National Register Landmark W. T. Bishop Mansion Gutted

One of West Adams’ most visible landmarks has been gutted without permits and is pending an approval for conversion into multiple apartments – so many apartments that the owner/developer simply cannot build them without making major alterations to the historic exterior as well as completely demolishing all the character-defining interior features.

WAHA is very concerned about both the process and the potential outcome of the proposed conversion of the historic/ original mansion/residence at 1342 West Adams Blvd. into eight separate housing units, and its former carriage house into two more units. Designed by Sumner Hunt and Theodore Eisen and erected by William Threlkeld Bishop in 1898, the mansion became part of the Roger Williams Baptist Church complex starting in the late 1920s, after the Bishop family moved to Bel Air. (The Gothic Revival church sanctuary building located at 1326 West Adams Blvd was erected in 1934, and at that time the two buildings were connected by means of a cloister walkway, and the mansion was at that time plastered to match the sanctuary. The entire complex is a federal historic resource.)

This historic landmark is located within the North University Park Specific Plan (NUPSP) boundaries, and that is where the trouble appears to reside. Unfortunately, the Office of Historic Resources and its HPOZ unit failed to evaluate the property based on its listing in the National Register; may have failed to even recognize that it was listed despite the City’s own ZIMAS records which make it quite clear; failed to inform the Design Review Board (DRB) of the property’s National Register status; and eventually failed to understand that major proposed changes to the exterior would NOT meet Secretary of Interior Standards for Rehabilition. In fact, many of the proposed changes to the interior are visible from the the exterior of the building.

It remains unclear and perplexing to WAHA just WHY the City’s staff – which reportedly is trained in such evaluations – would not understand that enclosing historical features, changing windows and window fenestrations, adding dormers and thus changing the roofline, adding exterior stairs, and other major exterior changes is exactly what is not allowable under the Guidelines. Staff states that the proposed changes were reviewed utilizing HPOZ guidelines, but we all know that the addition of dormers, the removal of historical windows, the addition o new windows and fenestrations (window openings) and the enclosures of porches are exactly what the City says creates a “Non-Contributor” in an historic district – so WAHA questions why would the City approve such changes on an already-designated historic resource?

Meanwhile, as of late January, the historical William T. Bishop Residence’s interior had been completely “gutted” (e.g., demolished) without building permits. Along with character-defining features, structural beams and studs (vertical support posts) were lying in a heap in the center of the large reception entry. The developer has commenced work absent any approved permits and this project appears to be far more complex than may have been originally understood. After WAHA and West Adams activists have been working for so many years for the preservation of West Adams’ historic resources, non- permitted changes to this Eisen and Hunt Chateauesque building cannot be tolerated.

The William T. Bishop Residence at 1342 West Adams Boulevard is individually listed on the National Register, according to multiple records that are available to us on City of Los Angeles public record sites (e.g., ZIMAS, LADBS Parcel Profiles, SurveyLA). It is clearly also a part of a National Register (and thereby also a California Register) District. The property is associated with the early development of West Adams Boulevard west of the original City boundaries (which stopped at Hoover; this section was annexed to the City of Los Angeles as part o the “Southern and Western Addition” in 1896); with the work of master architects Sumner Hunt and Theodore Eisen (who just a few months later designed the Posey Mansion, which most of us recognize by its later name – the Doheny Mansion in Chester Place); and with food manufacturing magnate Bishop himself. William T. Bishop and his uncle, Roland P. Bishop, established Bishop and Company in 1887. It grew to be one of the largest food manufacturing companies in the United States, until it went belly-up in the early days of the Great Depression. Bishop and Company “merged” (was acquired by) Nabisco in 1930.

WAHA has raised with the Planning Department our very grave concerns on the processing undertaken or rather absence of appropriate processing of proposed changes to this historic resource, and we intend to file an appeal of these inadequate (so far) proposed clearances.

We recommended that:

1.) All work immediately be halted and the City immediately take steps to issue stop work orders. (At press time, no such steps had been taken by City officials.)

2.) Any “CE” (categorical exemption from review under the California Environmental Quality Act, or “CEQA”) be rescinded if issued. A CE is not permissible for significant alterations to this federally-designated historic resource.

3.) Evaluate the entire project, rather than taking this piecemeal approach. The project cannot be split into phases with multiple CEQA clearances. It is our understanding that this project involves a subdivision of land, a change in use, and the elimination of 40 spaces of church parking.

4.) Any and all changes to this property must be reviewed in conformance to the Secretary of the Interiors Guidelines for historic properties. According to the public records, this is an individually listed historic resource on the National or California register.

WAHA emphasizes that this is a prominent project in a visible location; its future affects the entire area; it is both NUPSP and National Register; and it is surrounded on the south and the east by National Register District properties on Ellendale and Menlo, properties that are thus impacted by this project.

In conclusion, WAHA supports a transparent and effective process that protects our historic resources and allows for adaptive reuse that is reasoned and protects the character defining features o our historic resources. We look forward to that process occurring here. First, all non-permitted work needs to cease as this project becomes subject to future review in the context of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the rehabilitation of historic properties.