Fury over Plummer Park Historic Destruction
Architect Henry L. Gogerty may be forgotten by this city of newcomers, but three of his memorable creations can be seen from the corner of Hollywood and Vine: the Hollywood Playhouse, now the Avalon Theater; the art deco tower at Yucca and Vine; and the preserved facade of the art deco building next to Capitol Records.
Preservation efforts by Hollywood Heritage and others have assured that nearly all of Gogerty's numerous designs live on in Hollywood — apart from the Brown Derby on Vine Street, torn down in 1985, and attributed to him and partner Carl Jules Weyl. Gogerty also conceived the admired Grand Central Terminal at Glendale Airport; the remarkable Spruce Goose Hangar at Ballona Creek, which is on the National Register of Historic Places; and neighborhood favorites such as the Cat & Fiddle on Sunset Boulevard.
In West Hollywood, it's a different story.
Fiesta Hall, Gogerty's notable Spanish Colonial Revival–style auditorium built in Plummer Park on former rancho land, will undergo a radically futurist redesign that swallows everything but the historic hall's southern wall and part of the roof.
It's one piece of a major, $40 million redevelopment starting in January that will, controversially, require closing off heavily used sections of Plummer Park in stages over two years.
Resident Jenny Walton-Wetzel tells L.A. Weekly, "They want to spend $40 million to completely dismantle a healthy, thriving community space — and start from scratch."
West Hollywood politicians say residents had plenty of notice about the City Council's envisioned makeover of the popular park. But at a jammed Oct. 11 meeting, nearly 175 people crowded in to protest. Many said elected politicos pushed through the redo so quietly that few residents had a chance to question it.
Resident and veteran actor Richard Chamberlain, weighing in at a Web site where 427 people have signed a petition against the city, says, "Absolute lunacy. Why, why, why? ... The park needs leaving alone."
Former City Councilman Steve Martin, writing for WeHoNews.com, declared, "Those of us who participated in the four-year general plan process broke out laughing when staff piously claimed that the plan represented years of community input." At one meeting between city officials and residents, Martin says, the former "officiously informed [residents] that the presentation was only a courtesy and the plan was not before them for input."
There are avid supporters of the Jetsons-like look that will drastically alter the park.
But at the Oct. 11 hearing, Angie Brooks, of the respected architectural firm responsible for the redesign, Brooks + Scarpa, drew many "It doesn't fit our neighborhood" complaints. The crowd spontaneously applauded when slides of an untouched Fiesta Hall were displayed.
Brooks argued that her design, which maintains Fiesta Hall's site as a performance and meeting place, is a form of preservation. The building "has really great bones," she said, but "what it needs is a gut remodel to be upgraded for acoustics and accessibility."
Resident Jane Halleran blasted the design, calling it "ongepotchket" — Yiddish for slapped together and overdone. Drawing loud applause, Halleran said, "What you were drinking, I don't know."
Julie Goldberg, whose house borders the park, says the unfolding situation shows that "WeHo West forgets that there's a WeHo East — and it's a very different vibe here."
Bryan Ryman, a former choreographer who performed at Fiesta Hall in the 1960s, is not married to preserving the building's Spanish heritage. But of the final design, he says, "The creative city can do better than that."
Adrian Scott Fine, director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy, explains that in Southern California, unless an important architect of the past remains famous today, his buildings are easily lost to the wrecking ball. "Everyone knows Neutra," he says, "but other architects that were extremely prolific and did incredible designs — most people don't hear about them until one of their buildings is being threatened with demolition."
Fine cites the prominent Edward Fickett, whose 1960 modernist library in West Hollywood was closed and fenced off for years, then demolished amidst much acrimony. "People need to discover them, ideally before it's too late," Fine says.
Gogerty set up shop as H.L. Gogerty Associates in 1924. His partnership with Weyl produced the Baine Building at the corner of Whitley Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard, commissioned by Col. Harry M. Baine, a future Los Angeles County supervisor. Replete with Spanish Colonial Revival ornamental balconies and cornices, it's so iconic that Disney Imagineers re-created the building at California Adventure.
Gogerty and Weyl's most famous achievement, the Hollywood Playhouse at 1735 Vine St., was built in 1926 in the Churrigueresque, or Spanish Baroque, style. Their 1928 Yucca Vine Tower, at 6305 Yucca Ave., now the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, is described by the Historic L.A. website as "one of Hollywood's most distinctive art Deco office towers," showing "master craftsmanship in its attention to detail," such as the stylized eagles at its top.
After the two men parted ways in 1928, Gogerty designed the Desert Air Hotel in Rancho Mirage and incorporated his love of aviation into Dorsey High School, which he designed with another Spanish Revival specialist, C.E. Noerenberg.
In 1937, when Eugenio Plummer sold a piece of his rancho to the county government for Plummer Park, it was with the caveat that anything built there reflect the Spanish Revival style, according to West Hollywood resident Brian Rubinstein, who owns the apartment building closest to Fiesta Hall.
The rancho-style Great Hall was built in 1938 — a historic building that will be entirely demolished by the West Hollywood City Council. Then, in 1949, Gogerty built Fiesta Hall to complement it. His design blends with the attractive apartment buildings on nearby Vista Street, which date to 1929.
In 1950, the county Board of Supervisors produced a small booklet, still found in the L.A. Central Library, stating, "We hold it our sacred trust to preserve and pass on to succeeding generations the rich heritage of this Early California rancho."
But Eugenio Plummer couldn't have foreseen that, in a future city called West Hollywood, a crop of politicians would follow an aggressive development stance that emphasizes big buildings with trendy looks.
Fiesta Hall was rededicated on March 19, 1990, two weeks before Gogerty died. Sitting on the City Council were Abbe Land and John Heilman, who have held their City Council seats for a combined 44 years (West Hollywood has no term limits). Land and Heilman now are helping lead the push to morph Fiesta Hall into an ultramodern architectural statement.
Four years ago, then-mayor Heilman declared that he would "work hard to preserve the historic and scenic assets of West Hollywood." The occasion was the naming of West Hollywood as a "Distinctive Destination" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation,
But then, in January 2010, a city assessment of Fiesta Hall declared that it was "neither representative nor distinctive enough to be eligible for listing in the California Register," though it was eligible to be named a city cultural resource because it "exemplifies special characteristics of the city's architectural history."
Soon after, at an April 2010 meeting, Planning Commission Vice Chairman Marc Yeber — recently reappointed to the commission by Land — listened to a passionate plea from Hollywood Heritage to save Great Hall and Fiesta Hall. Though at times sympathetic, Yeber responded: "I'm a firm believer that our city is not intended to be an architectural petting zoo."
Gogerty is no longer around to plead his case. But his distant cousin, comedian-singer Megan Gogerty, remarks: "Surely, with all the creative minds at work here, there must be some way to meet the needs of the community in a way that enhances the character of cousin Henry's design, rather than trampling over it."
See the renderings at laweekly.com.