Councilman Soto-Martinez: Use preservation to protect our treasures

| January 26, 2023 | 0 Comments

The historic upset victory over incumbent Councilman Mitch O’Farrell by political newcomer Hugo Soto-Martinez reverberated not only throughout Council District 13, but in City Hall and the historic preservation community as well.

A changing of the guard at City Hall always is concerning to those of us who work to preserve and protect the rich cultural and architectural heritage of Los Angeles. Like Councilman O’Farrell before him, Hugo Soto-Martinez comes to office with professional experience and a progressive agenda which at first glance wouldn’t seem to align with the goals of preservationists; however, the new councilman (as well as many preservation supporters) may be surprised at the parallels.

Let me begin, however, by congratulating and welcoming the new councilman and his new planning deputy, Emma Howard, not only for their political success but also for their good fortune to assume the stewardship of the most culturally and architecturally significant portion of Los Angeles outside of Downtown. CD 13 has more than 125 individual Historic Cultural Monuments, four Historic Preservation Overlay Zones and four National Historic Districts including the Hollywood Boulevard Commercial and Entertainment District and Los Angeles’ only UNESCO World Heritage Site, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House estate in Barnsdall Park. This doesn’t even include the handful of California Register historic districts and potential districts identified by Survey LA and the historic movie studio lots such as Paramount, plus Hollywood Forever and Forest Lawn cemeteries, legacy restaurants and the ethnic enclaves of Thai Town, Little Armenia, Little Bangladesh and Historic Filipinotown, as well as natural resources like the Los Angeles Riverfront.

This treasure trove of CD 13 was not always appreciated nor cared for. Years of decline as the city moved west caused the communities of CD 13 to face such threats as highway construction, urban decay, poverty, crime, community flight or dispersal, demolition and neglectful landlords. It took a phalanx of homeowners, residents, immigrants, activists and, later, businesses and politicians to recognize the bounty of resources in the neighborhoods of CD13 and to take up the work of organizing, protesting, negotiating and legislating that started the turnaround that began more than 40 years ago. These determined citizens preserved and stabilized historic neighborhoods such as our own Windsor Square, brought life and tourism back to Hollywood and made Silver Lake cool and Echo Park safe for families.

HOLLYHOCK HOUSE, designed by Frank Loyd Wright, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Council District 13.
Photo courtesy of Barnsdall Art Park Foundation

Success has not been without its challenges and, at times, it seemed progress might kill the goose that laid the golden egg. Popularity had its price as new development, gentrification, loss of rent-stabilized housing and rising rents and home prices put strains on established communities, pricing out younger generations and families and contributing to our crisis of homelessness.

During the last two decades, central Los Angeles, including CD 13, has lost tens of thousands of naturally occurring affordable housing units, i.e. historic housing (the majority of which is rent-controlled), through Ellis Act evictions. The Los Angeles Conservancy in its 2020 report, “Preservation Positive Los Angeles,” states that “Today, older, smaller, and mixed-use buildings represent the largest share of affordable housing in the city, from quaint bungalow courts to large garden apartment developments.” This is true for Los Angeles as a whole, as it is true for CD 13. The preservation of historic housing is a crucial component to solving the housing crunch and the homelessness crisis, and — as an added benefit — preservation is climate friendly.

In the words of architect and climate activist Carl Elefante, “The most sustainable building is the one that is already built!”

It is my hope that Councilman Soto-Martinez, a union organizer and community advocate himself, will see the preservation of the district’s architectural and cultural heritage as a powerful tool to not only confront the issues that he was elected to address, but also as a way to bond with the denizens of CD 13’s many neighborhoods. Protecting existing historic and natural resources, as well as growing their number through the identification and designation of new landmarks, honors the tradition of community organizing and activism that came before, while continuing to add to that legacy that has made CD 13 the historic and culturally rich district it is today.

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Category: Real Estate

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