UPDATE: The project to restore the original Art Deco façade of the Lerners Building was completed in 2018. The 1940s marble façade, which had been damaged during unpermitted remodel work in 2011, was removed in its entirety, and the long concealed 1931 façade was repaired.
A dramatic and illegal facelift to the marble façade of the former Lerner's women's apparel store has renewed discussion about illegal changes to historic structures.
In August 2011, portions of the second-story Moderne marble façade of 533 South Broadway, including a prominent intaglio (engraved design) of a classical maiden, were removed without permits. The building’s then-owner received a stop work order to halt construction activity at the historic building, a contributor to the National Register-listed Broadway Theater and Commercial District.
This incident revived conversations about stiffer penalties and procedures to address the illegal demolition or alteration of historic structures in Los Angeles. The office of City Councilmember José Huizar convened a working group, including representatives from the Conservancy and Bringing Back Broadway, to develop policy recommendations.
In February 2015, the City released a proposed Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) for a project that would restore the building's original 1930s Art Deco façade. The project was approved in March 2015, and work has yet to commence.
Due to the irreversible damage to the Moderne façade and studies indicating that the original stone façade is intact beneath the surface, the Conservancy concurs with the decision to remove the remaining portions of the marble cladding and to restore the earlier 1931 façade.
We believe that the proposed mitigation measures, including the construction monitoring by a qualified historic preservation consultant, would ensure that the Lerner's building does not sustain any additional damage as a result of the project and that all work meets the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation.
To guarantee that the building retains its contributing status to the National Register-listed Broadway Theater and Commercial District, we urge the applicant and City to submit additional documentation to the California Office of Historic Preservation and the National Park Service to amend and update the nomination.