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Glendale City Council expected to approve 100th historic property

Laws and LegislationConservationBuilding Material

It looked other-worldly, three-stories high and offering 55,000 square feet of floor space, floating above four triangular posts at the corner of Glendale Boulevard and East Broadway.

“It was kind of like a spaceship. It just hovered there,” longtime resident Michael Morgan recalled of riding past the Municipal Services Building in the 1960s on his bicycle. “This was a whole new kind of vision for Glendale.”

PHOTOS: Historic buildings in Glendale 

In 1966, the building was the only one of its size in the Southland supported by pointed legs, known as pilotis. Newspaper headlines called it “eye-catching” and “unusual.” The city manager at the time said the building reflected “the evolution of Glendale from a suburban bedroom community to an independent city.”

Nearly 50 years later, the former 12-year-old bicyclist, now a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, and four other Historic Preservation Commissioners this week voted for the building to represent the 100th symbol of Glendale's past. The decision clears the way for final City Council approval in the coming months.

GRAPHIC: Glendale's historic properties

Designating the 100th historic property underlines Glendale's devotion to preservation, history lovers said, but choosing a city building, especially one that represents a modern age and an important period in the city's growth, to mark the milestone adds an extra layer of significance.

“We need to preserve modern buildings just as much as the others,” said Desiree Shier, president of the Historic Preservation Commission. “It's about preserving properties that represent our history over time.”

History of preservation

It wasn't until 10 years after the construction of the Municipal Services Building, known by City Hall regulars as the “building on stilts,” that a preservation element highlighting the importance of historic properties was added to the city's general plan.

This came as a development boom took hold in the 1970s. The city evolved after the construction of the Ventura (134) and Glendale (2) freeways. Multi-unit buildings changed the face of some neighborhoods and the Glendale Galleria made the city a retail draw. The Glendale Historical Society was formed in 1979 partly to protect historic resources at risk of demolition.

Another 20 years would pass though before any specific preservation rules were codified. In 1997, the City Council passed the first historic preservation ordinance establishing the Register of Historic Resources, said Senior Planner Jay Platt.

At that time, city officials placed 37 properties identified in a 1977 preservation plan on the list. They include private and public buildings, from the Italian Renaissance-style U.S Post Office on Broadway to a 1931 Zig-zag Moderne residence on Glenoaks Boulevard.

Being on the register triggers rules that restrict owners from drastically changing a building's historic character. If an owner of a historic resource wants to renovate their property, he or she must go to the Historic Preservation Commission for approval.

“We manage the change,” Platt said. “We don't freeze the buildings in time.”

In that way, the city's list is different from the National Register of Historic Resources sanctioned by the federal government. While the National Register honors a property's historic significance, it doesn't protect it unless changes linked to federal funding are proposed, Platt said.

Click on the blue icons to view the locations of historically-designated properties in Glendale.

Getting on the list

The historical society has played an integral role in getting buildings on the register, with many properties featured on the group's home tours ending up there, said President Greg Grammer.

That's what happened to Richard Bloch and his 1973 home perched atop a windy hillside street in the Brockmont neighborhood. The modern structure is partially encased in roughly 900 square feet of glass, with mountain and urban views from nearly every room.

“It's nothing but a glass box, which doesn't make it grand, but it makes it interesting,” Bloch said.

He never planned on applying for the historic register until someone slipped a note under his front door nearly six years ago asking if he'd be interested in including the property in a home tour for the historical society. Bloch has since shown his house multiple times and applied to be on the register after Platt nudged him.

There are just a handful of modern buildings like Bloch's on the register, with Spanish Colonial Revival as the most prevalent style. Shier lives in a striking Spanish Colonial Revival home in the Rossmoyne district with her husband, Al. It has all the classic details: ironwork, Spanish tile, white stucco walls and heavy woodwork.

Unlike Bloch, the Shiers had long desired to put their home, in bad shape when they bought it six years ago, on the register. They replaced 1970s aluminum windows with wood ones that resembled original 1928 features. They painstakingly searched for antique doorknobs and special tiles, finding the mosaic around their front door featured in the “Encyclopedia of American Art Tiles” during the search.

“We bought the house to save it,” Desiree Shier said, adding that before they restored it, the house didn't have a chance at historic designation because of the changes to its original character. “We'd like the house to have some kind of protection once we're gone.”

The couple has a Mills Act contract with the city, which means they pay less in property tax in exchange for abiding by preservation rules and required improvements, such as repairing a broken fountain designed by a famous early 20th Century art tile maker and replacing a garage door. 

Glendale began permitting the tax reductions in 2002, encouraging even more applicants for historic designation, Platt said. Nearly all, or 53, of the properties designated after 2002 have a Mills Act contract. 

Five properties, including Bloch's house, designated after 2002 do not. Four properties that were already on the register before 2002 later applied for the reduction, which is calculated based on several factors, including estimated rental income, operating expenses and a historic risk component. The tax discount for each property can be significant, but it varies.

The Shiers wanted a Mills Act contract to help offset some preservation expenses, but the discount doesn't cover all their improvements.

“You do this because you're passionate about it, not because you want to make money off historic preservation,” Desiree Shier said. 

Controversy

Despite a strong contingent of preservationists in Glendale, conservation has stirred controversy over the years.

Most recently, the historical society is fighting to save a commercial building on San Fernando Road that its members consider to be historically significant. The property owner does not agree. The building is slated to be displaced in favor of a five-story apartment complex. The City Council has granted preliminary approved to the renovations.

The City Council can designate a property as historic without a property owner's permission, but officials have yet to use the provision allowing that, which they established in 2012.

Still, the desire to preserve often reigns supreme. In addition to designating historic properties, there's also a push to designate entire neighborhoods, adding a blanketed layer of protection. Glendale has five historic neighborhoods and two more in the pipeline.

When the Historic Preservation Commission green-lighted the Municipal Services Building, they also recommended two homes of the Tudor Revival and a Mediterranean Revival styles. Platt estimated nine more may come before the commission this year. The city has eight public buildings that could be considered in the near future.

While Glendale is behind Pasadena's 183 city-designated historic buildings, it surpasses Burbank's 10.

“There are hundreds of hundreds that are eligible for listing,” Grammer, the Glendale Historical Society president, said. “We still have a long way to go.”

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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