A loud cheer came from the Los Angeles City Council chambers last week after council members voted unanimously to include the Mendel and Mabel Meyer Courtyard Apartments on the list of historic-cultural monuments. The designation is a key victory for Steve Luftman, a tenant who refused to vacate his unit after he and tenants at eight others units were served eviction notices.
The tenants at the North Flores Street property in Beverly Grove were served with the notices on Feb. 8 and ordered to leave by June 5. All tenants left prior to June 5, except for Luftman, who has lived there for 17 years.
The apartments at 118-126 N. Flores Ave. were to be demolished to make way for a development project by BLDG Flores, LLC, when tenants and community members filed an application to nominate them for historic designation. Councilmember Paul Koretz, 5th District, supported the nomination through the city’s approval process.
“I’m pleased the full council went along with this historic designation,” he said. “Mendel Meyer was one of the architects who helped give Los Angeles its visual and structural character in the 20th century, and he actually lived in this courtyard for a time. Now we’ll have a chance to see if the
courtyard can be fully preserved and restored, instead of it being bulldozed like so many other aspects of our city’s heritage.”
According to city staff reports, the Mendel and Mabel Meyer Courtyard Apartments are “identified with historic personages or with important events in the main currents of national, state or local history” as the home of Mendel Meyer – a prolific builder in Los Angeles during the first half of the 20th century. (Meyer’s architecture firm is also responsible for historic structures such as the Egyptian Theatre, Charles Chaplin Studios and the Getty House.)
The reports continue to explain that the properties reflect the economic distress and struggles of the Great Depression and how the firm diversified its projects by building a low-cost, multi-family apartment with “the same level of detail and workmanship as their more recognized buildings.”
The designation of the apartments as historic ensures that future construction activities involving the properties are approved by the city council. Ken Bernstein, manager of the Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources, explained any permits for development or alteration would also require review by the cultural-historical commission and the office of historic resources, but it does not provide “iron-clad” protection against demolition, which is still possible. Any demolition proposals would also require an environmental impact review process.
Luftman said it felt amazing to get the designation, but there is “still a feeling of uncertainty” as he does not know how it will affect his future at the apartments.
“Our ultimate goal was to save the buildings,” he said. “We also want to stay here and we don’t know what’s going to happen. The only thing [developers] can do right now without the city’s permission is leave it off the market or turn it back into the rental market, which means we could stay, or sell it. … I would hope they would do the right thing and return it to the rental market.”
Project spokesperson Jamarah Harris said BLDG Flores, LLC is exploring options and working with city council offices to move forward with the project.
“We are committed to creating attainable homeownership opportunities while elevating the level of design at both Flores and Edinburgh. This community deserves to move past the status quo of dilapidated, unsound structures and to become part of the citywide movement to create 100,000 new housing units,” Harris said.
BLDG Flores, LLC, used the Ellis Act to evict the tenants. The practice of using the act to replace rent-stabilized units with more lucrative projects has caused concern around the city. Historic multi-family residential buildings are targeted for demolition and redevelopment, according to the nonprofit group, Los Angeles Conservancy. The group believes Ellis Act use in this way represents a growing threat to community character.
“The Ellis Act was originally formulated to bring order to the chaos surrounding small-scale rental property owners who legitimately wanted or needed to get out of the rental business, as well as their tenants, who deserved a mechanism to ensure they were being treated fairly,” Koretz said. “Unfortunately, the law now is being exploited left and right by developers to empty out affordable, rent-controlled units so they can replace them with expensive new buildings that often destroy the character of neighborhoods. More importantly, this makes it difficult for thousands of middle and working class tenants to afford to stay in L.A., and in extreme cases even contributes to homelessness. I think getting a handle on this is crucial for the long-term stability of the city and it may well require the help of the state legislature in the near future.”
Congresswoman Maxine Waters, 43rd District, and Congresswoman Karen Bass, 37th District, wrote a letter to Kevin de Leon, California State Senate President pro Tempore, and Toni Atkins, Speaker of the California Assembly earlier this year urging them to support legislation that will put a moratorium on the Ellis Act. In Los Angeles, property owners evicted tenants from more than 725 units under the Ellis Act in 2014, more than doubling the 308 units in 2013, according to their letter.
Harris said tenants were given proper notice and opportunities for relocation assistance.
BLDG Flores, LLC, also evicted tenants from eight stabilized units on Edinburgh Avenue, where tenants are also applying for historic designations. Harris said that property has been “an eyesore” and a threat to the community.
“We do not believe the property is historic … and have concerns over the criteria being used to make these decisions,” she said via email.
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