageway can't replace our courtyards
and green spaces for getting to know the neighbors,"
Ms. Wilson said.
Even Irv's supporters are split some see the
historic import of the 1950s burger stand and the legacy
of old Route 66 endangered, while others simply fail
to see why they should give up the unique service and
food at Irv's they enjoy for yet another frappuccino
According to Shawn Green, age 27 and a West Hollywood
resident and supporter of the cause to save Irv's, "People
aren't being listened to by government, the same problem
that created this city to be what it was a place
concerned with people and not money.
Mayor John Duran sees it differently. "Preservation
doesn't mean restricting property owner's rights. We
seek a balance between economic growth, a housing crunch,
parking problems and protecting our history. We don't
choose between people and money, we try to develop and
"A year and a half ago we had a vote on the courtyard
protection issue, and the council voted down 4-1
I was the lone vote for it," Mayor Duran noted.
"There was no outcry then. The politics have changed
in the last year."
Developing the site on which Irv's Burgers stands and
its owner, the Hong family, serve up food and smiles,
poses a particularly prickly problem for developers
and city officials alike.
Sonia, Sean and Momma Hong have become family to scores
of locals because of the delightful customer service
and fresh food they have served up since 1999. They
now rely on the support from customers to try to save
their family investment ($100,000) and livelihood from
When they learned of the developer's plans to replace
them with a new building containing a Peet's Coffee
and Tea, the Hongs began a petition campaign, continued
by the newly formed "Burger Brigade" headed
up by local resident and businessman John Tripp.
"We want to save Irv's," Mr. Tripp told the
Tribune, "but I'm a businessman and I know that
the developer needs to win on this also. We are developing
a plan that would cost him less to build and save Irv's
while keeping the neighborhood, and contracted with
Peet's to build for the 5900 square foot lot, includes
a 1400 sq. ft. coffee restaurant and 12 parking spaces."
"I tried to keep Irv's when I worked with the architects,
but there was no way the substandard building could
be brought up to code it's a tear down,"
Mr. Seltzer said.
"And the rent," he continued, "because
of the construction costs, etc. would be over twice
what [the Hongs] pay now. As it is, because of the parking,
it's even high for a high volume retailer like Peet's
between nine and ten thousand dollars a
They pay it because they desperately want a West Hollywood
Santa Monica Boulevard location and have been searching
Peet's declined a request for an interview.
The Hongs were notified in October that construction
on the development would begin in March, giving them
just four more months of operation. Had the Burger Brigade
or the Hongs applied for historic status on the stand
before the plans were filed, according to city officials,
they would staved off demolition while the city studied
the claims, as has happened at the Ramona.
Supporters of Irv's, however, feel hope that another
review mandated by state law under the California Environmental
Quality Act will turn back the contractor's spades.
Susan Heeley Keen, acting director of West Hollywood's
Community Development department told the Tribune that
"we will be reviewing the historic status of the
business to determine the impact of development on the
Until that review is done and his bulldozers can scrape
the lot clean, Mr. Seltzer says he would rather generate
revenue from Irv's than throw them out on the street.
"But my patience has a limit. The Hongs have tried
to hurt my brother (a special education teacher for
the LAUSD) and me a couple of very small businessmen,
for trying to improve a city we love. If that continues
we'll be forced to cut losses."
He said that the whole affair was so aggravating to
him that he has reached the point of "throwing
my hands up and leasing the lot to the Burger Brigade
and letting them do whatever they want with Irv's
let Sonia stay for free! They say they have 1700 names
on the petition? They can have it for just about three
or four thousand bucks a month per signatory if they
can get me out of my contract with Peet's."
To Mr. Tripp, that sounds fine. "We need to take
that offer under advisement. The best route though,
would be to have everyone making money [Mr. Seltzer]
included. Let's develop the history and the economy
At the culmination of the first "Wrecking Ball
Tour of Endangered and Already Lost Historic Sites in
West Hollywood" on November 13, 2004, local historian
Marc Wanamaker told the crowd of fifty that the city's
stock historic buildings is in decline.
"We don't have much left of our history,"
he said. "Certain places can't be museums or used
for what they were intended. We need to use the land,
but move toward compromise by using facades, green space
rather than shoddy 7-11 architecture to develop the
historicity of the neighborhoods."
City Council member Jeff Prang, a keen supporter of
preservation in the city, told the Tribune that it was
high time for a Historical Society to be created in
West Hollywood. "We have too much important history
and no one is charged with protecting it. Too many buildings
are demolished just because they're old. Once it's built