Gimme A Sign: Because It’s The Christian Thing To Do

It was a little more than a year ago when I reported discovering the sale of U.S. National Register of Historic Places Building No. 87000576, more locally designated as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 57, which is more readily known as the Second Church of Christ Scientist on Adams Boulevard, just east of Hoover in the West Adams district. For a righteous $8 million, the buyer would score a a 69,000-square-foot lot upon which still proudly stands a magnificent culturally, historically and architecturally significant 24,600-square-foot mansion of worship celebrating its centennial next year, complete with an auditorium that can seat 1,100, a copper clad reinforced-concrete dome that was the largest ever in its day, and a bonus Get Out Of Hell Free card to be used in case of emergency (certain restrictions and blackout dates apply).

Not surprisingly, such a deal languished in real estate purgatory throughout 2008 thanks to the bedeviled state of the market, and the fact that this is pretty much an untouchable structure that will cost anyone a helluva lotta coin to restore/repurpose/maintain (I’m looking at you nearby University of Southern California and thinking “library”).

Much more shockingly, a bike-by last week revealed that its owners have taken on tenants. In and of itself that’s not affronting — in fact it’s nice to see the old place being put to use in the way it was intended instead of just staying locked up and lonely. But what’s got my ingrained respect for this city’s historic touchstones all bent out of true is that the occupiers, known as The Korean Christian Church, have seen it fit to egregiously drape a pathetic and garish banner across the stately facade’s six Corinthian columns as testified above, can I get a witness (click to enlargify).

I can sense some readers might not share my outsized outrage. But here’s the thing: somewhere there must be commandments governing what one can and cannot do to duly designated civic and national landmarks. And while I may be wrong, I’m willing to bet that a rule regarding inappropriate signage exists somewhere in some municipal code, perhaps Section: Oh Hell, Subsection: To The No! If not, there should be. Because crap such as that would be more at home strapped across a K-town barbecue house or strip mall massage parlor, not a recognized treasure that allows one with just a glance to go a little awestruck remembering a greater Los Angeles.

And here’s the other thing: I would certainly understand the need for such promotion if the Korean Christian Church was operating out of a nondescript storefront in the midst of a lot of other storefronts or a warehouse space in some industrial complex, but seriously these guys are gathering in what is one of the most dramatic and visible buildings in the entire district, if not the city — and it’s a freakin’ church! If its congregants honestly can’t find this place without that banner then there’s some Sunday-go-to-meeting stoopid going on and accordingly there needs to be some banishments and ex-communicatings.

One last bit: Lest you think I’m a total preservationista, I certainly am not against the organization putting up something that is properly permitted for the duration of its occupancy, and had I pedaled by such a hypothetical display appropriate in scale and posted on the grounds in front of the place, I probably wouldn’t have felt such sacrilege. But as it hangs today, this banner puts the “sin” in sign.

12 Replies to “Gimme A Sign: Because It’s The Christian Thing To Do”

  1. Ben, I’ll accept your ready dismissal if you’re “not so bad” draws from the temporary and removable nature of the church signage since you seem to be comparing it to the “permanent” signage found on the street level of the Bradbury Building — which I agree is heinous.

  2. I used to live really near there. It’s been there for a while and yes, it looks like crap.

    But I mean, the whole building/grounds are/were kind of in disrepair. Have they fixed the broken fences yet?

  3. I did a circle around the church and the grounds seems a little spruced up. The flimsy chain link fencing that was up when I first noticed it for sale was gone, but yeah… the whole place needs some serious divine intervention. Though I’m almost as christian as I am Korean, I may hazard a visit to a service just to get a peek inside and see what things look like.

  4. If you’re tempted to visit, then the banner kinda did its job, eh?

    If (older) Koreans are anything like my parents, they know nothing of historical buildings, and therefore that bit would be almost useless in helping them find the place.

    And since you didn’t provide a link: Get Out Of Hell Free cards.

  5. Touché mrhooks, but the banner’s more a timely enabler. I’ve been itching to visit the church for a long time. I even put a call in last year to the real estate agent representing the place to see if I could get a walk-through, but never got a call back (I guess I didn’t sound like I was sitting on $8 million).

    As to the status of the place not being enough to help people locate it, that’s a viable argument, but hypothectically if I was a churchgoer and my place made a move and armed me with its new address I’m pretty sure I could stumble upon the place without the aid of a banner as craptastic as that.

    As I said, I’m not against the church having a sign. But if they’re going to post their shingle from a national landmark, have the decency to do it if not according to any codes that (I hope) exist, then at least with a little respect for the place.

  6. Will–I was an intern in the Office of Historic Resources (the office within the Planning Department responsible for preservation) for a very short time, so I don’t know everything about the ordinances, but the OHR doesn’t have a lot of power. Recently the owners of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood wanted to put up two giant supergraphics on the sides of the building, and the only power the OHR had was to recommend to (um, can’t remember here–Building & Safety? City Council?) that they not be allowed to, because of the historic nature of the building.

    In this case, they wouldn’t be able to stop the owners from putting up this sign.

    Here’s some language from their website on what being an HCM means:

    # Requires Cultural Heritage Commission review for proposed exterior and interior alterations in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, the nationally accepted criteria for evaluating change to historic properties;
    # Allows the Cultural Heritage Commission to object to the issuance of a demolition permit for 180 days, with an additional 180 day extension possible upon approval of the City Council, thereby granting up to 360 days stay of demolition in order to evaluate preservation alternatives;
    # Activates the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) which protects historic buildings from adverse impacts without environmental review (see the State Office of Historic Preservation document on CEQA and historical resources);

    Notice that none of those items says that because a building is an HCM doesn’t mean that changes that significantly alter the structure’s historic nature can take place, or even that the building can’t be demolished.

    OHR website: http://www.preservation.lacity.org/

  7. Thanks for the insight and info Evan. I did contact OHR last week to inquire about the banner and a representative responded quickly that they were going to investigate it. The sense I got was that if the signage was not properly permitted there might be some action they could take, but I understand given the department’s limited authority, that might be a long time coming, or just flat-08t wishful thinking.

  8. Don’t get me wrong, Will, I don’t like the sign either. I’m just trying to deduce the mentality of the people who put it up. And you’d be surprised at how bad some older Asian folk (whose command of English isn’t so good) can be at reading directions. Even hand-holding isn’t enough sometimes. In some cases, they basically are unable to drive themselves anywhere they haven’t been taken to enough times that they’ve memorized the route.

  9. I should mention that I don’t mean to single out Asians as if they’re (we’re) the only ones who may have that problem. But most people I know happen to be Asian, and that’s kinda who we’re talking about here, and I’ve seen that sort of thing among the older generations quite a bit.

  10. That tears it. First Markland’s a racist–now Will–and look, even Mr. Hooks! Good God, people!!! When will the racisty madness end?!

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