Saturday, July 14, 2012

Fickett's Sunset Lanai: Protecting A Cultural Resource

Built in 1952 by “American Hero”, Edward H. Fickett, FAIA, the Sunset Lanai Apartments is one of the handful of exemplary work by the mid-century modern master and once known as an urban oasis.  The West Hollywood Historic Preservation Commission and City Council have both voted in support of designating the Sunset Lanai as a cultural resource.  
Sunset Lanai Apartments, Edward H. Fickett, FAIA, 1952
Unfortunately, the owners of the property, Edwin Silver and Family take no pride of ownership with this property and are declaring financial burdens associated with historic designation calling for an appeal of the nomination. 
Courtesy USC Archive and Fickett Estate
When it comes to preservation and restoration, the costs are not that much more than general contract work.  The key is finding the right contractors to do the work professionally and with integrity to the original design.  In fact, if the owner’s chose to accept the designation and file for the Mills Act through application, they would have a great opportunity to relieve themselves of certain taxes associated with the restoration to lower repair costs. 
1422 N Sweeter Avenue - Sunset Lanai Apartments - 1952
Mind you, most of the costs associated in their complaints and cost analysis delivered to Council are for the repairs of general upkeep that any building owner must maintain, such as a new roof, upgrading general building systems, general upkeep and maintenance and termite control.  Again, basic items all buildings have to maintain or replace from time-to-time to help maintain structural integrity.
Edward H. Fickett signature floor-to-ceiling windows
Now, it seems the Silver Family is placing these common financial burdens of owning a business onto the City’s shoulders. Through the years, they have proven they do not like to spend money on the building.  
Edward H. Fickett signature steel railing
The Sunset Lanai has been in the Silver family since the beginning.  Edwin Silver and Family purchased the 20-unit apartment complex from his brother’s estate, i.e. pennies to the dollar.  His brother, a surgeon at Cedars Sinai was the original owner purchasing the complex from developer, George Alexander.
Courtesy USC Archive and Fickett Estate
One of the major costs to the owners is building systems, which include electrical upgrading to include individual meters.  Since the building was built in the mid-century, things have changed, but the Silver’s never kept up with time.  Instead, they are crying the financial burden to run a business is just too much.  Like in any business, “too hot in the kitchen, then time to get out.”  If you do not like being in the business of being a landlord, then time to sell and move on.
Lighting fixtures designed by Edward H. Fickett, FAIA
Fortunately, Mr. Fickett built a fine example of mid-century modern architecture and design through his engineering and thoughtfulness that can still be seen today through the hidden jungle you are greeted by.
Some alterations have occurred, but do not take away from design
The shortsightedness on behalf of the Silver’s to not see the true reward in up-keeping a cultural resource. Another financial point in favor of designation is that the value of the property increases with historic status.  I have never heard anyone say, “It’s a landmark, must be worthless?”
Fire raged 3-5-12 at the Sunset Lanai damaging units
Like in any business there is a potential for failure.  If Mr. Silver wants to turn a designation of a historic building into a way to have the city pay for general upkeep costs because he is cash-poor, I want to win the lottery, too! 

Unfortunately, even if the City Council denies the owner’s appeal, there could be further ramifications made by these owners through litigation, but welcome to West Hollywood, folks.  Mark Lehman (Soho House, WeHo Chamber of Commerce), attorney for the Edwin Silver Family states in the written appeal to the City:
“Designation of this questionable Property as a local cultural resource would no doubt impose severe economic hardship over the long-term and force the Property Owners to consider Ellis [Act] or other avenues to alleviate the hardship.”
Still feeling like an urban oasis
I would not recommend the Ellis Act approach if all ready claiming to be cash-poor.  What income would they have for seven years after declaration and relocating tenants?  The Silver’s would also have to relocate the five units occupied by extended family members who currently live in the building.  Somehow the conditions of this building are suitable for the owner’s extended family, but not worthy enough for the owner to properly maintain?  The financial costs associated with the Ellis Act are only suitable for the big players, which the Silvers are not.
Courtesy USC Archive and Fickett Estate
The appeal being made by the Silver’s is just bogus and a way for them to get the City to pay for general business costs.  I say deny them the appeal and start citing code violations.  The City can then place a lien if the violations are not paid.  This would give the City a little more power of persuasion to convince the Silver’s to clean up their act and be responsible business-owners. 

The City Council votes on the appeal (Public Hearing item 3.A) Monday evening, starting at 6:30pm in the Council Chamber.

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