Copyright 1991 The Times Mirror Company
Los Angeles Times


September 22, 1991, Sunday, Home Edition

SECTION: Metro; Part B; Page 1; Column 2; Metro Desk

LENGTH: 1604 words

HEADLINE: MIRACLE RILED;
TENANTS, LANDLORDS AT ODDS OVER RAZING OF APARTMENTS

BYLINE: By BETTINA BOXALL, TIMES STAFF WRITER


Two years ago, when developers tore down Barbara Caplan's apartment house
on Detroit Street, she moved only a few blocks away, determined to stay in
a neighborhood she loved for its gracious old buildings and sense of
community.

Caplan's new landlord assured her that he was against the redevelopment
rippling through the neighborhood, and that he had no interest in selling
out. A year later he did just that. In June, Caplan once more packed up
her belongings and teen-age cat to escape the wrecking ball.

Such is life in 13 square blocks of Miracle Mile just north of Wilshire
Boulevard. Nearly 50 small apartment houses have been bulldozed in the
past four years to make way for much larger "luxury" buildings that are
dramatically transforming a slice of old Los Angeles. The explosion of
demolitions and construction has given the neighborhood something of a
post-earthquake quality. Streets are potholed from heavy equipment, and
vacant lots sit for months, as conspicuous as a missing tooth.

Hundreds of tenants have been evicted as 60-year-old period revival
buildings with wood-beamed ceilings and hand-plastered walls have fallen
one by one, replaced by new stucco apartment houses with rooftop swimming
pools, two-tiered parking garages and markedly higher rents.

The changes in Miracle Mile have been wrenching, breeding resentment and
anti-development efforts on the part of renters, an eclectic mix of
struggling artistic types, elderly and young professionals. They mourn the
loss not only of fancifully designed '20s and '30s buildings with gables
and towers, but also the destruction of relatively affordable housing,
intimate streetscapes and a way of living that is increasingly hard to
find in Los Angeles as demands for greater density, preservation and
affordable housing clash.

"We're all like these fleeing refugees looking for a home," lamented Mark
Rosman, a 33-year-old film director and writer who lived in the same
Hauser Boulevard apartment house as Caplan before it was leveled earlier
this summer. "What neighborhood is next? Do I go south of Wilshire? Do I
go north of Beverly? When are those places going to start going?"

Even residents of the new apartment houses seem to have mixed feelings
about the metamorphosis of Detroit, Cloverdale and nearby streets. "I
think it's a shame," said Chris Bomkamp, a USC senior who fled university
housing for a new, $1,200-a-month, two-bedroom apartment in Brighton
Villa. "It's the mentality of making a quick buck. And older people and
people who don't have the money are being pushed out."

The tear-downs began in 1987, after a Los Angeles company, Homestead Group
Associates, decided that the centrally located and increasingly trendy
district was ripe for redevelopment -- particularly since it always had
been zoned for density more than double what existed with the six- to
eight-unit, two-story apartment buildings that dominated the area.

When word got around that Homestead had bought a dozen apartment houses
and planned to raze them for new buildings, a tenants group sprang up in
vocal opposition. Members staged protests and tried to get historic
preservation protection for the neighborhood and a moratorium on the
demolitions. When they failed, rebuffed by a City Council intent on
creating more housing, the activists splattered red paint on the vacated
buildings to symbolize blood.

The tenant leaders moved away and the group dissolved, but resistance to
the redevelopment has simmered. As other companies followed in Homestead's
wake and the new buildings popped up on block after block, so did
anti-development graffiti.

"Ugly."

"Overpriced."

'Another example of post-Modern urban blight."

"Their construction is our destruction."

Such scribblings appeared overnight on construction fencing and
advertisements for the new apartment houses, vying with the developer
descriptions of "luxurious," "sassy," and "fitness and leisure
apartments."

The graffiti struck a chord with Denise Robb, a legal secretary and
stand-up comic whose Cloverdale Avenue apartment is virtually surrounded
by new buildings. She and her boyfriend started to organize another round
of opposition to the development.

In the past six months, her group, the Miracle Mile Action Committee, has
picketed construction sites, shouting such phrases as "Stop corporate
greed," and gone to City Hall, asking again for historic protection for
the neighborhood or a decrease in density.

"All the buildings I thought were so beautiful were being torn down like
that," Robb said, snapping her fingers. "You see the fence, the wrecking
ball and it's gone. It's like it didn't even exist."

The resurgent renter opposition has infuriated many owners of the older
buildings, whose properties are more valuable as a four-story building lot
than as a two-story apartment house.

"All these kids care about is low rents," snarled one landlady as she
watched a small protest at a neighborhood construction site earlier this
year. "In two years' time, half of them won't even be living here."

Another landlord, Jeffrey Fader, who owns 12 older buildings in the area,
has taken a cue from Robb and organized the district's property owners
against the downzoning efforts.

"I don't want my values diminished," stressed Fader, sitting in his
Fairfax Avenue office under photographs of his buildings, named after
family members. He insists that he has no plans to sell his properties,
but would nonetheless "like the option to get as much money for them as I
can.

"For the tenant to tell the landlord what to do is very communistic," he
complained. "This is a free country. It's a capitalistic country."

Others in his group argue that it makes no sense to downzone the area when
it is bounded by two of the city's major commercial thoroughfares,
Wilshire Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, making it a logical spot for higher
density.

"If you're going to stop housing, you'd better stop commercial
development," remarked Shane Astani, whose company, Astani Industries, is
a partner in three new buildings and is constructing a fourth on its own.

Lobbied by both sides, the city councilman for the district, Council
President John Ferraro, has adopted a middle-of-the-road position. His
office recently drew up a proposal that would not stop the tear-downs but
would lower density and height limits, as well as adding requirements for
guest parking at the new buildings.

"It won't be as attractive to demolish," suggested Ferraro, who said his
office is concerned not only about increasing congestion in the district
but also about the loss of affordable housing.

"We're tearing down affordable housing and building housing that is not
affordable," remarked Renee Weitzer, Ferraro's planning deputy. "All the
new buildings have higher rents than the old buildings."

Fader's one-bedroom units, for example, rent for $625 to $725 a month,
about $200 less than the new buildings charge. Unlike the older
apartments, the new units are also not subject to rent controls, which do
not apply to buildings constructed after 1978.

Ferraro's answer is to require the inclusion of low-income apartments in
new buildings. Along with a density reduction, his proposal, which must go
before the city Planning Commission and the council, would require that
15% of the units in newly constructed apartment houses be set aside for
low-income tenants.

Another compromise addresses the eviction of the elderly -- one of the
major rallying cries in the crusade against Homestead's development plans
four years ago. The company agreed to help establish a 28-unit housing
project for low-income senior citizens.

Homestead found a nonprofit foundation connected with the Jewish
Federation Council to operate the $3-million, HUD-subsidized project,
which will require yet another demolition and more evictions. It is to be
built on a corner now occupied by a three-unit building Robb's group has
vainly tried to save, at 4th Street and Cochran.

In the meantime, the higher rents of the new buildings have made them more
difficult to fill than the developers originally anticipated, said Marty
Shelton, a broker with CB Commercial. Rent discounts and leasing
concessions have helped attract tenants, but still, some of the new
apartment houses have vacancy rates of 10% to 25%. "Open House" signs and
"Now Leasing" banners are ubiquitous, permanent fixtures on the pebbled
stucco walls of the new apartments.

For all the venom heaped on them by development opponents, the new
buildings do have their fans. "It's an instant building, but I enjoy
living in it," said a recent transplant from Chicago. "It's sort of a
pleasure to have my first dishwasher and air conditioning."

He added that he thought the neighborhood was well rid of some of the old
apartment houses, which he called "dumps." Yet, he too had reservations
about the wholesale redevelopment of the district.

"I wouldn't like to see them all go. I would like to see a cap put on the
new buildings. It's getting a little out of hand, especially when they
can't fill them."

After a long and frustrating search, Caplan, a legal secretary and dance
instructor with ramrod straight posture, went west to a 1950s building in
Beverly Hills.

"It ain't what it was," she said with a sigh, grieving for the charm,
space and closets she lost with the destruction of her Miracle Mile home.
"I still get sad when I think of that place."

Changing Neighborhood

The Miracle Mile apartment district has been the site of ongoing
demolitions as older buildings are torn down to make way for much larger
complexes.

GRAPHIC: Photo, Mark Rosman and Barbara Caplan at the site of a building
where they used to have apartments. The building, on Hauser Boulevard in
Miracle Mile, was torn down this summer. ; Photo, (A2) A Miracle Lost?: In
the Miracle Mile district, nearly 50 small apartment houses have been
bulldozed in the past four years to make way for larger, "luxury"
buildings. Hundreds of residents have been evicted as a slice of old L.A.
has taken on a dramatically new face. Onetime neighbors Mark Rosman and
Barbara Caplan return to the site of their old building, above. JEFF SHARE
/ For The Times; Photo, Protesters demonstrate at Detroit Street
construction site in May. LORI SHEPLER / Los Angeles Times; Map, Changing
Neighborhood / Los Angeles Times