November 21, 2016
Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission
On Thursday morning last week I attended a 9 AM meeting of the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission in LA City Hall. They had two things on their agenda that morning: first was to consider designating the Bob and Dolores Hope Estate in Toluca Lake as a monument; second was to go visit and tour Hotel Cecil and the Catalina Swimwear Building. It was the second thing that I came for, but the Bob Hope house issue was very interesting.
Above is the Google Earth view of the estate.
Below is what the public could see from the street.
The place is owned by the Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation. First the staff made its presentation with a slide show and talk all about how ultra famous Bob Hope was. Under Los Angeles law there are two different bases that can justify declaring something a monument. One basis is the usual: great cultural, historical, architectural (etc.) significance. The second is that it was the home of a celebrity. The Bob Hope house was proposed (by a city council member) due solely to the celebrity status. Staff admits it has no cultural, historical, architectural (etc.) significance. In discussion the Commissioners said that in L.A. they obviously are not going to declare every residence of every celebrity a monument or they would consume a significant portion of the housing market. But they agreed that Bob Hope was just about the most famous person in the world.
After the staff report the Foundation got up to make their comments. They were daughter Linda Hope and a couple of other people, one of whom may have been an attorney. They told us quite a different story than staff told. Right off the bat, Linda Hope said they had the wrong address. The correct address is 10346 Moorpark Street. Staff had supplied the address as 10350 Moorpark Street. No points for staff there. Then she went on to explain that while staff had described the house as French Chateau style, only the original house was French Chateau and that Dolores Hope had almost continually added wings and additions so that now the house was some sort hodge-podge of no significance. She also disputed their description of the grounds which staff said included a "one-hole par 3 golf 'course'." Linda Hope said it was only a small decorative thing that could not really be used for golf.
Worse, she said, was that there was no way the Los Angeles public could access the house. In the '90s the Hopes had considered making it into a museum, but quickly learned that since it was in a quiet upscale residential area with narrow streets, there was no way it could be a museum open to the public. So the Hopes' final instructions were to use the estate to help fund the Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation. The intention of the trustees was to sell it. The place had been sitting on the market for ages but not long ago the first decent offer was submitted. That was when the city council member asked that the Cultural Heritage Commission consider the property. The decent offer was immediately withdrawn.
Linda Hope listed all of the memorials to Bob Hope that are scattered over the Los Angeles area. She said each and every one of those was more significant to the legacy of Bob and Dolores Hope than the estate. Later, Commissioners said they were surprised by the list, not realizing there were already so many memorials; so obviously staff didn't do that research either.
A couple of residents got up to also speak against the designation, but the essence of their arguments was that Toluca Lake is a beautiful, quiet community and any kind of monument there would bring traffic, noise and lower property values. The President of the Commission interrupted both of those commenters (!) to tell them that was of absolutely no concern to this Commission.
One Commissioner suggested giving monument status to only the hedge and gate in front of the house, because those were the only things the public would ever see. I was pretty sure that was a joke, but the President went ahead and explained how impractical that would be.
Finally, a Commissioner made the motion to deny monument status and that was approved 5-0. The decision now goes to city council, since it had originated there and city council could overrule this decision.
The meeting was adjourned and we headed out on our field trip.