Los Angeles Times: "Catapulted to New Heights"

L.A. Times July 13, 2007 "Catapulted to New Heights", page B-1 / CHC designation

Read the complete article here.

Los Angels Times staff writer Bob Pool's article, " Catapulted to New Heights", was a big morale boost to preservationists worried about City Hall opposition to the declaration of the FELIX Chevrolet Showroom and Neon Sign as a LA-HCM. The article which was on the cover of the California section and above the fold, included color photographs of a nighttime FELIX neon-sign and the nomination's proponent, Jim Childs, a WAHA member and Chair of A.D.H.O.C.

The Starbuck crowd took heart when they read, "The three-sided 'Felix' automobile dealership sign near downtown that has survived earthquakes, fires, riots and recession escaped another close call Thursday as the city's Cultural Heritage Commission voted to declare it a historic-cultural monument. Commissioners rejected recommendations by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and downtown-area City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who favor redevelopment of the South Figueroa Street corner where the cartoon cat figure has loomed large for half a century."

Reporter Pool placed the politico's motives in context, "The surrounding Figueroa corridor, meanwhile, is undergoing a transformation as new loft and condo developments go up between USC and the Staples Center area. Villaraigosa and Perry have supported Figueroa's upgrading and both urged Cultural Heritage commissioners to reject monument status for the sign and the showroom beneath it. 'This site offers a tremendous opportunity for the growth of the Figueroa corridor,' mayoral aide Krista Williams-Phipps told panel members. She said dealership operator Darryl Holter has offered to donate the Felix sign to a museum. Greg Fischer, a deputy to Perry, said the councilwoman feared that the landmark designation would stymie Holter if GM requires him to remodel the showroom and 'possibly inhibit the further development of auto row' in the corridor."

The Times coverage reported, "Darryl Holter, son-in-law of the late Nick Shammas, (2003), said that there are no plans to demolish the showroom which was built in 1920 and has been remodeled numerous times over the years. But he stressed that the dealership may face changes when Shammas' elderly widow dies. 'GM can force dealers to build a new building when the old owner dies,' he explained. 'They tell you what paint to use and where to buy it. You have to follow what they say to keep the franchise."

Several of the preservationists who testified for the FELIX designation were also given a voice in the article, "It is literally a modern totem pole,' said preservation advocate Jim Childs. 'It really explains the evolution of the automobile and Los Angeles.' 'We're looking at an icon in California history, a true definition of L.A.'s love affair with the automobile,' added Charles Fischer, who teamed up with Childs to nominate the sign and showroom as a landmark. 'Felix Chevrolet is a landmark in every sense of the word,' said Mitzi March Mogul, a historic preservation consultant."

The FELIX Chevrolet determination hearing had been originally scheduled for early January but was postponed several times at the behest of Holter. The Commission's meeting was a long and exhausting event with several other highly volatile and contested Mid-Century Modern Style nominations including the "Commonwealth Savings and Loan Building" in the valley and the "Barry Building" on the west side. Scores of vocal and passionate community members for each side were in attendance and the Commission was supportive of both designations. FELIX had been scheduled as the last item but was bumped forward at the request of Holter who announced he had an afternoon meeting with the Mayor to discuss important business.

The CHC hearings are structured to allow each side one opportunity to state their case with the proponent speaking first followed by the opposition and there is no allowance for rebuttal. Childs began the FELIX testimony by playing a DVD of a 2001 Huell Howser Road Trip episode that featured FELIX Chevrolet and an interview with Darryl Holter who not only explained the evolutionary development of FELIX but also consistently proclaimed it to be a "landmark". When it was Holter's turn he admitted that the sign was a landmark but requested that the Commission deny it because of possible future business encumbrances.

The Commissioners were not swayed by Holter's suggestion that he could donate the sign to Peterson Museum in the future. Commissioner Richard Barron stated "It's an icon of L.A. It's value is there, not in a museum on Wilshire Boulevard." Commission President Mary Klaus- Martin added, "The sign has to be kept in its context. It's synonymous with that corner." Commissioner Alma Carlisle also rejected any future effort to separate the FELIX Neon Sign fro the Chevrolet Showroom stating, "The Showroom acts as a pedestal for the Sign." The Commission's recommendation for monument designation now move forward to the 3-member Planning and Land Use Management Committee on September 18 th for their review and recommendation and then, the following month, on to the full City Council for a vote.