Monday, April 13, 2009

No. 228 - Laurelwood Apartments

Laurelwood Apartments

Laurelwood Apartments
1948 – R.M. Schindler
11833 and 11837 Laurelwood Drive, Studio City – map
Declared: 4/22/80

Celebrating this year the 60th anniversary of its completion, R.M. Schindler’s Laurelwood Apartments has had healthier days. The landmark’s condition has been such the city just last year did what it had never done before – took away the owner’s privileges provided by the Mills Act, a 1972 tax incentive program helping owners rehabilitate and preserve their historic properties.

Laurelwood Apartments

In his career, architect Rudolph Schindler designed about fifty residences (HCM No. 122, for instance) but just four apartment complexes. For the Laurelwood, he was given to work with a plot about an acre in size on two banks of a hill overlooking Ventura Boulevard. He created a two-level complex split into a pair of separate buildings each containing five, two-unit blocks on either side of a central walkway. Schindler gave the ground apartments garden patios, while the upper ones got roof decks.

Laurelwood Apartments
Laurelwood Apartments

Some of the things which set the Laurelwood apart when it was completed in 1949: wide eaves extending from a flat roof; clerestory windows; L-shaped living/dining areas; patios accessible through sliding glass windows; and garages separating the street from the living space.

Laurelwood Apartments
Laurelwood Apartments

The Laurelwood Apartments came this close to being bulldozed, not once but twice. The first time was after the owner, Laurelwood Properties Ltd, notified renters on New Year’s Eve 1979 of its plans to raze the complex along with the smaller one next to it to make way for fifty-eight new condos. Tenants and preservationists scrambled to have the city designate the Laurelwood a Historic-Cultural Monument which it did in April 1980. The owner surrendered in the demolition fight and instead put the monument up for sale.

Laurelwood Apartments

Six years later, in the summer of 1986, owner Steve Hartunian of Empire Properties, who had bought the landmark in 1984 for about $900,000, filed for a demo permit. This time, the Cultural Heritage Commission and the Department Parks and Recreation put a freeze on the process, pressuring Hartunian to opt for selling the property rather than wage the war required to tear down the Laurelwood.

Laurelwood Apartments
Laurelwood Apartments

Helen Jameson purchased the property in January 1987 for $1.6 million. However, she turned around and put the complex up for sale the following year when City Council extended by six months a one-year hold on any large renovations at the Laurelwood. The city explained “the moratorium was imposed to prevent landlords from using renovation projects as an excuse for removing tenants so they can raise rents beyond levels spelled out in city rent-control rules.” In any event, Jameson changed her mind and kept the Laurelwood.

Laurelwood Apartments
Laurelwood Apartments

Jump ahead a decade. The Cultural Heritage Commission toured Laurelwood Apartments in February 2007 and found the monument lacked even the basic maintenance and rehabilitation work required as part of the Mills Act contract. Here are some notes of the Commission’s findings:
  • Exterior plaster wall finished that are cracked or missing and peeling paint.
  • Deteriorated exterior wood finishes including dry rot and peeling paint.
  • Spauled and cracked concrete surfaces.
  • Inappropriately placed electrical conduits on the exterior surfaces of the building.
  • Missing light fixtures.
  • Unrepaired planter boxes.
  • Deteriorated and missing privacy fences at ground floor gardens and the use of inappropriate fence and screening materials including wooden lattice panels, wood and chicken wire.
  • Deteriorated stairways. This is also noted as a life-safety hazard to the occupants of the building.
  • Rook leaks and interior water damage.
  • Inappropriate roof repairs.
  • Trash and other debris lay throughout the property.
  • Inappropriately placed plumbing along the front façade.
  • Missing façade signage.
Yeesh. All told, the city figured Ms Jameson received more than $80,000 in tax savings since it adopted the Mills Act in 1997. Consequently, Laurelwood Apartments lost the financial break, funds which could have and should have gone to the landmark’s upkeep.

Laurelwood Apartments
Laurelwood Apartments

Though there’s been some talk recently of converting the Laurelwood apartment buildings into condominiums (condominia?), the lack of required parking sort of dashes those development dreams (the Laurelwood is sandwiched between a 1990s complex and the older Twin Palms). I don’t have a good feeling about the future for this Schindler work, called one of “the best examples of hillside development because of its unobtrusive design.” The city’s landmark designation seems to be the sole reason we’ve still got it, and history has shown us even that isn’t a guarantee against a monument’s removal.

Laurelwood Apartments

Sources:

Ryon, Ruth “Schindler Units Face Possible Razing” The Los Angeles Times; Jan 20, 1980, p. I2

Igler, Marc “Preservationists, Tenants Fight to Save Laurelwood” The Los Angeles Times; Jul 5, 1986, p. V_A6

Ryon, Ruth “Schindler ‘Masterpiece’ on the Market” The Los Angeles Times; Jul 20, 1986, p. H12

Pool, Bob “Rent-Control Ruling Ban on Renovations Threatens Landmark” The Los Angeles Times; July 19, 1988, p. 8


Up next: Westminster Presbyterian Church

17 comments:

Steven Keylon said...

What a sad state of affairs at the Laurelwood! I've always wanted to see this place, but just haven't made it over there.

I didn't know the city had cancelled the Mills Act contract with the Laurelwood! Bad enough that they lose the tax benefit, but the penalty of having the contract cancelled is 12 1/2% of the full value of the property. OUCH!!!

Thanks as always for well written, informative, interesting and nicely photographed pieces!

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Thanks, Steven. I admit it doesn't look so awful in these pictures. Maybe some recent renters can chime in. And who knew Schindler was so fond of satellite dishes?

Steven Keylon said...

How was it in person?

SATELLITE DISHES!!!!???

Slowly I turn, step by step, INCH by INCH....

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

It didn't seem that terrible, but not treatment befitting a landmark. Honestly, if the landscaping weren't so out of hand, I'd have had a much better opinion of the place.

Since the construction pre-dated cable, I can only assume those satellite dishes were the sole way to keep up with Captain Video, Arthur Godfrey, and Juvenile Jury.

Julie said...

I'd love to see what they look like inside. I hear they're huge and post-modern....wonder what the rents go for (shudder...)
I hate the LA is so quick to tear down the "old" (old in LA is 50 years) for yet more overpriced, underwhelming condos.

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Julie, there's one interior shot here.

Jane said...

Thank you so, so much for pointing out the plight of the Laurelwood! I live up the street on Reklaw Drive (where there are two Schindler single family houses) and drive by it every day. Its presence in the neighborhood was one of the reasons I chose to buy in the area. The property has definitely deteriorated over the last six years, and three (not hideous but pretty dense) condo developments have gone up on the same block during that time. It breaks my heart to see it fall apart. If they still have the listing, I hope Mossler and Doe can find a buyer who would love the building back to health, but the low cash flow from the rents surely doesn't help matters. On one hand, I wish that someone with a lot of money (and ability to perform miracles to improve the parking and seismic conditions) would convert the Laurelwood into a condominium project. (Fat chance in this economy.) Other times I think what a great little creative office colony it could make. An old 1940s apartment complex on nearby Radford across from CBS Studio that used to house production companies was recently razed, with an Archstone-type apartment complex replacing it. Could the Laurelwood squeak by zoning rules and become a mixed-use building of that ilk? On the other hand, it's not fair to boot out the tenants who earn a living wage and choose to live in a great neighborhood and an amazing structure. I am NOT anti-rent control, but this is a sad example of its deleterious effects on properties that many people deem aesthetically and culturally important. I wish I could buy it. Anyway, thank you again.

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Thanks, Jane. I wish you could buy it, too. The lack of parking must be one of the biggest drawbacks to the site. This is especially true with Carpenter Elementary being right by there.

Anonymous said...

I used to live in the Laurelwood Apartments... My parents wanted to move there because they saw the potential of the apartment. But there were a lot of things that needed to be repaired and fixed... Just a few examples: The front door of the house wouldn't lock properly and with enough force you could open it from the outside and allow yourself in... The bathroom door didn't even HAVE a lock... there was no air conditioning system, and we purchased our own, however, it would only cool down the dining room area, and not the rest of the house... In the master bedroom, the closet didn't have a sliding door like it was meant to... in the 2nd bedroom, there was no door completely... in the 2nd bedroom, the window had no lock or screen on it...


Despite the many repairs that the apartment needed, we could all tell that it used to be a VERY nice place to live in. I loved living there because you could walk down the street and go get groceries at Trader Joes, or rent a movie at Blockbuster, and it's just a five minute walk.

Jane said...

Floyd,

I don't know if your recent entry on the Laurelwood spurred it, but something is afoot there! Over the last few days, I've noticed a dumpster out front, the dead foliage in the raised planter beds is gone, and something is being done in or around the garage areas. Not sure if anything is underway further up from the "curb appeal zone," but it looks promising.

If you are at all interested in posting an update or just seeing the progress, I can take some photos tomorrow and as the work continues... or you can come on by and see it yourself. It's very pleasant to behold.

Go, Big Orange Landmarks, go!

Jane

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Thanks, Jane. I'm not sure I'll post an update (revisiting past entries would push me over the edge), but I'll certainly swing by. I had thought the easiest thing to do to start sprucing up the Laurelwood would be to begin hacking out a lot of the landscaping. Now, to test Big Orange Landmarks' true effectiveness in getting things accomplished, I'll re-post my 1968 marriage proposal to Joey Heatherton. Cross your fingers.

Anneliese said...

Wasn't this the apartment location in the Elliot Gould movie, "The Long Goodbye?"

Mouse said...

I live in these apartments. Rent isn't that bad. If I can find a way to post pics on here, I will post pics of the inside. And rent, still isnt bad. Right now (Oct 2009) for a 2 bdrm its 1790 a month.

Mark K. said...

Good news to all Schindler devotees! I'm the Field Super for Howard Management Group; as of January 2010, The Laurelwood Apartments are now under our wing. We've just contracted to do an extensive refurbishment of the buildings and construction is due to start in February. We will be restoring the exterior of this great apartment building back to Schindlers original plans, and new signage and landscaping is also included in the restoration. Stay tuned or drop by to check out our progress...

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the this apartment building in the 70's and 80's when I was in high school, and at CSUN. My dad and I were in the end unit on the right side and my uncle lived in the end unit on the left, both upstairs. From our balcony, we looked straight down on the old Gunsmoke set. you could always here goats, chickens,and mules, and gunfire during filming. It was kind of surreal, considering being surrounded by a huge city. Possums would come in through the little milk delivery door, which we used for a cat door.

Erik Jay said...

Mr. Bariscale -- What a polymath you are. It takes one to know one, so I know you are! Ho ho ... Now, I hate to ask on such short notice, but I did a piece for the BUNKER HILL magazine on the Alexandria Hotel, and you some great photos of it (on Flickr, etc.). We don't steal. And we need high-res anyway -- so can you get back to me ASAP (say, by Thurs noon 9/23) and let me know if you can supply those. We will, of course, give photo credit and there is sometimes a nominal payment, as well. You do great work, and your writing is most enjoyable, too. Check out my design, writing, and original music at erikjay.com -- reply to me at ej.erikjay@gmail.com, please! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

To clarify the Mills Act situation with this property, the Mills Act was NOT cancelled. Subsequent to the death of Ms. Jameson, the Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC) has kindly given the new owner the opportunity to cure the deficiencies noted in the CHC report. Over the past two years, the new owner has spent nearly $300,000 in renovations. During this process, the original contractor hired to complete this work died (allegedly committed suicide) and the second contractor allegedly ripped him off for an undisclosed amount. The third contractor is just now finishing up the work.

Although you cannot please everyone, I think if you were to survey the tenants in this building, you would find that the living conditions are vastly improved from before.