Trying to Save the Minnick House
Neighbors of the mid-century Minnick House at 433 El Medio tried to get the house declared a Historic Cultural Monument. They formed the Minnick House Preservation Committee and hired Jenna Snow, a nomination preparer, to make sure the form submitted to the City of L.A. was done correctly.
At a Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC) hearing on January 10, City Planning recommended against the application and the commission declined the preservation status.
When neighbors returned home in late afternoon on January 10, after waiting downtown all day to make a plea for historical status, they received a registered letter, dated January 8, from Eitan Shacham of APH, Inc. The letter explained that Shacham had applied for a permit to excavate a basement for a new home at 433 El Medio. Neighbors said that in December, Shacham had posted a demolition notice on the fence (#18019-30000-05593) dated November 9, 2018.
On January 31, Shacham’s escrow closed on the house and property for $3 million. (The sale was listed months after the demolition notice was posted and a few weeks after the excavation notice had been sent.)
Ken Bernstein, manager in the City Planning Department for the Office of Historic Resources, explained that notices could go out earlier than the hearing, but the developer could not act on it until after a final hearing.
Circling the News reached out to Lambert Giessinger, the preservation architect for that office, who had written the opinion given to City Planning and the Heritage Commission. We asked why the request for historical status had been turned down and was directed to Bernstein.
Bernstein responded that the commissioners felt that the house was not an “outstanding or noteworthy” example of mid-century modern.
The Minnick house was designed by William Louis Campbell, who became a television art director for the “The Immortal,” “The Brady Bunch,” “The Six Million Dollar Man” and was nominated for an Emmy for “Night of Terror.”
The one-story, two-bedroom, one-bath, 1140-sq.-ft. structure that sits on an 8,840-sq.-ft. lot, within a block of the Alisomar bluff, was built in 1950. The only modification to the home was a roof replacement in 2003. Patricia Minnick, who died in January 2018, was the sole owner of the home, with no children and no heirs.
Although the Cultural Heritage Commission felt it was not noteworthy, other experts felt differently.
Marcello Vavala, preservation associate with the Los Angeles Conservancy, responded in a January 29 email to CTN. “We believe the Minnick House is historically significant and urged the Cultural Heritage Commission to take the nomination under consideration at the hearing on January 10. The Conservancy also provided neighborhood advocates extensive technical assistance on various aspects of the landmark designation process and reached out to the local Council District office,” Vavala said.
“The Minnick House is a very early and highly intact example of a modest, custom modern residence. It is quite distinct from the traditional and ranch styles that represent a large portion of the postwar housing stock, or architect-designed custom homes typically out of reach in size and cost for the average American.
“We are disappointed that the Commission dismissed the nomination at their first hearing without evaluating the home first-hand, as they would have done during the site visit and due diligence stage of the landmark designation process,” Vavala said. “Unfortunately, the Commission’s recommendation vote determines whether the nomination advances through the process and is not appealable.”
Irvine architect Alan Hess also wrote to the Office of Historic Resources, stating “When a good, intact example that ‘embodies the distinguishing characteristics of a style’ is nominated, and when its very existence demonstrates the ‘broad cultural [and]social history’ of Southern Californians enthusiastically adopting such modern ways of living, then it can be considered for landmark status.”
Bernstein acknowledged that “there is a high level of respect for Hess and his viewpoint,” but, in order to be considered for a Cultural Historic Status, the home/building in consideration must meet one of three criteria:
1) Is identified with important events of national, state, or local history, or exemplifies significant contributions to the broad cultural, economic or social history of the nation state, city or community;
2) Is associated with the lives of historic personages important to national, state, city, or local history; or
3) Embodies the distinctive characteristics of a style, type, period, or method of construction; or represents a notable work of a master designer, builder, or architect whose individual genius influenced his or her age.
In recommending against historical status, the report stated: “The subject property is not associated with any historic personages” and “While the subject property does feature distinctive elements of the Mid-Century Modern architectural style such as a low-pitched roof, wide overhanging eaves, and extensive use of glass, the house is not a unique or rare example of the style. Other more exemplary single-family residences in the Mid-Century Modern style that are already locally designated include the Eames House (1949, HCM #381), the John Entenza House (1949, HCM #530), the Tischler Residence (1949, HCM #506), the Stoleroff House (1950, HCM #721), Case Study House #16 (1953, HCM #1147), Case Study House #21 (1958, HCM #669) and the Stahl House (1960, HCM #670).”
Bernstein said that the Minnick house had also not been identified in a 2013 Los Angeles Historic Resources Survey historical of Brentwood and Pacific Palisades (visit: preservation.lacity.org/surveyla-findings-and-report).
In July when neighbors told neighbor Doreen Anderson–the executor of Minnick’s 2002 will and the recipient of $25,000 in that will “in appreciation for her special friendship”–that they were going to try to obtain a special designation for the house, Anderson hired lawyer Lisa Alexander of Jackle & Alexander.
The attorney sent a letter to the neighbors, stating “Demand is hereby made on you to immediately cease and desist from: 1) pursuing or filing an application for nomination of the Minnick House to be designated a Historical Cultural Monument” and 2) “Communicating in any manner with any potential purchaser of the Minnick House, representative thereof, or the public at large, regarding pursuing or filing an application for nomination of the Minnick House to be designated a Historical Cultural Monument.”
The neighbors had to hire a lawyer in order to fight for the preservation.
“Pat [Minnick] used to tell me at least a half dozen times that she didn’t want the house torn down,” said Nancy Branch, who lives kitty-corner across the street from the Minnick house.
When Minnick broke her hip two years ago, Branch used to visit her and help with meals. But, both Branch and Susan Karp told CTN that Matt Murphy was always there for Minnick and in the past few years said that Pat was thinking about leaving the house to him (he received money in the will dated 2002).
Branch said she was accused of pursuing the cultural status solely because she didn’t want a two-story home on the lot because it would block her view of the Santa Monica Mountains. CTN went to her home and the mountains were clearly in view—even if a larger home were to be built on that lot.
Karp said that she had put in an offer for the house because “I wanted to keep it just as it was. That’s how Pat would have wanted it.”
The Historical Commission’s decision cannot be appealed. There is a provision in L.A. City Council rules that if a Councilman, in this case Mike Bonin, wants the Historical Commission to reconsider the decision, he can make that request, but it must be done within five Council Days.
“It’s already been about three weeks,” said Bernstein, who was also asked about the Coastal Commission. He said construction plans for any new house on the property would have to go before that body, but this wouldn’t have anything to do with the Historical Commission findings.
(Editor’s note: In looking through 2013 Los Angeles Historic Resources Survey, it was noted that Swarthmore Avenue was identified as an eligible historic district: “the Swarthmore Avenue Commercial Historic District stands out from surrounding development as a highly cohesive collection of mid-century retail commercial development. The district’s style, scale, massing, and pedestrian orientation all contribute to a strong sense of time and place as a 1950s neighborhood commercial center in Pacific Palisades.”)