From the Los Angeles
A Civic War Is Brewing Over 'Tara' Estate
Officials hope to build low-income housing on the property, a
designated historic site and link to the past. Critics say leave it alone.
By Bob Pool, Times Staff Writer
Is a West Hollywood historic district about to become, well, history?
Some residents worry that is what will happen if a $4.2-million apartment
building is constructed on the wooded grounds of the Colonial-style estate
they call "Tara."
Critics of the redevelopment say it's a betrayal of the woman who gave
the Laurel Avenue estate to the city when she was 101, thinking it would be
maintained as a cultural resource.
It was the city, after all, that slapped the "historic" designation on
Elsie Weisman's property in 1994 to prevent Weisman and her family from
turning it into an apartment building back then.
The estate is shaded by a forest of 66 trees and 44 tropical shrubs.
Weisman described the place as "a veritable jungle and bird oasis in a
desert of apartment buildings that have superseded the lovely homes that
once stood on this block."
But now, municipal officials and two development partners have obtained a
grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to build
35 apartments for low-income senior citizens there.
Officials propose wrapping a three-story apartment building around part
of Weisman's house. Her two-story white clapboard dwelling would be turned
into a common area for tenants and a community meeting place.
A small public "pocket park" would be carved out of a corner of the front
yard of the estate at 1343 Laurel Ave.
City redevelopment administrators say the apartments would help ease a
severe shortage of affordable rental units for senior citizens in West
Critics complain that the project would wipe out the oasis that Weisman
so loved by covering much of the only large estate to survive from West
Hollywood's orchard era.
"This cheesy senior citizen housing would dwarf the house. There are so
many other things the city could do with this property," said floral
designer Allegra Allison. "The city needs a library. This place would be a
Allison knows the Weisman property well. She has lived there 25 years.
Two others also live in apartments created in the huge house by Weisman's
family in 1941. A fourth rents the estate's onetime chauffeur's cottage at
the rear of the property.
Tenant Kent Woker, a chef who has lived there 10 years, said arborists
surveying the double-wide, 160-by-190-foot deep lot for redevelopment have
tagged only five of its 66 trees to be saved.
The foliage had been one of the selling points for Elsie Weisman's
father, Adolph Linick, when he moved the family to Los Angeles from Chicago
in the early 1920s. Linick, an amusement arcade owner, purchased the estate
in 1924 for $35,000.
In her memoir "A Journal of Remembered Years," Weisman explained that the
property reminded her family of their home in Illinois. The house, built in
1915, was framed by deodara cedars and, in the rear, "10 huge eucalyptus
trees, then already more than 50 years old, planted to form a windbreak when
this district was farmland."
Weisman described the Lombardy poplars, a grape arbor, pepper trees ("two
with red pepper berries, two with green"), apricot and tangerine trees, and
black acacias. Over the years, overhead utility lines were sometimes
engulfed by some of the larger trees. But "I have always adamantly resisted
their removal," she wrote.
By 1988, real estate developers were eyeing Weisman's property. Although
she refused to sell, she and family members were rattled when West Hollywood
officials talked of writing a landmarks ordinance that son Richard Weisman
feared would make the property "next to worthless."
Richard Weisman, a retired developer who lives in Calabasas Park, said
that a few years later he proposed building a 55-unit project on the site.
But the city rebuffed him, moving instead to make the estate "a local
cultural resource." It is now designated a city historic landmark and is
listed as a state historic resource.
"We didn't think the place should be on the list. But since they put it
there, it should be protected," said the 77-year-old Weisman, who was born
in the Laurel Avenue house.
"I feel betrayed by the city. Part of their argument back then was these
trees are 75 years old and shouldn't be destroyed. My mother would turn over
if she knew what was happening."
Blocked from redeveloping the site, Elsie Weisman donated the property to
the city in 1997 in exchange for tax benefits, permission to continue living
the remainder of her life there and a pledge that her tenants could stay
after her death, he said. She died in 2000.
"I'm waiting for the first chop," her son said of the trees. "I have my
Although the City Council has not signed off on the project, officials
are moving ahead with redevelopment planning. Relocation fees of about
$40,000 were discussed last week for each of the four tenants ‹ who include
26-year-resident Sandy Dugas, an office administrator, and 83-year-old Sandy
Linick, a relative of Adolph Linick who has lived there 27 years.
Jeff Skorneck, housing manager for the city's Rent Stabilization and
Housing Department, said he had not seen the arborists' tree-removal report.
"What would really disappoint me was if the project was sunk through
misinformation," he said.
Project designer John Mutlow, a private architect and a professor at USC,
said the proposed three-story apartments would not rise higher than the
Weisman house's peaked roof.
The 575-square-foot apartments would rent to low-income senior citizens
for about $200 a month. Although HUD rules specify that poor senior citizens
from across the country could sign up for the units, they would probably be
claimed by Los Angeles-area residents picked through a lottery, said Paul
Zimmerman, executive director of the nonprofit West Hollywood Community
Housing Corp., one of the city's partners in the project.
The apartment plan and HUD's involvement have drawn fire from City
Councilman Sal Guarriello, who at 84 is a longtime advocate for West
Hollywood's senior citizens.
"It's unconscionable to think we have a great piece of historical
property here and the West Hollywood Corp. doesn't go out and do the right
thing," Guarriello said. "It should be left alone. Build a three-story
U-shaped building around it? No way."
Public hearings on the project will be scheduled.
But for now, people in West Hollywood are wondering whether "Tara" will
follow its namesake and end up gone with the wind.
Moves to Explore Options For Development at Historic Home
Edwin Folven, courtesy of Beverly Press/Park La Brea News
The West Hollywood City
Council voted Monday to formally explore plans to convert the site of an old
home on Laurel Avenue into a complex with 35 units of affordable housing for
seniors and the disabled.
The decision was made
during a sometimes raucous meeting where dozens of residents and others spoke
in opposition or support for the project. More than 70 speakers turned in
slips to address the council. Many of them were senior citizens who were bused
to the meeting by the proposed developer, the West Hollywood Community Housing
Corporation (WHCHC), and were given signs to hold in support of affordable
housing, as well as food.
old Colonial-style home, nicknamed “Tara” by a handful of residents
still living there, is located at 1343 N. Laurel Ave. and shares the
street with several large condominium and apartment buildings. The home
was donated to the city by long-time resident Elsie Weisman in 1997 and
has been designated a cultural resource because it is an example of the
large single family homes that were once common in West Hollywood.
Weisman passed away in 2000, the city began exploring potential uses
for the property and received a $4.2 million grant from the U.S.
Department of Housing and Urban Development last November to convert
the site into affordable housing. Current plans call for an apartment
building to be constructed on the rear portion of the property, while
the existing old house would be renovated into additional units. A
small park is planned for the front of the property where a collection
of decades-old trees are located.
issue has angered many people in the local community who believe the
site should remain as it is or should be used as a park or community
gathering place. A group called “Save Tara” has formed in opposition to
the plan, and several members addressed the council on Monday. While
members of the group said they are not opposed to affordable housing,
they said the city should look into alternatives to building at the
are all sorts of other issues and alternatives that they refuse to
explore,” West Hollywood resident Jack Merrill said. “Elsie Weisman
gave this property to the city believing it would be saved as a
historical site, not for the city to build on. These councilmembers
need to be held accountable for their actions because they are not
doing what the people want.”
Weisman, the son of original owner Elsie Weisman, said he has retained
an attorney to block attempts by the city to convert the property, and
vowed to fight the project. The Weisman’s originally tried to develop
the site into market rate apartments in the early 1990s but were denied
permission by the city, which designated the property as a cultural
resource. Weisman said it is unfair for the city to deny the family
permission to build on the property and then later plan its own
project. He added that the site should be turned into a resource to
benefit the entire community.
mother’s wishes were that her home would remain the way it is. We
thought that would be the end of it, but now they are trying to take
away one of the only spots left to create a park,” Weisman said. “I
think the final answer will come between the attorneys. I plan to fight
them all the way.”
Hollywood City Attorney Michael Jenkins said the city is within its
rights to move forward with the plan and added that the agreement
between Weisman and the city did not stipulate whether the property
could be developed in the future. He stressed that the decision to move
forward only shows the city’s formal commitment to build on the site
and allows the city to begin the necessary preparations such as an
environmental impact report.
Katherine A. Trisolini,
the attorney representing Weisman, said the city may be in violation of the
California Environmental Quality Act by moving forward with plans without
preparing an environmental impact report or allowing public input.
are asking that the city slow down and comply with this requirement,”
Trisolini said. “The city has gotten momentum behind the project
without adequately looking at alternatives.”
council directed its staff to begin the process of compiling an
environmental imapct report and promised to provide plenty of chances
for public input during the planning process. The project would have to
go before the city’s historic preservation committee, public facilities
commission, planning commission and the city council again before being
approved, and the public would be able to provide input on the project
at every stage, West Hollywood Mayor John Duran said.
one thing I’ve learned during my four years on the council is that
where we start and where we end never look the same,” Duran added.
“This house does not belong to me, it does not belong to the people
living there, it belongs to all of us. The only way to determine what
is best is for it to go through a public review.”
The council was split on
the decision to move forward with plans, voting 3-1 with one abstention.
Councilmembers Duran, Abbe Land and John Heilman voted in favor of the
project, while Councilmember Jeffrey Prang voted against it, and Councilmember
Sal Guarriello abstained.
Both Land and Heilman
said they are strongly in favor of building affordable housing and added that
the opportunity to develop the site should not be missed. There is currently a
long waiting list for any available units designated as affordable housing
within the city
think the need for affordable housing is critical in this city.” Land
said. “I really tried hard to think about the pros and cons, and I
really do feel that by working together we can come up with a way to
meet the goals of the people who want to preserve the house and meet
the goal of providing some affordable housing.”
said he is concerned that the city would be missing one of its last
opportunities to create a park if the project is built and said he
fears the construction would damage the house. He added that he is in
favor of creating affordable housing but not at the expense of losing
one of the city’s cultural resources.
house and the property are all that remain of an earlier time in West
Hollywood. The proposed project would compromise that view of the
past,” Prang said. “I think the historical integrity of the building
and the environment could be irreparably damaged. I think the city was
wise to designate the property as a cultural resource when it did, and
I have grave concerns that this project might compromise that
council directed city staff to plan a series of public meetings and
granted permission for the developer to have an architectural design
created. The council also directed staff to organize a series of public
meetings to discuss the project that should occur within the next 90
From the West Hollywood Independent
City Backtracks off Potential PR Disaster
By ROSANNA MAH,
The Independent Staff Writer 21.SEP.05
Taking a step to avoid what some viewed as tantamount to a public relations disaster, West Hollywood city officials decided not to sue two residents whom they had successfully evicted from a piece of city-owned property in order to recover over $10,000 in attorney fees.
In a closed session meeting on Monday night, officials agreed not to sue residents Allegra Allison and Kent Woker to recoup legal expenses incurred after taking into account the potential backlash they would face from the community.
“I’m very pleased with the outcome,” said Councilman Jeffrey Prang in a Tuesday interview. “I think it would have been a public relations debacle to evict someone from city property and then tried to get money from them even if there was a legal justification for it.”
Allison, who several minutes earlier received news that the city has undergone a change of heart, said she was both “thrilled” and “relieved.”
“I think dropping the suit against us was the right thing to do,” Allison said. “They did the right thing. They did the honorable thing, you know?”
Both Woker and Allison, a 28-year tenant, had lived in a quaint West Hollywood Colonial mansion on 1343 N. Laurel Ave., affectionately dubbed as “Tara” for its resemblance to the house in “Gone with the Wind.
In the past year, the Laurel Avenue property— which was donated to the city by its former owner Elsie Weisman in 1997—has been slated for the construction of 35 affordable senior housing units.
Allison and Woker have vehemently opposed the affordable senior housing project, claiming it would destroy the historic legacy of “Tara,” and are part of a local preservation group that filed lawsuits to delay the project from moving forward.
They also refused to move out of the property, arguing they were being prematurely evicted by the city as an environmental impact study had not been completed and was months away from being approved by the City Council.
But in late July, the city of West Hollywood was handed a victory by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge who decided that the tenant evictions were in order. Six weeks later, Jenkins filed a motion to recoup legal expenses in the amount of $10,379.