IAC Shepher Community Center
In January 2016, the Israeli-American Council (IAC) announced its plans to adaptively reuse the AbilityFirst Paul Weston Work Center as the nation's first Israeli American community center. The complex, renamed the IAC Shepher Community Center, will serve as a hub for cultural activities, recreation, and leadership training.
In addition to preserving the AbilityFirst Paul Weston Work Center, the IAC submitted plans to construct an adjacent office building on to house its headquarters.
The announcement came as welcome news to the preservation community, which first learned that the significant Late Modern property was threatened with demolition in 2014.
AbilityFirst, the former owner and operator of the Rehabilitation Center, and Oakmont Senior Living, a potential buyer for the property, submitted plans to demolish the structure. In its place was a proposed two story, nearly 85,000 square-foot eldercare facility with up to 40 parking spaces.
The existing building was built in 1979 as the Crippled Children's Society Rehabilitation Center and designed by master architect John Lautner (1911-1994), whose influential career spanning four decades produced some of Southern California’s most visionary examples of Modernist design. His buildings have been described as sculptural and sensory and were always designed to respond to their site. The Rehabilitation Center is no exception and particularly unique as much of Lautner’s work was residential, making this a rare example of an institutional-based design and commission.
SurveyLA identified the Rehabilitation Center as a potential historic resource eligible for both the California Register and local listing in March 2013, yet the Office of Historic Resources within the Los Angeles Department of City Planning was not consulted about the proposed project. In preparing the environmental review for the project, the Department of City Planning concluded that the project site contained no potential historic and/or cultural resources, and issued a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) in April 2014. The MND failed to note that the Rehabilitation Center was identified by SurveyLA or elsewhere.
In May 2014, the Conservancy was alerted to the proposed project and a Zoning Administration public hearing to be held on the following day. AbilityFirst and Oakmont Senior Living requested a variance and Site Plan approval by the Department of City Planning. The Conservancy attended the hearing and provided testimony and written comments confirming that the Rehabilitation Center is architecturally significant and has been identified as a potential historic resource.
Given that the proposed project would have demolished the Rehabilitation Center and thus result in significant impacts, the Conservancy strongly believed the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was required in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). This would have required the City and applicants to identify and consider a range of viable preservation alternatives.
In July 2013, the Conservancy featured the Rehabilitation Center as part of our Curating the City: Modern Architecture in LA program, looking at Modernist architecture and places throughout Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. We hosted a lecture called "Preserving Sprawl: The Suburbs Become Historic" at the Rehabilitation Center on July 27, 2013 that including a discussion about the building by architect Helena Arahuete who worked directly with John Lautner. Attendees also toured the facility.