Beverly Hills moves to limit destruction of historic homes

  • @guyadams

They are as much a part of the civic landscape as palm trees, five-star hotels and celebrities dodging paparazzi outside luxury goods stores. But in a bid to preserve what remains of its cultural heritage, Beverly Hills is seeking to stop its well-heeled residents from building ever larger McMansions.

The city council is considering a plan to halt the demolition of culturally significant buildings by the endless tide of millionaires and billionaires seeking to create a dream home in the famously extravagant neighbourhood, where large properties, with a couple of acres of garden, fetch upwards of $20m (£12m).

At present, Beverly Hills is one of the few areas of Los Angeles where landowners are free to demolish existing historic properties and build brand new ones. In recent years, that has seen a succession of buildings designed by important 20th century architects being razed. The issue came to a head last week when the council voted to place a moratorium on plans by a developer to destroy the Kronish house (pictured right), designed by Richard Neutra in 1954, until a preservation project could be properly considered.

"We need to button down some sort of ordinance that addresses preservation needs," the Beverly Hills Mayor, Barry Brucker, told the Associated Press. "There is something wrong with having a historically important building [where] you take out a demolition permit, and 10 days later you can take a sledgehammer to it."

Today's wealthy newcomers often consider older homes to be too small. The average size of a detached home within the city's 90210 postcode area, which has about 35,000 residents, has risen from roughly 4,000 square feet in the 1970s to more than 7,300 square feet today. Faced with a choice between making do with a historic property and plonking down a bigger new one, most opt for demolition. The Shusett house, designed by John Lautner in the early 1950s, is in the middle of being replaced by one three times its size.

Properties by Paul Williams and Frank Lloyd Wright have disappeared in the last decade, and the trend has also led to the loss of buildings occupied by famous former residents of Beverly Hills. In 2005, the composer George Gershwin's former home, a Mediterranean villa later owned by the singer Rosemary Clooney, was torn down.

Mr Brucker said he would carefully phrase the new law so as not to provide blanket protection for any home which was once inhabited by a famous person, a move which would in theory limit development of a huge proportion of the properties in the city.

"You have homes that various famous people lived in, but does that make them historic?" he asked.

"I really want to send things off to the planning commission so we're not all over the map and protecting a home that Ozzy Osbourne lived in or [David] Beckham lived in just because they were famous."