Group Seeks to Block Rehab Center Demolition

By Matt Thacker on May 30

AbilityFirst wants to sell the Paul Weston Work Center at 6530 N. Winnetka Ave. to a buyer which plans to demolish the building and construct an 85,000-square-foot eldercare facility.
AbilityFirst wants to sell the Paul Weston Work Center at 6530 N. Winnetka Ave. to a buyer which plans to demolish the building and construct an 85,000-square-foot eldercare facility.

The proposed demolition of a Woodland Hills rehabilitation center to make room for an eldercare facility may need further evaluation after a historic preservation group warned the structure is a potential historic resource.

AbilityFirst, a Pasadena-based nonprofit organization, has owned the property at 6530 N. Winnetka Ave. since 1954. The 12,000-square-foot building was designed by influential Los Angeles architect John Lautner and constructed in 1979 as the Crippled Children’s Society Rehabilitation Center.

The building is now known as the Paul Weston Work Center. AbilityFirst and Oakmont Senior Living, a potential buyer of the property, submitted a proposal to demolish the building and replace it with an 85,000-square-foot eldercare facility with 37 parking spaces. The proposed facility would include 81 guestrooms – 75 percent used for assisted living care housing and 25 percent for Alzheimer’s and dementia care housing.

The Los Angeles Conservancy, which had featured the building as part of a program about significant modernist architecture in the San Fernando Valley, found out about the project on May 19. AbilityFirst and Oakmont were scheduled to appear at a Zoning Administration hearing the next day to ask the city for a variance and site plan approval. Conservancy representatives attended the May 20 hearing and testified the center is architecturally significant and has been identified as a potential historic resource.

The building features a unique pie-shaped design with each department’s wing alternating with landscaped areas. A raised, centrally located office allowed the director to see everything in the center without using cameras. SurveyLA described the center as an “excellent example of Late Modern/Expressionist architecture,” while the conservancy calls it a “rare example of institutional-based design and commission.”

In March 2013, SurveyLA identified the structure as a potential historic resource eligible for the California Register and local listing. The conservancy claims City Planning’s Office of Historic Resource, which coordinated the SurveyLA program to identify significant historic resources in Los Angeles, was not consulted about the proposed project.

The Department of City Planning determined the project had no potential historic or cultural resources and issued a Mitigated Negative Declaration in April. The conservancy argues those findings, which did not mention SurveyLA, were based on flawed analysis.

AbilityFirst President Lori E. Gangemi said she was not aware the building had been mentioned by SurveyLA, and if an official notice had been sent, she believes a copy would have arrived in her office.

“We were surprised when the LA Conservancy at the planning hearing and raised their concerns about the building, so we’re trying to get more information,” she said. “We just found out about this last week, so we’re still in the information-gathering stage.”

Gangemi said they use the facility to provide job training for adults with developmental disabilities. They are looking to sell the property and relocate to a warehouse in the immediate vicinity where they can use a loading dock and high ceilings to offer the best training for people with disabilities.

Although AbilityFirst has promoted the project, Gangemi said the buyer will decide what to do with the property.

“We’re trying not to get too involved in what happens with the building, but apparently that’s going to be part of the conversation going forward,” she said.

An Environmental Impact Report is required to demolish a structure deemed a historic resource under the California Environmental Quality Act. Although the rehabilitation center does not appear on an official register, the conservancy argues an Environmental Impact Report is necessary in this case because of the SurveyLA report.

During the environmental review process, the project’s lead agency would need to identify and consider viable alternatives to demolition, according to the conservancy. Members of the public would also have more opportunities to provide input.

“There appears to be an opportunity for development on the site while retaining and adaptively reusing the original building,” Adrian Scott Fine, the conservancy’s director of advocacy, wrote to City Planner Theodore Irving.

The Department of City Planning accepted public comments through Tuesday. City Planning officials have not indicated when a decision may be released.

The LA Conservancy calls this building designed by architect James Lautner "architecturally significant." [Credit: Los Angeles Conservancy]
This building designed by architect John Lautner and described as “architecturally significant” by the Los Angeles Conservancy uses alternating wings and landscaping to create lighting and shadowing. [Credit: Los Angeles Conservancy]
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