The Post-Mortem on 1001 North Roxbury Drive, Beverly Hills, CA | This is How (Not) to Preserve and Protect Significant Architecture

I’m Josh Cooperman and this is Convo By Design with the second part of a conversation that aired on June 20th, 2022. It aired a day in advance of a Beverly Hills City Council meeting that was determining a Certificate of Ineligibility and ultimately, the future of this property located on one of the most famous residential streets in the world. And depending on which side of the issue you reside, it did or did not end well. 

I’m not going to rehash the issue because that has already been done. If interested, you can find the episode in the podcast feed or go to the show notes and click on the link to listen. This episode is pretty much the last chapter until I ultimately report back with what will be built after this Carleton Burgess designed house is torn down.

I’m also not going to relitigate this issue, it has already been done. Everything that needed to be said, was said in a marathon council meeting. I am going to play some excerpts of note but first, I want you to know that I see value on both sides of this issue. I believe in property owners rights. If you spend the money to buy something, and you follow the rules and you do it with transparency, you should have the right to do what you wish. At the same time, I believe in preservation because it is culturally important. If you look at Beverly Hills alone,  so many properties of note by legendary architects have been torn down and it’s not because there was not a buyer for the properties. To the contrary. Many of these stories are not known until the process for saving them makes the news and by then, it’s too late. Falcon Lair, PickFair, Garden of Allah, the Brown Derby. It’s not just Beverly Hills. But here’s the thing. Beverly Hills failed miserably in this case identifying, labeling and securing the architectural treasures within their city. City Council, with the exception of Mr. Mirisch seemed more interested in the minutia, meeting Mr. Baker and seeming just interested enough as to avoid any political blowback. A side note not related to the historical issue. Beverly Hills will be allowing the demolition of a 10,000 square foot home as the majority if not all building materials make their way to a landfill. The environmental impact of this is significant and again, is it In the best interest of the community? Is this a part of your Sustainability Plan?

1001 North Roxbury Drive is NOT a tear down and was not a property that someone would just buy for the dirt to rebuild a dream home. This property has been lovingly maintained, has a significant history in Hollywood lore.  Jack Benny, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez, supposedly Esther Williams swan that pool back in the day. The property has been published in shelter publications. In the process of trying to assure that this property was NOT listed as a significant property, well respected shelter publications and websites were deemed nothing more that shills for paid stories to promote those who did the work.

As we dig in a bit, you are going to hear segments from the City Council Meeting of June 21, 2022. You are going to hear segments from over 3 hours of testimony and debate. First, Mayor Bosse and City Planner Ryan Gohlich explain how this got here in the first place. As you listen, note that this only happened because the property was sold, and the new owners applied for a Certificate of Ineligibility to begin the process of (potentially) destroying this home. 

Benjamin Hanelin of Latham & Watkins now explains, in detail and masterfully lays the groundwork, a roadmap really, for obtaining a Certificate of Ineligibility. Before I play this for you, I think it is important for you to know, I don’t really care if this home is torn down or not because I don’t live in Beverly Hills, don’t drive by this home on my way to work or dropping the kids off at school,  don’t walk my dog by this home, don’t see it in any way and because of that, this doesn’t affect my life and so it does not materially affect me if this home is torn down, another erected, large gates installed, they want to revive the Sheik’s House, it doesn’t affect me personally. But it does affect the community of Beverly Hills and it directly affects those who live, work and visit. It is offensive though to hear the manipulation of facts, and minimization of significance, the tearing down of what Beverly Hills has deemed a Master Architect in their community for the sole purpose of stripping social, architectural and historical value of this home. 

Talk about exceptional, Benjamin Hanelin is an exceptional attorney. In just 13 minutes, he completely dismantled the City’s standards for what would qualify for preservation. I believe we will see this approach in the future.

Next up are the words of architect Mark Rios. Here is what he had to say. I think it’s disingenuous to tear down the work of another creative as it represents a golden era for Hollywood Regency, architecture and Beverly Hills in particular. That timeframe is when the legend of Beverly Hills was cemented, in large part to the stars and the star architects (and builders) crafting the structures. You simply cannot have an iconic example of architecture without an interior space and an exterior space, otherwise, it would be, simply a set.

Mark Rios is entitled to his opinion both professionally and personally. I also think that because he is such a talent, his work on the interiors and exteriors added to the significance and the cultural value of the property. If  that were included in the petition, should have added historical significance, not detracted from it. 

A piece written by Lambeth Hochwald for AD covering the Darius Rucker renovation of an 1803 home. The piece online shows 5 images and only one is of the exterior, very much the same issues pointed out by all looking to devalue 1001 North Roxbury, yet the point of the article is about the betterment of a historical property by what is done to it later in its life. Moving on.

If an iconic city like Beverly Hills wants to save their cultural treasures, if city government wants this on behalf of the community,  they have to realize a few things, and take some action which is infinitely more challenging.

  • If you leave this up to city staff, it will fail. Most, if no city staff of Beverly Hills live within the city limits of Beverly Hills is my guess, yes, this is an assumption. Staff earning government salaries are not living in $15, $20 million homes or paying $4,000 – $6,000 a month for rent. That means they simply interpret the rules as written and their interpretation is not that of a stakeholder but one of a bureaucratic entity. 
  • If you wait until a property is published, it will fail. Shelter publications don’t send out writers to find architecturally significant homes. They receive submissions from the likes of Mark Rios and his company’s communications team to plant a story idea, and in many cases, provide photography and storylines. No publication is going to just publish your most significant architectural properties on their own. To make that a criteria is really silly. As is the fame of the individuals who live there because is most cases, fame is subjective. Is it only stars of stage and screen, not industry? Will the Baker’s soon-to-be designed new home at 1001 North Roxbury be designated as architecturally significant because I have no doubt that the structure will be designed by an amazing and highly published architectural firm…and I am also sure that the interior design will add to the architecture, as it must. Perhaps Mr. Rios will be the designer of this project. This is purely speculation, but if so, or a firm like his with an internal communications team as skilled as his, they will get the story published. AND, further… Eric Baker is a titan of industry as the founder of StubHub. He and Dr. Baker have been well published now as the owners taking 1001 North Roxbury down. These are things you can’t do.

Here is what you CAN do Beverly Hills.

  • Establish a registry of every property built in Beverly Hills before 1970 (that is already the established date). Then, make a rule that no architecture can be considered until after it achieves a certain age. 1970 – 2022 is 52 years, make 50 years the number for consideration. What have you paid for consultants to debate the issue? Why don’t you spend the money on making it work. This is like spending money on security consultants to discuss ways to make something safer versus hiring a respected company to install a tried and tested security system. Other municipalities have tried and true methods for doing this. Did you reach out and ask anyone else? Cornell University for example offers a course in this. Why are you cobbling together your own system for this. If you do, you will fail, as you have thus far.
  • Cross tabulate that list of residences against the list of 150 Master Architects. Side note, for goodness sake Beverly Hills, Carleton Burgess lists his occupation as “Contractor” on his 1940 Census. Do a modicum of research. And, it doesn’t HAVE to be an architect…Add “builder, contractor” or “developer” to the criteria, then your rules would not be so easily circumnavigated. 
  • Clean up the verbiage. For the amount of time you spent discussing your views, you could have solved this by clarifying the issue itself. To say something is an exceptional, exemplary or otherwise flowery language only opens the issue up for endless debate and disagreement due to its subjectivity. Make it simple, “The property is architecturally consistent with other works of the Master Architect within the city of Beverly Hills.” This does a few things. As is the case with Wallace Neff, it eliminates an experimental project like his Bubble House in Pasadena from contributing to a situation where there might be an anomaly. It also limits the subjective nature of the work to that which resides within the city boundaries.  This also gives prospective buyers the confidence to know what it is they are getting into, or not.
  • Take an image of the home’s exterior and publish it yourselves on the city’s website. So everyone knows the property has been identified and registered. If it’s not on the City website, it doesn’t count. That way, nobody in the city can claim they didn’t know an iconic property was destined for the wrecking ball. 
  • Educate yourselves on what others are doing successfully and replicate their work. Simple.

The last word here is not going to be me, but Council Member John Mirisch. Here is the letter he sent me the day after the vote. For a copy, please check the show notes. Mr. Mirisch wrote:

When it comes to historic preservation, actions – not words – matter

By John Mirisch

Historic preservation in Beverly Hills is dead and we killed it.

Last night, at the behest of paid lobbyists and highly remunerated lawyers, the Beverly Hills City Council majority failed to protect one of the City’s most beautiful and iconic estates from the wrecking ball (I dissented).

Despite the false claims of paid consultants, the Carlton Burgess masterpiece at 1001 N. Roxbury Dr. has been a constant beacon of the elegance of Beverly Hills at the corner of Lexington Drive, the exterior largely unchanged for eight decades.

As was confirmed in testimony last night, the house has maintained its integrity; but sadly many individuals, including anti-preservationist interior designer Mark Ríos, who worked on an update of the interior design of the home, have not.

We are quite literally back to square one for historic preservation in Beverly Hills, when the definition of historic preservation Beverly Hills-style was – and once again is – taking a picture of a landmark building before tearing it down.

Those who actually wrote our ordinance explained in great detail that 1001 N. Roxbury indisputably met the ordinance’s criteria for the non-issuance of a “certificate of ineligibility” in the plain-language they themselves wrote.

It didn’t matter.

Listening to the tortured, warped rationalizations of people who should know better and who make a mockery of all of our “lying” eyes, represents government at its worst. Hiding behind paid staff, who constantly puts their elbows on the scale, and consciously choosing to believe the twisted angles of lawyers who would and do say anything for money is not a sign of civic courage; however, this behavior does expose how money has completely infiltrated and polluted our political system.

The pretense and attempts to gaslight the Community are infuriating and need to be called out.

If you don’t like historical architecture, just say so. If you think money trumps everything else, just be honest about it.

If you don’t respect our Community’s physical legacy, fess up.

But you can’t have it both ways. That’s not how it works. You can’t claim to care when your actions speak another truth. Gaslighting the Community only serves to divide us even more; it’s like spitting in the faces of and throwing salt in the wounds of those who truly do care.

Each time we lose a building like 1001 Roxbury, a mosaic piece that is so irreplaceable and so integral to the fabric of our Community, it’s like losing a piece of our collective soul, bit by bit.

It’s nothing short of heartbreaking for the Community, but at least there were many voices in the night who valiantly went on the record to say: “This is wrong. It’s can’t always be all ‘bout the money. Our Community matters.”

Many thanks to Craig Corman, Jill Collins, Linda and Jerry Bruckheimer, Alison Martino, Diane Keaton, and the scores of others who stood up last night to speak truth to power and truth to money. You get it. You give us hope that one day, perhaps, we will be able to value, respect, and honor our architectural legacy with more than crocodile tears, in a manner that actually means something.

Until then, RIP 1001 N. Roxbury.

RIP Community over cash.

RIP historic preservation in Beverly Hills.