Mole-Richardson Studio Depot (Demolished)
The unexpected demolition in June 2014 of the Mole-Richardson Studio Depot, a prominent Art Deco building in Hollywood, was met with shock and concern among preservationists and the local community, including the Conservancy, the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles, and Hollywood Heritage.
The application for the demolition permit was submitted on April 10, and the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety issued the demolition permit five days later. At that time, the City did not have a requirement for public notice of demolitions, so the community was unaware of the plans until construction activity was underway.
Because the building was not landmarked and a replacement project was not yet known, the property owner was able to obtain the proper permits without public notice or review by the Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources. The Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) for the replacement project (904 La Brea Project) was released in January 2015.
On April 9, the City Planning Commission recommended approval of the proposed project and MND, with a condition that the applicant meet to discuss possible mitigation measures with Council District 4, the Conservancy, and Hollywood Heritage prior to this going before the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committee.
As one of several high-profile demolitions in recent years, the loss of the Mole-Richardson Studio Depot helped spur the passage of the new Demolition Notification Ordinance in the City of Los Angeles. It also represents a growing trend in the City of issuing MNDs in lieu of full Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs), despite the presence of known historic resources.
As proposed, the 904 La Brea Project would demolish two more buildings - 926 and 932 North La Brea Avenue - and construct a new seven-story mixed-use building. The Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) for the project does not acknowledge that the Mole-Richardson Building was demolished at the site prior to the October 2014 submission of the proposed project. Given the short timeframe, it is logical to conclude that a project of this scope was not only anticipated, but was, in fact, known at the time of demolition.
In addition, the MND does not acknowledge that there may be an additional historic resource located on the project site. According to research conducted by Hollywood Heritage, the building at 932 North La Brea housed the Dunning Process Co. from 1931 to 1955, which devised the revolutionary "dunning film process." This was a special effect that created a traveling matte background process shot for motion pictures. It simplified scenes from driving to flying, allowing stock footage or previously shot second unit work to be combined in shots featuring a film's stars. King Kong is just one example of the many classic motion pictures to employ this process.
In November 2014, following the demolition of the Mole-Richardson Building, the Los Angeles City Council approved Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell's August 2013 motion to create new legislation that would empower community members to prevent surprise demolitions of unprotected historic buildings. The Conservancy worked closely with Councilmember O'Farrell's office to help shape the legislation.
Before demolition permits can be issued for buildings older than forty-five years, the new Demolition Notification Ordinance requires property owners to inform abutting neighbors and their Councilmember's office of any planned demolition activity. A public notice must also be posted on the property.
The ordinance creates a thirty-day window for stakeholders to potentially negotiate preservation alternatives if a significant historic property is affected. This might include nominating it for Historic-Cultural Monument status. The ordinance also introduces a sixty-dollar fee to cover administrative costs.
The Conservancy is very concerned about the precedent that the 904 La Brea Project might set regarding the treatment of an identified historic resource and its adherence to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Because the Mole-Richardson Building had been previously identified as being eligible for the local, California, and National Register, its demolition resulted in a significant impact where an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was required.
The preemptive demolition of an historic building prior to project submission represents a flagrant abuse of CEQA, the very purpose of which is to avoid or minimize adverse impacts to the extent feasible by examining alternative approaches to a project.
The Conservancy strongly believes that the City of Los Angeles should acknowledge the circumvention of the CEQA process in this case and mandate mitigation measures as part of the MND project approval.