City committee says no to landmarking threatened Bel Air home designed by Wallace Neff

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A Bel Air home designed by celebrated Los Angeles architect Wallace Neff may not be long for this earth.

On Tuesday, the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee upheld a recommendation from the Cultural Heritage Commission and denied an application to declare the home a historic landmark.

Such a designation would stave off demolition of the 1963 home, which is set to be replaced with a brand new two-story residence. The Cultural Heritage Commission, however, decided that the home was not worthy of Historic-Cultural status, despite its association with Neff—one of the city’s first architects to the stars.

Best known for his Period Revival style residences, Neff’s many clients over the years included Hollywood stars like Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Katherine Hepburn, and the Marx Brothers. Ironically, his most famous house—the Pickfair Estate, which he designed in 1919 for Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks—was torn down in 1990.

As the LA Conservancy notes, Neff’s French Revival design for the 1963 home is hardly consistent with the modern aesthetic that was sweeping Los Angeles at the time. With neatly manicured grounds and a Regency-style interior, the house is something of a throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood—and of Neff’s career.

It was commissioned by Dr. Burton Littleton Fletcher, an orthodontist in Van Nuys. Fletcher’s family lived in the home until it was sold to its current owner in 2013 at a price of $8.2 million.

The home’s nomination for historic status was initiated by Councilmember Paul Koretz, who represents the area. The nomination came just as the home’s owner (a limited liability company called Cashew Hill) was about to receive a permit to demolish the home.

In his motion to begin a historic application for the home, Koretz called the six-bedroom residence “an architectural treasure,” urging the council to take “immediate action” on the matter.

Since then, Koretz seems to have softened his tone a bit. A representative told the PLUM Committee that the councilmember respects the decision of the Cultural Heritage Commission and suggested that Koretz was inspired to act based on the complaints of neighbors, including the president of the Bel-Air Association.

Now that the PLUM Committee has rejected the home’s application for landmark status, demolition of the property is almost a certainty.

Strangely, this marks the second time in recent months that members of the City Council have made a last-ditch effort to landmark threatened homes—only for the Historic Cultural Commission to reject the nomination.

In September, Councilmember David Ryu rushed to save Bob Hope’s Toluca Lake residence from the wrecking ball (though it later turned out the demolition permits Hope’s daughter had requested were for a garage and two other smaller structures on the property).

The Cultural Heritage Commission, however, found that the Robert Finkelhor-designed home had lost its architectural significance due to a series of renovations by Hope’s wife Dolores, whom Commission President Richard Barron called a “wannabe architect.”

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