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Following a near decade-long battle over the property known as “Tara,” members of the West Hollywood City Council will be on hand Saturday for the dedication of the Laurel Avenue Park and the Tara Mansion. The park took seven months to complete and was pushed by councilmember Jeffrey Prang and mayor pro-tempore John Duran. The park is located at 1343 N. Laurel Ave.
“I’ve always believed the space should be used for a park,” Prang said. “It’s going to be a real asset to the community.”
The 9,900 square-foot park features new benches, tables and trash cans, as well as new landscaping and trees and a waste disposal station for residents with pets.
“I’m sure the community will embrace and appreciate this new park,” Prang said.
Dennis Grant, a marketing consultant and resident of West Hollywood, made his maiden voyage to the park on Tuesday.
“I heard about the park opening up and was out walking around and thought I’d come check it out,” Grant said.
Grant enjoyed the park’s setting in front of the near 100-year old mansion, and said it was better than other parks in the neighborhood that had more of an urban feel rather than a park.
“This is beautiful,” Grant added. “I love the house in the background. It gives the place a more historic feeling.”
Plans for the Tara mansion had originally called for the property to be turned into the Laurel Place Project, a housing development for seniors, in 2006.
“The original plan for the property was divided into three parts,” said Jeff Skorneck, housing manager for West Hollywood. “It was going to get historic preservation, a housing unit for seniors and a park area for the community.”
The mansion was declared a historical landmark by West Hollywood in 1994. Skorneck said the Georgian style mansion was the last of its kind in the city and represented different eras in the city’s history.
“It’s a house that dates back to the teens,” Skorneck said. “Then in the ‘40s it was split up into four separate apartments to accommodate the increased density in the city at that time.”
The senior housing project called for the mansion to be preserved and a 28-unit building to be erected, requiring the demolition of the mansion’s garage. West Hollywood received $4.2 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to develop the project, but local residents formed the “Save Tara” group and sued the city to prevent any construction to begin at the property and preserve the mansion as it was. They claimed the city had not given the public a chance to give its input on how to use the property. The city eventually won its case in 2009, but lost the $4.2 million from HUD because the window to use the money for the project had expired. Skorneck said the city still plans to build the senior housing project behind the mansion to go along with the park, but that the city needed to find a new source of funding to begin construction.
“Unfortunately there is very little federal funding available right now unlike when the project was first proposed,” Skorneck said.
In the meantime, Prang saw no reason not to get the ball rolling on building a park on the property.
“We had this property that was not being used,” Prang said. “It then occurred to me that we should make use of the land for the public’s benefit.”
Park hours will be Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until dusk and weekends from 10 a.m. until dusk. The park is enclosed by wrought iron fencing and has handicap access just north of the driveway. The mansion and the area behind it are also closed off to the public.
Grant said he would definitely make a return trip and utilize the peacefulness of the park to work on his writing, but he did have one complaint.
“The one thing I don’t like about the park is the fence,” Grant said. “It is very uninviting.”
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