March 22, 2006
Huizar Proposal Would Close Razing Loophole
An order to investigate the demolition of a historic Jewish Community Center (JCC) building in Boyle Heights is now on the agenda of the Los Angeles City Council.
Under a motion introduced March 22 by Councilmember Jose Huizar, whose district includes Boyle Heights, municipal departments would be ordered to explain why they greenlighted the razing of the structure without requiring a demolition permit notifying neighborhood organizations and officials.
The motion would also require the city's Planning Department and the Department of Building and Safety to review current ordinances and close any loopholes to prevent a similar fate for other cultural and historical landmarks.
At an outdoor news conference Wednesday, adjoining the historic Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights, Huizar said, "I am deeply concerned by the loss of the Jewish Community Center, and I am here today to call for action that will help ensure that this community -- and this city -- protect what remains of our cultural heritage."
Huizar said he would instruct the appropriate departments to survey all of Los Angeles to identify similar sites that may not have been officially designated as historic landmarks. Currently, some 800 such landmarks are registered.
The new burst of activity was triggered by a report in The Journal that the former Soto-Michigan JCC building, later known as the Eastside JCC, had been razed by a developer without public notice or demolition permit.
The building was of architectural, as well as historical, significance. It was designed by Raphael Soriano, who helped pioneer the architectural style known as California Modernism.
Dedicated in 1939 to keep Jewish kids off the street and away from "potentially demoralizing influences," the building became the All Nations' Center in 1958, as the community became increasingly Latino.
After the structure was razed in late February by a private San Diego developer, The Journal learned that the developer would erect a new structure to be leased to the U.S. government for a Social Security office.
The federal government does not have to comply with city regulations, such as obtaining a demolition permit. However, one gray area Huizar intends to probe is whether the exemption rule applies when a private company takes over and then leases the property to a federal entity.
Huizar was joined at the news conference by Latino community leaders and by Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, senior vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Stephen Sass, president of the regional Jewish Historical Society; and Ken Bernstein, director of preservation with the Los Angeles Conservancy.
The JCC and similar sites are "a reflection of what was, and what can be again, an opportunity for our diverse citizens to create a future that intersects in meaningful ways," Schwart-Getzug said.
Sass, who was instrumental in preventing the destruction of the Breed Street Shul in 1988, said that efforts are under way to renovate the impressive shul's structure as a multicultural community center.
Bernstein pointed out that only 15 percent of Los Angeles has been surveyed for possible cultural and historic landmarks.
"Some 85 percent of the city is a blank slate," he said.
Also on hand was Rosalie Turrola, a high school counselor and lifelong Boyle Heights resident, who told The Journal that she recalled her former Jewish neighbors fondly.
"I remember everyone lighting candles on Friday nights, and I loved the potato pancakes," she said. " I had a nice neighbor who always called me a 'shayne maidele' [pretty girl].
"In those days, I used to be a Mexican-American, now I've turned into a Chicana."