Friday, July 22, 2011

You Say Schmatta, I Say ERRATA: How WEHO Went Off Course with Fickett Library

Many factors have come into play when the issue of Preservation comes up in regards to the Edward H. Fickett, FAIA designed Library within West Hollywood Park.  One of the most glaring to date is the City of West Hollywood's management teams and folks who derailed the project from the inception of the Master Plan adopted in 2004.

Back when West Hollywood emancipated from the City of Los Angeles in 1984, part of the excitement was to create an impression of the new government in the area by creating what is known as The Master Plan including both Plummer Park and West Hollywood Park.  The City also refers to the new West Hollywood Library as part of their Capital Project

In order to demonstrate some of the misguidance the city has placed us, I have outlined a timeline created after going through more than 2,000 pages of documents including Master Plans, the Capital Plan, The General Plan, Resolutions, Public Comment and a slue of various other sources to obtain the following timeline which many are unawares.

In 2002, West Hollywood began what is called The Initial Study Report required for the development of these changes to our community due to a Master Plan being implemented.  This Report was to cover the impact the designs for the Master Plan and the 25th Anniversary Capital Project would be to our environment and community at large.  A study is put together called an Environmental Impact Report ( EIR ).  Due to the California Environmental Quality Act ( CEQA ), the City must follow these guidelines mandated by Sacramento.  Within this report are notations towards architecture and the historical significances and the impact of demolishing any structure with historical nature in its current or potential state.  This Act was designed for our protection against situations like the one we find ourselves involved in with the City of West Hollywood.

As the study was prepared in 2002, the Fickett buildings were noted as having historical value as they represented the architect's body of work.  The thing about it though is at the time, the park was not yet 50 years old making it ineligible for a nature nomination of the structures to be preserved after their 50th year in 2009.  Instead, the City was fortunate to have gotten the project started before anything could be done to preserve our Cultural Heritage.  We, on the other hand, who value Mr. Fickett as we understand his relevance alongside Frank Llyod Wright, Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra and A. Quincy Jones suffer due to a City’s own lack of identity. 

These men were his peers and closely associated with the Mid-Century Modern movement in architecture.  These also were the men Fickett would implement to go on the road together and speak to architecture students across the country demonstrating the Mid-Century Modern philosophy.  Mr. Fickett was the architect the other architect's came to when they needed their own home designed.  "When Bob [May] called to ask Eddie to design his house, we knew why.  [Mr. and Mrs. May] did not want to argue and they knew Eddie would give them exactly what they wanted.  Exactly", remembers Joycie Fickett, the widow of the famed architect.  The City actually noted the fact of his architecture being important, even at the earliest conception of the Master Plan when the buildings did not qualify for Historic designation due to the age only being 43 at the time and not the easily approachable 50 years for Historic designation purposes.

Even though this was the case and no one could nominate the buildings at this point in 2003, the City at the time noted the worthiness of the Library as a representation of Mr. Fickett’s body of work.  Hence, the City went back into the adopted Master Plan and placed the Errata Sheet taking the Library out of the development entirely.  This is where I ask Mike Jenkines, City Attorney when did the razing of the Fickett Library officially come back into the plan?  As there is no formal recognition of this besides informal conversations about new plans, old plans and rehashed plans, none of which include how to reuse the Library because conversation about demolition was done years ago.  That is what is disturbing me right at the moment. 

The City says, “case closed.  Where were you in 2003 when this was going on?”  I was right here not thinking I had to bring the Library up as an “issue”, as it never was supposed to be addressed in their comment period because it was off the table.  No wonder they seem to not have any Public comment on the issue pertaining to the Fickett Library.  Now that I see the folks over at City Hall forgetting a few things, I’d like to point out the fact that if anyone has a “case closed”, it would be for those who support the Fickett Library to remain on the campus of the West Hollywood Park which was the agreement from the start. 

The City Manager took it upon himself this past Monday to belittle Mrs. Fickett and myself in regards to our conversation of honoring a true American Hero as well as reusing the Library as a functional Reception area for civil unions and marriages during Public Comment.  Mr. Arevalo should get back on track before getting spanked by CEQA.  The one championing all this “progress in the Park” at the same time closing doors on an important aspect of the Master Plan, I am absolutely befuddled to his arrogance and avoidance of skirting the issue of the Library was out of the deal way back in 2003. 

As the City Manager, Mr. Arevalo tends to all things relating to the City.  I understand it as I was once and Executive Producer overseeing all aspects of my production company in the same way Mr. Arevalo is to conduct his approach.  He is THE one to make sure the City stays on track and does not get a flat tire.  The fact he is completely unaware of the Errata Sheet is somewhat ironic and funny.  Mr. Arevalo calls the issue of the Fickett Library schmatta.  I call it Errata! 

Let this blog be another offering for Mr. Arevalo to review the speed bumps he is about to hit with the Master Plan and the State of California regulations of CEQA.  Watchful hint to get prepared for a new EIR if the City decides to proceed with the demolition currently planned in a few months.  Ah, the smell of injunctions in the morning.  For some, it is an acrid thought. For others it is only a last retort. 

In 2003, the Master Plan was presented and approved by the West Hollywood City Council.  In response to the findings of this Report and the negative impact on the Fickett architecture in the park, the City was required to do a Historical Survey of all of the Fickett designed buildings within the City of West Hollywood.  This Report is known as the DPR 925.  The City only returned to the table 6 properties that they deemed his designs.  This is a gross misrepresentation of the volume of work he created in the area.  

Mr. Fickett had worked on over 35 buildings in the West Hollywood area alone, not to mention his creation of Trousdale Estates and the private residence of Paul Trousdale in the 1950s along with many others in the area, just a hop skip and jump away from WEHO.  West Hollywood only came up with a handful of his work.  Really?  I could take them to more than 6 locations of his work within an hour.  But this is what is referred to as an insufficient survey of Mr. Fickett’s work in the area, which stands out as another sore thumb on behalf of the City and the Historical Preservation Commission ( HPC ) who should have be working closely with the outside Historical Agency working on the survey required by the Mitigated Negative Declaration ( MND ) established.  The only findings they provided were through the Historic Resources Survey Update presented in 2008 where only 6 Fickett works were surveyed; all being Multi-Unit complexes where only four of the six were said to have any merit to them.  It is apparent the HPC needs to start doing their job and actually understanding the architecture within the area they serve in order to do the job they are appointed.  Hence, this incomplete report ends up being another violation of the CEQA MND resolve.

Also, within this report, it is recommended to the City, by the outside agency handling the Historical review, to contact the widow of Mr. Fickett, as Joycie Fickett was, and still is, the historian of his work and to this day oversees Mr. Fickett's archives at USC. 
Coutesy of Joycie Fickett and the USC Archive
Not only was Joycie his love of his life, but maintained record of all of Edward Fickett's work.  The funny thing is, the City never bothered to reach out to her and find more information as the outside agency had suggested they do, in order for the City evaluate the full picture and scale of the work of the late architect who designed the West Hollywood Park.  And hence, the City proceeded with the CEQA required MND Historical survey of the Edward H. Fickett designed properties located in the West Hollywood area notating only six of the still existing properties in the area.

Ironically, the only positive thing the City did at the time was to remove the Fickett designed Library off the table and out of the project.  Yes.  This is true.  The Library was never supposed to be affected by the Master Plan and Capital Plan.  Due to the initial findings, the Fickett Library literally came off the table through an Eratta Sheet placed into the 2003 Master Plan which then became Exhibit "A" of the adopted 2004 Master Plan with which they are to be working from. 

The Errata Sheet, page 35, states:  "Delete reference to demolition of the existing Edward Fickett Library as part of this project."  Now, I am no legal scholar, but when I hear the word Errata, my ears kind of perk up.  Not many folks are familiar with an Errata.  It is most common in the world of publishing.  It is a rare occurrence as an Errata is something that happens after the fact.  Hence, when a publisher goes to print and discover after printing all the books a missing page, the publisher then has to hand place that particular page which was missing from the original print and hand place it into the printed book.

Hence, this is the same case for the 2003 Master Plan, page 35.  The Errata Sheet was placed into the file, thus removing the Library form the entire project!  I have reviewed and tracked the actions and decisions made by individuals representing the community over the past 10 years in regards to the historic nature of the Fickett Park.  And yes, similar to a can opener, I have actually taken the time to sit and review most information pertaining to the plans and construction involved with the Master Plan. 

CEQA is now concerned over the City’s actions as there may be some legal ramifications, if an understanding cannot be reached.  Here we go again, another lawsuit for the City?  Again irony chasses me.  The City is currently involved in a legal suit in relation to the development located at 1350 N Hayworth Avenue, which sits next door to a Historic Cultural Monument designed by Mr. Fickett.  Is there a Fickett conspiracy to tear down every last design of his and someone forgot to tell me? 

As 2004 approached, the City conceded to issues brought forth through public comment and the Environmental Impact Report ( EIR ) generated.  Within the 2003 Master Plan and adopted into the 2004 Plan, a MND was created to demonstrate the city's boundaries within the Master Plan.  As the City laid out their plans through the instructions of the MND, it also outlines the Phases of Construction of the Master Plan and Capital Project.  Within this MND, the City thus planned the development in 4 phases and was adopted as Resolution 04-3142.  These are the development phases for the city’s Master Plan:

  • Phase 1 - Library and Single Level Parking Structure.  "The construction of the library and parking structure will be completed without disturbing other facilities including the existing library."

  • Phase 2 - Aquatic Center and 2nd level of the Parking Structure.  "Upon completion of the aquatic center, the existing pool will be removed for the next phase of park expansion."

  • Phase 3 - Recreation Center and 3rd level of the Parking Structure. (Still no mention of razing the Fickett Library)

  • Phase 4 - Expanded Park (Long Term Proposals) "Removal of existing facilities along San Vicente Blvd will allow for build out of the expanded park.  San Vicente Blvd's right of way will be narrowed and shifted easterly." (This is what the City calls Capital Plan Phase 1B.)

It wasn't until November of 2008 when the first mention of the destruction of the Fickett Library was laid on the table.  This is now 6 years after the Initial Report.  Time passes and people lose track of the mission obviously as the City Manager again has overlooked some details and hence, an agenda point is brought to Council as agenda item 5.A of the November 2008 meeting.  It was decided the Mitigation Measures to Lessen the Construction Impacts for the New West Hollywood Library and Master Plan Phase 1 Implementation (Item 5.A).  This is where the city starts taking a hard right turn off the Master Plan road instructing the city to demolish the Fickett Library. 

Within the agenda item 5.A, the Council mentions the new approach to the development stating, "Finally, once the County has fully vacated their current building and moved into the new facility, the project will entail demolition of the old library and demolition of the parking lot adjacent to the library and will be 'greened' as part of the open space of West Hollywood Park with grass and other natural vegetation.  This project creates 2.5 acres of new green space for West Hollywood Park."

Now, after the City has pushed forward bullying their ideas and thoughts into a mis-guided plan, they realize what they have to do in order to get rid of the Fickett Library.  They create the Capital Project Phase 1B to get around the semantics of it actually being the Master Plan's Phase 4.  Again, the Master Plan Phase IV of construction is the same as the Capital Project Phase 1B.  Under the CEQA guidelines and the adopted MND, the city agreed to perform a new EIR prior to Phase IV commencing, which they have not done.  The Fickett Library sits in the area where the City wants to include it into their plans and then be done with it through a so-called Phase 1B.  This starts to get really silly at this point.  These folks have gotten off track back in 2003 and back in 2008. 

Knock, knock.  Mr. Manager?  Can I have a word with you?  You may need to take a break from West Hollywood to collect your thoughts as they are causing some havoc in relation to this Master Plan.  The City Manager’s office takes pride in winning awards for their budgetary prowess and gloat with their excuse of an award, but when it comes time to recognize a gentleman who really deserves an award and recognition, they have no time nor do they have any clue on seeing the Master Plan from the beginning to the end with the proper foresight and in turn avoiding litigation once more.  People are actually watching West Hollywood government now.  The idea that Council is voted into office from as little as 2,500 votes is ludicrous.  They are voted into office with as little as 2,500 votes and manage over 85 million dollars.  Yikes!  That is not representative of a democracy folks,  it a demonstration of a demo-CRAZY!

My thoughts are the City would want to avoid any reference to Phase 4 of the development of the Master Plan.  Why you may ask?  Because the City understands through their Mitigated Negative Declaration they had to concede to a new EIR to be performed prior to the Park's "Expansion" (MP-Phase 4, CP-Phase 1B) Phase.  The funny thing is I am not really sure what the Capital Plan Phase 1A is?  Did they start yet?  Are they skipping it and going right to 1B?  They never laid that plan out for anyone to see. 

Hence, my mystery surrounding this new Phase 1B is valid and should be noted and addressed by the City.  Mr. Arevalo believes his own dictate.  He has to or no one else could possibly follow suit as the Library issue is a “Closed-case”, as he puts it.  Truth be told, Mr. Arevalo has no vision to see anything other than grass at this point.  How tragic and idea of keeping a few buildings as a memorial to such an important individual to the fabric of this country.  Mr. Arevalo’s only way out of getting rid of the Fickett Library is by his creative plan for the Capital Project Phase 1B.  The impression Mr. Arevalo gives is he is the final decision maker through the process. 

The fact remains.  The Edward Fickett Library was never to be included in the project as it legally came out of the project way back in 2003.  The question is how many Council members actually are aware of this fact?  It is up to the City Manager and legal counsel to help guide these individuals through a path of least resistance.  A path few individuals have taken, only demonstrating the personal desires of these civic leaders and not that of the people within the West Hollywood.

Hence, having the Errata Sheet early on in the project, it essentially removed the Fickett Library from any reports done in regards to the park and the MNDs that were addressed, unrelated to the Library, as it wasn't even part of the project at that point!  The Library stands free and clear of all legislation that has passed with the exception of this past May when Council approved the design stage of the "Expansion" phase known as CP1B or MPIV. 
Jenkins, Avevalo, D'Amico, Prang, Duran, & Land
So where do things stand now?  You got me?  After presenting alternatives to the city on behalf of LA Conservancy's MODCOM and Los Angeles Modern Action Council, it is clear the City wants no more conversation about the Fickett Library.  No one takes my calls.  No one takes Mrs. Fickett's calls.  The only Councilperson to engage in conversation has been the Mayor.  Mayor Duran's response in keeping the Fickett Library was, "I have a commitment to my constituents requesting more green in the park."  I haven’t heard the same nor seen the responses from people requesting this to be true.  The fact is, the City has had very little public comment in relation to the overall project.  Just because their design team wants to level everything in the Park, they might have to reconsider a re-use plan to implement or get ready to prepare another EIR and go through a huge legal battle.

There have been occasion when the subject is on an agenda, but the City never reaches it and thus never rescheduling the discussion.  Hence, when you here folks say, we gave the public ample time to respond, you must also take into consideration cancelled meetings, interrupted meetings, meetings that the agenda point is not addressed and so forth…  You must also be on your toes with the City, folks.  They keep you running.

I have only found one compassionate ear thus far to even explore the idea of reusing the buildings in some fashion, such as a Reception Hall in memory of the original mastermind behind the 1950s designed West Hollywood Park. Only one other member in City Hall has received me and actually listened to what I had to say without me feeling I was speaking to a wall of political-speak.  I know there is fresh blood in City Hall and there is a feeling of change around the corner in so many aspects of our lives.  Again, to stay within the guidelines and just act accordingly is asking too much from a city?  Is this Bell?  Perhaps I need to throw out the Freedom of Information Act at the entire City so we can all then assess the performances of the elected officials, their deputies, appointed officials and contractors, in the fairness of the people.

I bet I could write a book just based on the chatter within the walls of City Hall. 

Council completely shut down Mrs. Fickett and me last Monday evening on July 18.  They were not interested in hearing concern coming from the community.  No acknowledgement made to the 300+ letters given to the City in regards to keeping the Fickett Library?  What about the 150 people who have supported the Facebook page SAVE WEST HOLLYWOOD LIBRARY – Edward Fickett, 1960s, created just weeks ago?  When I looked to see who had become fans of the page, I noticed the new Library in our support.  Oh, the irony of it all.  Truth be, a library is a place for archives.  A piece of architecture is of the same principal with it equally as important with the written word archived in the library or the painted oil archived in the museum.  Architecture is not some trivial thought.  Architecture with any merit can endure the test of time, as in the case of the Fickett Library.
New WEHO Library in support of the old Fickett
I find it very odd the City has done nothing to notate the impact Mr. Fickett had on our community in West Hollywood.  Even when Mayor Duran was asked, he retorted, “The City is still engaged in the planning of the New Library”, suggesting an afterthought of some kind for Mr. Fickett.  The City takes pride in celebrating individuals for their achievements.  Who am I to say who should be recognized and who should not?  The Council has supported recognizing Ron Stone, a man known for being gay and pushed for the annexation of the city from Los Angeles.  They recognize Pat Norton, the librarian who served in Mr. Fickett's building for over 50 years by designating a wing of the new library in her name.  When it comes to Mr. Fickett, the man who designed the first openly declared restaurant The Gala in West Hollywood (old Spago, Hollywood), designed the West Hollywood Park, designed numerous multi-unit affordable housing complexes including the Historic Cultural Monument, Hollywood Riviera as well as private residences in West Hollywood; but no mention to him or any recognition towards his countless contributions to the community.  This is a sad truth. 

Edward H. Fickett, though a Navy man and some would question his attitude, he was one of the most compassionate architects of our history in America towards gays.  His thoughts and desires to please everyone around him whether wealthy or modest, gay or straight, black or white, did not matter as his heart and soul was poured into every foundation ever created by him.  He was so devoted of the community of West Hollywood, he designed and built a satellite office at 9026 Melrose Avenue, only 2 miles away from his Beverly Blvd location in order to be around the work going on at the time.  He literally designed and built the Melrose studio so he could be a part of the vibrant city of WEHO.  

When it came to the West Hollywood Park, Mr. Fickett went above and beyond creating a village of various buildings thus creating a wonderland of Mid-Century Modern architecture.  Each building had it's own flavor, but also had a cohesiveness to the entire park to present itself as one beautiful Master Plan.  The Library was his first building of his Master Plan to be built. 

At the time in the late 50s, the City chose to approach the construction in three phases.  The Library was Phase I, and Mr. Fickett went above and beyond on this design for the most Modern library of its time.  "The Library was Eddie's pride and joy," Mrs. Fickett told me.  She remembered her first date with Mr. Fickett.  "We walked through the park together and we were standing in front of the Library between the Aqauatic Center Pool House and the Library under the trellis.  Eddie was asking me if I liked the design and of course, I said yes."  Mr. Fickett's response was, "Good, because I designed it!"  The two continued their date as they walked through the park and Mr. Fickett courted Joycie with thoughts expressing his Modern philosophies and nothing better to use an example of the period than the West Hollywood Park itself. and great sense of humor.  and development of the structure.  Well, we all know what happens to that love story... 

Having Joycie Fickett amongst us with her exuberance towards her husband's work is like having a piece of Mr. Fickett with us. Once married to Mr. Fickett, Joycie never left his side and traveled with him everywhere.  At the same time, she became a student of his work and understood Mr. Fickett’s perspective like no other.  If only the city took the initial recommendation from the outside agency to reach out to her to discuss his work and took a moment to educate themselves, we may not be at this point now fighting to keep his legacy alive by the reuse of the facility in honor of her husband. His abrupt passing is still felt by many whom live in his homes and buildings in the area and worldwide.  This is a man people would line up for to purchase his Fickett homes.  And he adored the people, the regular people; the people who worked hard for a modest wage.  He felt they too were entitled to a better life and he did his best to serve us well. 

I stopped by another of his designs located at 800 Robertson Blvd. Yesterday.  I visited with folks that have offices in the building.  When I told them I was there on behalf of research on Mr. Fickett, they opened their door, offered me water and kept telling me over and over again how much they love Mr. Fickett's work and how inspired they are within the walls of this particular Mid-Century modern office building.  When people who know about architecture and design tell you right off the bat the man you are discussing is a legend, it is hard to then go into the politics of West Hollywood where there is no recognition whatsoever by the current team.   It comes across as dealing with people who do not truly understand the value of these precious architectural jewels.

Sadly, the city keeps moving forward with plans to destroy important work from one of the most important architect's of American history.  Now that his buildings have dwindled to a handful in the West Hollywood area, it is important to hold onto these structures for our future generations to see.  There are many ideas for re-use of the Fickett Library.  One plan actually calls for the City to keep the Bath House, too!  This concept is the Edward H. Fickett Reception Hall concept, which would convert the Aquatic Center's Bath House into a practical Kitchen.  The Library would be cleared and renovated to accommodate receptions.  The metal Trellis between the two structures should stay intact as ceremonies could be performed under the gorgeous vines above, sheltering folks from the harsh sun.  Let's face it, West Hollywood does not have a Civic venue that can accommodate a civil union / marriage for more than 12-15 people and certainly there is no area for receptions.  Sadly, Kings Road Park cannot accommodate something sizable.

When I spoke with the American Institute of Architects in Washington, DC last week to give them an update as to my findings, they could not have been more thrilled to hear we may have some preventative measures to stop the razing of who they deem “An American Architectural Hero”, due to the vast amount of contributions he has made to our nation.  People do not understand the merits of the AIA.  This is like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  Becoming a member of the AIA is almost like winning an Oscar.  When an architect achieves Fellow, FAIA, it is like winning the Academy President’s Award.  There are very few architects who are distinguished with this recognition and Mr. Fickett is one of the elite.  He would be the most adorned if in the Oscar race. 

If the City officials actually want to do right by this situation, there is an easy way out of some egg in the face.  Why can't the City act responsible before any lawyers have to get involved with CEQA violations in respect to Title 14, Article 11, Sections 15162 and 15165?  Both Preservationists / Historians as well as Public servants can come to some sort of new vision here in the park regardless where they are in the development stage.  They have to stay within the original adoption of this Master Plan until they would like to adopt a new Master Plan.  With the advent of same sex marriage around the corner, converting these buildings into a re-use philosophy address everyone's needs as the community can continue to appreciate the work of Mr. Fickett, keep Cultural Heritage while preserving work that cannot be placed on a museum wall.

Please support the efforts in saving the Edward H. Fickett, FAIA Library, call your local council person and make a comment today!.  You can find a list of West Hollywood phone numbers here.  Click here for more examples of Mr. Fickett's architecture in West Hollywood.

For further information, contact modernhomesLA.  Thank you. 

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