Finally, A Historic Preservation Ordinance For La Crescenta!
I’m asked regularly what can be done to preserve older homes from demolition, and my response has always been, “It depends on where you live.” Communities around us such as Sunland/Tujunga and Glendale have for many years enjoyed the ability to preserve their history by working through their local governments. But sadly, unincorporated La Crescenta has been wide open to demolition of historic properties. All that changes on Oct. 1 when the County of Los Angeles Historic Preservation Ordinance takes effect.
This new ordinance will allow both private and county-owned properties to be nominated for listing on a County Register of Landmarks. Anyone can nominate properties for listing by filling out a form and paying a fee. If the property meets the criteria for historic status, it will go before the County Landmarks Commission for a vote, then on to the county supervisors for their okay. Once that’s done, the property is protected. The community gets the real estate value bump-up often associated with designated historic areas, and the property owner gets a huge break on property taxes via the Mills Act. This ordinance also facilitates the creation of historic districts.
What are the conditions needed for historic status? To be named a county landmark, the property must meet one or more of several conditions. Obviously first there’s the architectural hook – does the structure have a significant historical style? A couple of our increasingly rare stone houses would qualify on that level. Or second, did something historic happen there, or is it associated with some historic figure? The Briggs water tower house up on Briggs Terrace is a good example, being the only structure left that was built by our founder Benjamin Briggs. And third, will the site teach us something about our history? Hindenberg Park qualifies on that level, as much on the history of local German immigration and assimilation can be gleaned from that acreage. Any one of these conditions qualifies the property.
So what is the benefit to La Crescenta from this new ordinance? Looking at the communities around us, Glendale in particular has really made historic preservation work for them. Homes designated as landmarks, or that are located in historic districts, have increased in value over their neighbors’. There’s seemingly some cachet associated with living in a historic area, not to mention the tax break. One Glendale historic landmark owner told me she gets back approximately half of her property tax each year. Tujunga has the example of Weatherwolde Castle. The 90-year-old Norman castle-style home, (one of the last of its kind) was set for demolition. Their local historical society nominated it for landmark status, its destruction was prevented, and it stands today fully restored.
Our ordinance surprisingly has some teeth to it – teeth that may prove controversial in the future. For instance, while a property can be nominated by its owner for a small fee, for a significantly larger fee someone else can nominate a property, even over the owner’s objections. In such cases, the cost would be very high to those submitting the nomination, hopefully preventing dubious or malevolent nominations by a disgruntled neighbor. On the other hand, a developer wishing to buy and demolish something the community valued, St. Luke’s church for example, would think twice. As well, if someone were to demolish or damage a designated landmark, they would be required by law to rebuild it.
I know that many property owners, some seeing dollar signs, will quickly nominate their own properties for the tax break and bump-up in property value. But I also know that some involved in property development will think the ordinance a bad idea, wanting no impediment to their short-term profit margin. I think that a community with as rich a history as ours deserves better.
We deserve a long-term view of how our community will develop. We’re proud of our heritage. We as a community find our history, and the remnants of it that still stand, a valuable asset. It’s an asset that will pay off with real estate values, community pride and quality of life for its residents.
Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at