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A Paul Revere Williams-designed apartment building located at the corner of Almont Drive and Burton Way is being considered for designation as a cultural-historic monument.
The City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee approved the request for a cultural-historic designation on Tuesday. The full city council will consider the designation next week as a formality, and is expected to approve the designation, according to Christopher Koontz, a planning deputy for Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, 5th District.
Known as the Hannah Schwartz Apartments after the person who commissioned the project, the 12-unit building at 330 S. Almont Dr. was built in 1947 and designed by Williams, a Los Angeles native who became one of the most prominent architects in the area during the mid-20th Century. Williams, who lived from 1894 to 1980, designed thousands of private homes and other buildings in Los Angeles, but few of his apartment buildings remain. Williams’ role in architectural history is also considered important because he was the first certified African American architect west of the Mississippi River, and one of only a few during the period. He was also the first African American architect to become a member of the American Institute of Architects. He also served on the first Los Angeles Planning Commission in 1920.
The proposal to designate the Hannah Schwartz Apartments as historic was initiated by the Burton Way Foundation and the Beverly West Residents Association. The two organizations, which represent homeowners in the neighborhoods west of La Cienega Boulevard between the cities of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, have embarked on a project to protect structures that may be of important cultural or historic significance in the area. Cary Brazeman, the founder of the Beverly West Residents Association, said the Hannah Schwartz Apartments are one of two multi-family dwellings that Williams designed that still remain. The other one has been altered over the years and may or may not qualify for historic status.
“It is a lovely, historically-significant apartment building in a neighborhood that has been increasingly dismantled by ambiguously designed residential buildings,” Brazeman said. “As the city evolves and grows, it’s so important to remember where we came from, including the history of our built environment. In the case of the Paul Williams building on Almont, a study of the architecture reveals so much about what have come to be modern buildings.”
Brazeman and Harald Hahn, president of the Burton Way Foundation and the Burton Way Homeowners Association, said the Hannah Schwartz Apartments are a connection to the neighborhood’s past. Although there were no plans to demolish or alter the building, Hahn said it is important to protect it into the future.
“The neighborhoods are changing very rapidly, and some of the older buildings we have had from the ’30 and ‘40s are disappearing,” Hahn added. “They are part of the story of what the neighborhood was like back then. It was a much quieter time, a much easier time.”
According to a report on the building generated by the city’s planning department, the apartments are considered to have “character-defining” features of the International and Streamline Moderne styles. Koretz said he supports the designation because of the contributions Williams made to the city, and to the field of architectural design.
“Williams overcame incredible odds to become one of the leading architects of his time,” Koretz said. “ I am so excited and proud that we have now preserved the building at 330 South Almont. It is my hope that generations to come will not only admire this beautiful building but will also learn about Paul Williams’ incredible Los Angeles story and contribution to our architectural heritage.”
The cultural-historic designation will prohibit changes from being made to the building’s façade, and stipulate that it be maintained. The interiors of the apartments are not covered in the designation, and can be altered.
Steven Dersh, whose family has owned the building for decades, said he was not initially supportive of the designation, and declined to comment further on his position. He added that he plans to preserve and maintain the building, and added that he is glad the designation will “honor” the apartments.
“We care about the building. It has been in the family for more than 60 years, and it’s a well-protected building,” Dersh said. “Councilman Koretz’s office played a big part in this in a positive way, but I wish some of the laws had been maintained over the last twenty years, because the area has lost a lot of its charm, and designating one building doesn’t bring back the character of the neighborhood.”
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