Controversy is swirling around the fate of a 1960 library building designed by Edward H. Fickett FAIA and located in the new West Hollywood Park. The current flap started in June when Joycie Fickett, the architect’s widow, started receiving calls with the news that the building was slated for demolition.
“The city tried to sneak it in quickly and quietly, and they thought we would never find out about it,” said Fickett.
Edward H. Fickett was a prolific designer in the 1950s and 60s whose imprint can be seen in the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods and in public spaces like the Port of Los Angeles, as well as all over the San Fernando Valley, where he pioneered low-cost housing concepts.
Until recently, Joycie Fickett had been told by the city that the library was safe because of a 2003 amendment (classified as an “Errata”) to the master plan for the city’s new library and park that stated: “Delete reference to demolition of the existing Edward H. Fickett Library as part of this project.” Steve Ward, a member of the volunteer Los Angeles Conservancy Modern Committee, helped Fickett wade through thousands of pages of city and county planning documents to help reconstruct what exactly later transpired and to determine if plans for demolition were legal under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Ward, who is considering a lawsuit against the city, has started a “Save West Hollywood Library” Facebook page and rallied nearly 60 people to attend a recent city council meeting. He asserts that the community did not have sufficient time or notice to participate in public comments. “The city is being stupid and short-sighted,” said Ward. “This library has won awards and its architect is known world-wide.”
West Hollywood city attorney Michael Jenkins contends that the old library, about to be replaced by an adjacent new building designed by Johnson Favaro, was evaluated in a historical analysis for the new park Master Plan. That analysis concluded the library was not significant enough to avoid demolition and that consequently the 2003 Errata was no longer applicable. He also stated there was a CEQA-required notice for public comment and there was ample opportunity for anyone to protest the finding. “It is our position that this is over,” Jenkins said. “The decision was made in 2004 and we intend to go forward with our demolition plans.”
Jo Anne Stijar
John English, an architectural historian hired to evaluate Fickett’s work in 2004 for the city confirmed the report’s findings, but he also stated his analysis focused mostly on the architect’s multi-family work in the area. “There is no question that Fickett is a terribly important architect and much of his best work is in the City of West Hollywood,” English said.
Other observers acknowledge that since 2004 appreciation for architecture from Fickett’s era has grown significantly. “This is a great little gem of a building,” said the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Adrian Scott Fine. “If a historical analysis were done today, it might have a completely different outcome.”
This current case of he-said, she-said is sure to cause more acrimony. The new library is slated to open in October, so the fate of Fickett’s original structure will soon be determined. Mina Chow, an architect and professor at the USC School of Architecture (which houses Fickett’s archive), said the bigger issue is one of sustainability and community. “Clearly a lot of people care about this library, and it’s sad that no studies of any kind have been conducted for adaptive re-use of this exquisite little building,” she said. “I just hope we will learn to value our resources and not destroy our assets before it’s too late.”