By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
It has been nearly 10 years since the once-grand Van de Kamp’s Bakery at the corner of Fletcher Drive and San Fernando Road shut its doors. The 1930 factory, the only example of Dutch Renaissance Revival architecture in Los Angeles, now languishes in decay amid a sea of broken glass, its red-tile roof and stepped gables covered in graffiti and pigeon excrement.
Once known as the “Taj Mahal of bakeries,” the poured-in-place concrete structure, built by architect J. Edward Hopkins, employed more than 500 people in its heyday, when it served as headquarters for the chain of 100 retail stores that shared similar Dutch themes; now, only transients and taggers are to be found. The factory closed in October 1990 after Van de Kamp‘s filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy-court protection.
Now, it is at the center of a bitter community dispute. Developers want to tear it down and build a 136,000-square-foot HomeBase and a Burger King. Local residents, preservationists and a coalition of 19 community groups oppose the construction of yet another generic “big box” structure in their neighborhood. They would like to see the landmark saved in the manner of the Helm’s Bakery in Culver City or the Uniroyal Tire Factory, whose facade became the focal point for the Citadel retail-store outlet off the 5 freeway in Commerce.
The developers -- Ralph and Larry Cimmarusti -- and the Glassell Park Improvement Association say the old factory is an eyesore that needs to go. They say the community would benefit from the 350 jobs and the tax dollars that a new development would bring.
“We did extensive research on the site, and if we could save it we would,” says Larry Cimmarusti, who was born in Glassell Park and now lives in La Cañada--Flintridge. He and his brother own 140 Burger King and Tony Roma‘s franchises. The project won the support of the 300-member Glassell Park Improvement Association. “The bakery is an eyesore and a real criminal and safety hazard,” says Joan Lundy, association president.
Though the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission declared the site a city historic-cultural monument in 1992, praising it as an unequaled example of how architecture can give a company public identification, by 1997 the group of Mayor Richard Riordan‘s appointees declined to oppose demolition, saying in a unanimous 4-0 vote that the factory was vandalized beyond redemption. By that time, the City Council had also downgraded the historic designation to include only the building’s Dutch facade.
Ken Bernstein, the director of preservation issues for the L.A. Conservancy, calls it a classic instance of “demolition by neglect.
”Frequently, owners of historical properties will allow the building to decline, and not take steps to clean up graffiti and the worst visual components, to a point where it begins to generate a clamor for its demolition. We believe that attitude rewards poor stewardship of historic property, and should not be rewarded.“
Bernstein also points to the fact that a Home Depot is 2.5 miles north of the proposed HomeBase site on San Fernando Road, while another Home Depot is under construction 2.3 miles south on the same street. ”If there is a shakedown in the home-improvement field, it‘s quite possible northeast Los Angeles could be losing one of its few notable landmarks for a use that might not endure for the long term, leaving the community with an empty big box.“ Bernstein says his office has been contacted by a company interested in converting the factory to livework loft space, which he says would be ideal.
The Cimmarusti brothers are in escrow on the property. One condition for the sale is a satisfactory environmental report, which state law requires whenever a ”significant alteration“ is made to a historically designated building. The developers initially sought ways to avoid the environmental report, but acceded to the L.A. Conservancy’s demand for one. A draft report should come out in the next 30 to 60 days. After a 45-day public-comment period, the developers will have at least a month to respond to any issues. The final decision will be made by the associate zoning administrator, after a public hearing.
It was not easy to support demolition, says Kaye Beckham, who runs a home health-care service and has been a member of the Cultural Heritage Commission since Riordan assumed office. ”The commission felt very badly about not opposing the demolition permit, but the building is a huge eyesore, and almost burned down when some transients started a fire inside to keep warm. It‘s a danger.“
According to Jay Oren, the commission’s staff architect, who wrote the initial report recommending that the building be declared a landmark, the building is structurally sound underneath all the graffiti, but needs seismic retrofitting. This is confirmed in the developers‘ own studies of the site; however, HomeBase, with its need for heavy-duty shelving, would need to reinforce the floor of the factory, adding additional cost to the project. No HomeBase real estate specialists were available for comment.