Friends of the former Van de Kamp�s bakery will find no comfort in the news: HomeBase is out, and Lowe�s will be moving into the historic building with the famous Dutch facade.
Developer Larry Cimmarusti made the announcement last week at a town hall meeting sponsored by the Atwater Village Residents Association (AVRA) and the Glassell Park Association. Many of the 60 people in the audience initially applauded the news until they realized the project was essentially the same as before and would also require demolition of the 1930 bakery, which is an official cultural and historical monument.
HomeBase, running a distant third in the home-improvement industry, is rapidly losing ground to the North Carolina–based Lowe�s. Referred to as �Home Depot on steroids� by one audience member, Lowe�s plans to open 30 stores in Los Angeles over the next two years.
Lowe�s spokesperson Jule Eller refused to confirm that the company is interested in the site, saying, �It is our policy not to comment on store acquisitions until we close the deal.�
Associate City Planner Lateef Sholebo, who reviewed the environmental-impact report based on HomeBase�s moving in, had not been informed of the change last week. Cimmarusti insisted that the environmental report was being updated.
A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday, May 26, in Room 170 of the Figueroa Plaza Building, at 201 N. Figueroa St.
At least one audience member was confused as to whether Cimmarusti planned on retaining the historic Dutch facade, which is the only architectural element of note in the Atwater Village neighborhood, which borders Glendale and Glassell Park. In response to a request for clarification on the matter from Art Goldberg, who is running for City Council District 13, Cimmarusti replied, �We are not restoring, we are destroying.� Cimmarusti is open to re-creating the facade, however.
Cimmarusti stressed his connection to the neighborhood, saying his father had worked in the community and pointing out that he and his brother Ralph, a partner in Lucia Properties, were born in Glassell Park. �In the nine years the bakery has been closed, we are the only ones who have brought anything positive to the table. The building is a disgrace — do you want to keep it like that for another nine years?� In addition to the Lowe�s, the Cimmarustis want to move their existing Burger King across the street to the new project, saying a lack of parking is hampering their business.
Members of the newly formed Friends of Atwater Village have been speaking to L.A. Unified School District officials, hoping to interest them in an adaptive reuse of the bakery as a school and community center. �What could work very well is an eco-magnet school tied into the River Interpretive Center located just south of the bakery on San Fernando Road,� said Netty Carr, one of the group�s organizers.
Miki Jackson, who is a member of the Community Planning Advisory Committee, which drafted a development plan for the Northeast L.A. district the bakery is located in, says that the site unfortunately falls outside the narrowly drawn lines of severely needed schools as determined by the LAUSD. �It seems crazy that the district is in a bitter battle with residents of Echo Park, who do not want a school in the Dodger Stadium parking lot, or the historic Barlow Hospital torn down to make a school, when they could use the Van de Kamp�s site. However, the bakery site falls just outside of their rigid map,� said Jackson.
Opponents also point out that there are already two established Home Depot stores within 2.5 miles on the same street in either direction, as well as smaller, independent hardware stores.
Councilman Mike Hernandez, who represents Glassell Park, spoke out publicly in favor of preserving the historic bakery�s facade at the dedication ceremonies for the River Center in March, and said he plans on sending staff members to the public hearing. �I am not giving up hope that the facade can be preserved,� he said. Hernandez does not support preservation of the entire building, however.
Audience member Lois Comeau, a member of AVRA for about 20 years, urged Cimmarusti to save the building. �Frankly, we don�t have a lot [architecturally] going on in that neighborhood, and once it�s gone, it�s gone,� she said.
The poured-in-place concrete building with the distinctive Dutch details was called the �Taj Mahal of all bakeries� when it was built in 1930. It is structurally sound, but requires seismic retrofitting. Opponents of the building�s demolition say that the developers have failed to aggressively explore alternatives, and that the relatively simple floor plan of the building gives enormous opportunity for successful adaptive reuse.
One of the more senior members of the audience, who shook his head in disgust at Cimmarusti�s announcement of the new big-box user, captured the feelings of many present when he muttered, �What do we need another one of those for?�