The parking lot company that applied for a permit to demolish iconic DIY venue the Smell says it won't be bringing in the bulldozers just yet.
Kevin Litwin, chief operating officer of Joe’s Auto Parks — a subsidiary of L&R Group of Companies, the L.A.-based parking enterprise that owns the building where the Smell is located, and which served the venue and the building’s other tenants with a demolition notice late last week — tells L.A. Weekly that L&R Group has indeed applied for a city permit to demolish the building. But Litwin claims the company never actually had plans to demolish the building; it was just leaving that option open for future development possibilities.
“Right now we don’t have anything planned,” Litwin said in a phone call Tuesday afternoon. “We literally had no plans.”
This week, Litwin says, the company will hand-deliver letters to the tenants of the building to explain the situation. The letter, which is signed by John Lee of L&R affiliate RP Realty Partners (a copy of which Litwin sent to the Weekly), apologizes for the situation and says the demolition notice doesn't mean that all the tenants are set for eviction, but at the same time makes clear that the Smell and the other tenants might still need to find new homes eventually. It reads, in part (emphasis added):
In no way should the demolition notice be considered Landlord's 30-day notice to terminate the Lease. Instead, Landlord is merely considering the potential for demolishing the building at some point in the future, which is why the notice was posted per local rules as a prerequisite to pulling a demolition permit. Rest assured that if Landlord ultimately decides to demolish the building, you will be given adequate notice to ensure that you have time to make alternative arrangements for relocation.
Jim Smith, the Smell’s owner, says he's been playing phone tag with the property owners over the last day and points out that the plans are vague.
"They haven't given us any kind of timeline in terms of when or if the building might be demolished. That's one of the questions I want to ask them when we do talk," Smith says. "But the fact remains, they obviously do have plans at some point in the future to level the building, to level the entire block. And so we need to start thinking about our future and ways we can delay that as much as possible but also things we need to start doing to plan for a move."
In an extensive interview with Noisey published Tuesday, Smith said he's currently working with other tenants on the block (including the Downtown Independent movie theater and the New Jalisco Bar) to figure out next steps.
The Smell has been in the same downtown location since 1999, its entrance tucked away down an alley on Harlem Place — a humble locale that has offered a home for a thriving underground music community. On Tuesday, Smith and the Smell’s team of volunteers announced a GoFundMe campaign with the ultimate goal of raising enough funds to buy a small building in which they can set up shop, so they never have to worry about future evictions. As of the morning of June 1, the campaign has raised more than $10,000 of a $1.4 million goal.
Litwin, in a follow-up email with the Weekly, stressed that he's not a bad guy. The parking lot executive is a co-founder of a California employee advocacy group, and he lobbied last year in support of L.A.'s minimum-wage hike. He said his company has worked on other community issues as well. "We are big activist and community-oriented folks, as a family-owned company that's been in the downtown market over 60 years," he said in the email.
News first broke about the demolition when Smith found a notice posted outside the Smell on Friday, May 27. It came with a menacing note warning in all-caps that, so long as the demolition plans are up to local codes and other laws, “PUBLIC COMMENT WILL HAVE NO IMPACT ON THIS PROJECT.”
Litwin now seems eager to distance himself from this notice heard 'round the world, saying he and his fellow executives at L&R Group had no idea about the importance of the Smell and that the notices were posted as a formality by a company they hired to help with the permitting.
“This specific process requires something to be posted and proof of it included with the application to the city,” Litwin said via email. "From what I am told, this is an added step mainly for buildings over 30 years of age."
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David Lara, a spokesman for the City of L.A.’s Department of Building & Safety, says the process of getting a demolition permit is relatively straightforward. For all of the Smell's historic stature in the L.A. music scene, the building it's located in doesn’t have official historic designation, so a demolition permit for a building of this type could be issued in as little as three or four days.
Asked if L&R will rescind this permit application and thus cancel its demolition plans, Litwin said: "It will definitely be talked about when the partners meet at the end of the week. Since there are no plans, demo, development, etc. ... all options are on the table."