Historic Multi-Family Housing
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Throughout Los Angeles, historic multi-family residential buildings are increasingly targeted for demolition and redevelopment. Often low or medium-rise structures, these places foster community at a human scale. Many of these units are also rent-stabilized, making them an important part of the city's housing stock in an increasingly unaffordable market.
Though the factors contributing to the loss of existing multi-family housing are complex, City's Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance process is often cited as a primary cause. The ordinance, oirginally conceived as a way of promoting first-time homeownership, has had a tremendous effect on multi-family neighborhoods. Similar to teardowns and mansionization in single-family residential neighborhoods, these developments represent a growing threat to community character.
Located within a mile of one another, the Mendel and Mabel Meyer Courtyard Apartments and the Edinburgh Bungalow Court are emblematic of the growing threat to historic multi-family residences in Los Angeles and the resulting loss of community character.
SurveyLA, Los Angeles' citywide historic resources survey, identified both properties as being eligible for designation on the National Register of Historic Places, the California Register of Historical Resources, and as local Historic-Cultural Monuments (HCMs).
The proposed projects for both sites also represented the use of the City of Los Angeles' Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance to incentivize the demolition of existing multi-family residential buildings throughout the city, many of which are historic resources.
Though both the Edinburgh Bungalow Court and the Mendel and Mabel Meyer Courtyard Apartments are currently safe from demolition, several significant multi-family residential properties in the area have already been demolished, including the Moderne courtyard apartments at 129-135 S. Kings Road and three buildings on S. Hayworth Avenue.
As we have seen, this trend is affecting multi-family buildings of all types, from duplexes and fourplexes to courtyard and garden apartments. Bungalow courts—an essential Southern California housing typology—are particularly vulnerable to demolition, despite being excellent candidates for rehabilitation and reuse.
The Edinburgh Bungalow Court had been threatened with demolition and put up for sale, and community members successfully worked toward nominating the property for HCM status, which was granted on March 2, 2016. In early 2015, the developer applied for a demolition permit, which was placed on hold while an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the proposed replacement project was prepared.
On September 9, 2015 however, the developer withdrew the original plans that called for a more rigorous environmental review process, and the Department of Building and Safety reactivated the demolition permit.
Amid public outcry and a protest at the site, the Department of City Planning initiated an HCM application on September 11, 2015 before demolition had begun, and the permit was frozen once more. In November 2015 the Cultural Heritage Commission unanimously voted in support of the pending Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) designation for the Edinburgh Bungalow Court. Despite opposition from the owner, more than thirty community members turned out in support. City Council unanimously voted to designate the property in March 2016.
Owned by the same developer, the Mendel and Mabel Meyer Courtyard Apartments are similarly at risk. On September 3, 2015, the Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC) unanimously voted to recommend designation of the Meyer Courtyard Apartments as an HCM.
On November 17, the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee forwarded the nomination to City Council with no recommendation, despite support from the CHC and Councilmember Paul Koretz. City Council subsequently voted unanimously on November 25 to designate the Mendel and Mabel Meyer Courtyard Apartments as an HCM.
Residents nominated the property for designation after the new owner revealed plans to demolish the building and construct townhouses. Eviction notices were issued in February 2015.
The Conservancy is deeply concerned over growing threats to community character in single-family and multi-family residential neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles.
This pattern of development, including teardowns and mansionization, underscores the need for new neighborhood conservation tools to help maintain the city's distinctive character.
The Conservancy is advocating for a revised Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance that does not incentivize demolition of affordable housing as well as better tools through the City's zoning initiative, re:code LA such as conservation districts.