Home of Gershwins is reduced to rubble

August 23, 2005|By Martha Groves | Martha Groves,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Property rights have once again prevailed in Beverly Hills, Calif. - a city that has thrived on its role as a cradle for popular culture but has tended to accommodate wealthy homeowners who would rather tear down than restore dwellings where the entertainment elite once lived.

The latest structure to be reduced to rubble is 1019 N. Roxbury Drive, the house where tenants George and Ira Gershwin wrote "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "Shall We Dance" and "Our Love Is Here to Stay." Singer Rosemary Clooney lived there for half a century.

Despite a letter-writing campaign by preservationists and Gershwin admirers, Beverly Hills issued a demolition permit for the property last month, and the place where the visiting Bing Crosby once crooned "White Christmas" is now all but gone, along with its lush landscaping.

"Obviously, this is a significant loss to the musical legacy of our nation and the history of Beverly Hills and its role in shaping American culture," said Ken Bernstein, director of preservation issues for the Los Angeles Conservancy.

The demolition, he said, was "wholly avoidable" and occurred because Beverly Hills, unlike neighboring cities such as Los Angeles and West Hollywood, lacks a historic preservation ordinance.

"Despite repeated pleas from local residents, Beverly Hills still has no mechanism to protect its historic and cultural treasures," Bernstein said.

The city is conducting a survey of properties to determine which ones should be considered historic. When a similar survey was done 20 years ago, the Gershwin house did not make the list. A place on the historic roster, however, doesn't necessarily protect a structure from demolition.

"This city has so many properties associated with celebrities," said Mahdi Aluzri, Beverly Hills' community development director. "We'd pretty much have to put a hold on a substantial amount of housing stock."

The Spanish Colonial Revival house at 1019 N. Roxbury won notice as a wellspring of the American popular song. Over the decades, it had a string of owners and residents, many of them prominent entertainers of their day, said Judy Cameron, a former Beverly Hills resident who has tracked many of the property's owners and tenants.

Palatial and grand, with pool, tennis court and chauffeur's quarters, the house was built in 1928 for Monte Blue, a silent film star.

"Roxbury is our dream street," said Ned Nik, who bought the property this year from Fisch Properties. Although Nik said the sellers stipulated that the transaction price remain confidential, sources in the real estate community put it at $9 million.

Nik said he considered keeping "as much as possible" of the original structure and remodeling. He changed his mind, however, after engineers found mold and termite damage. In addition, he said, the foundation did not conform to seismic codes.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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