By a unanimous vote of 5-0, members of the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission yesterday recommended Historic Cultural Monument status for Tom Bergin’s Bar and Restaurant, at 840 South Fairfax Avenue. The recommendation now goes to the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee, for possible recommendation to the full City Council. No date has been scheduled yet for the PLUM hearing.
Ken Hixon, of the Miracle Mile Residential Association (MMRA), and Adrian Scott Fine, of the Los Angeles Conservancy, presented the case supporting the the application, which they filed in September 2018 after the property was shuttered in January 2018 and put on the market by the current owner Derek Schreck, an actor who lives in nearby Carthay Circle. Schreck purchased the property in 2013, with his father Frank, a gaming attorney and political activist in Las Vegas. At the time, Derek Schreck told the Buzz, “It’s easy to shine when you’re working with gold…This place is an institution. This isn’t an ownership, this is a stewardship. We need to take care of this place for the next generation.”
“Tom Bergin’s was one of longest operating bars and restaurants in the city,” according to the application. “Designed in the Tudor Revival architectural style, the subject property was commissioned by attorney-turned-restauranteur Tom Bergin. Originally named Tom Bergin’s Old Horseshoe Tavern and Thoroughbred Club, Tom Bergin’s opened its doors in 1936 at 6110 Wilshire Boulevard and moved to its present‐day location on South Fairfax Avenue in 1949. It remained in near continuous operation as a restaurant and tavern until its closure in 2018. In business for over 80 years, Tom Bergin’s is entitled with the second‐oldest liquor license in Los Angeles and is one of Los Angeles’ oldest bars and restaurants.”
Further, the application asserted that “in Los Angeles and elsewhere, well‐established and long‐lived businesses, such as Tom Bergin’s, take on important social qualities and over time, they often organically mature into iconic and revered cultural institutions. Their endurance becomes ingrained into a community’s collective memory and plays an integral role in defining a community’s sense of cultural and commercial identity, and fosters a sense of pride for the area or community in which one lives.”
In contrast, the current owners and their representatives acknowledged that the bar and restaurant were important to the neighborhood, something they initially viewed as an asset in their business plan, but then they concluded that the heritage wasn’t enough to sustain the business, and that their alterations to the building made it no longer worthy of landmark status.
In his rebuttal to the application presentation, attorney Ben Resnick, who represents the Schrecks, said no significant events took place at the building and that it does not exemplify the broader cultural significance of the city. Resnick said he was angry and offended when he read the application, because the business was nothing more than a popular bar and should not be elevated to the status of a monument. He questioned the message it would send to elevate a bar to the level of a cultural monument, and urged the commission to reject the application.
During the public comment period, Derek Schreck said he took great pride in the renovations he made in the building, but that the building is not historically significant because of the new construction. Frank Schreck told the commission how he helped his son purchase the property and how proud he was of his son’s work, and that despite good reviews, no one came to the restaurant. He said his son had invested his family inheritance in the property, and now it has become his financial nightmare. Schreck told the commission that while Tom Bergin’s is a special place, it doesn’t make it worthy of being a cultural monument.
But dozens of residents residents who crowded the hearing room to speak in support of the monument application disagreed.
“Tom Bergin’s Bar and Restaurant adds the the visual texture, social dimension, and historic presence that makes cities and neighborhoods great,” said Beverly Grove resident Shelly Wagers. “It has long satisfied its patrons’ thirst for community and conviviality. Los Angeles needs to connect its future to its past. Please save Tom Bergin’s.”
Katie Bergin, the granddaughter of the owner and founder Tom Bergin, said she spent many days at the restaurant with her grandfather, who died when she was 19. She said the restaurant was her living room, and everybody else’s living room, filled with families with children. She challenged Mr. Resnick’s description of the restaurant as just a bar. And because her last name is Bergin, she said people ask her ask her all the time if she’s related to the Tom Bergin’s restaurant…and when she says yes, people tell her about the events in their life that took place there.
“To say that important events haven’t happened there is really a big mistake,” said Bergin. “It guess it depends on what you think is important, but these small things in people’s lives are very important and they all happened at Bergin’s.”
After listening to dozens of speakers supporting the application, including former owner Mike Mandekic, the commissioner heard from eleven speakers who opposed the nomination, including three consultants and the two owners. Only two area residents spoke against the nomination, citing their concern of having a bar be recognized as a historic cultural monument.
After 90 minutes, Commissioner Baron closed the public comment period and invited comments from his fellow commissioners. Baron said it was his opinion that Tom Bergin’s deserved monument status as an iconic, legacy business in the city. In turn, each commissioner gave their perspective supporting the application and acknowledging the support of the community. Several commissioners expressed sympathy for the Schreck’s financial situation, but ultimately they supported the application and voted to send the nomination to the City Council for final approval.