HPOZ Enforcement Questions at 115 N. Rossmore Avenue

115 N. Rossmore – where front landscaping is currently underway without approval from the neighborhood’s HPOZ because it is not subject to review, according to the owner.

After watching work that appears to be substantially altering the front landscape at 115 N. Rossmore Avenue, we contacted the Hancock Park Homeowners Association to inquire if the project had been approved by the neighborhood’s Historic Preservation Overlay Zone board. (The board reviews the historic appropriateness of alterations to the visible area of homes in the historic zone.)

115 N Rossmore, photo from Google taken in September 2017

Homeowners making alterations are required to get the approval of the HPOZ board, managed by the City’s Planning Department in concert with volunteers from the neighborhood, before proceeding with construction and landscaping in the visible area. However, some work, including awnings and shutters, grading and site development or landscaping in front yards (except landscaping in public rights-of-way and landscaping specifically called out in the Historic Resources Survey) do not require HPOZ approval.

All the work that has been done on the site, according to owner, landscape designer Jay Griffiths, is not subject to review by the HPOZ, as outlined above. Mr. Griffith told the Buzz that he went to the HPOZ to get approval for a 200-foot long, 42″ high fence, which he constructed…but then decided to bury with mounds of dirt because he didn’t like its appearance.

Photo shows the berm of dirt added at 115 N. Rossmore (it covers a fence that the owner built with HPOZ approval, but didn’t like)

Griffith said the newly installed berm will be netted and planted it to keep the soil from eroding. He also said the berm helps his home fit into the neighborhood context, because all the other nearby houses are raised up and hedged. Mr. Griffith said he also wanted to create a more dramatic entry for the house, so he decided he needed stairs. He graded the site, adding about 36” of dirt in front of the wall and then he planted the row of hedges at the new height of 36 inches, so he could have a higher hedge. He said the City allows Rossmore and Highland Avenue residents to apply for a variance to have 6 foot tall walls in front of their houses because of the traffic (general rules allow a fence height of 42″).

New entry at 115 N Rossmore with steps.

We also asked Mr. Griffith about a new awning, and the wood structure it appears to be draped over, which is now attached to the front of the house. He explained that awnings and shutters were not subject to review of the HPOZ and that the awning is actually just a temporary solution to shade the house while he works through his design for the front of the property. He stressed that he is a professional designer with a long career, saying “this is what I do for a living and I’m pretty good at it,” adding that everything he did so far was outside the purview of the HPOZ.   But he also said “I will get approvals when they are needed.”

The bamboo awning draped over a wooden structure was installed to provide much needed shade, and is temporary, according to Mr. Griffiths.

The HPOZ board told the Buzz  they did not review the project currently underway. Calls and emails to the Planning Department have not yet been be returned.  However, the homeowners’ association learned that complaints filed in May with the LA Department of Building and Safety were reviewed and closed with a notation that no violations were found. After further inquiries were made, however, the association learned that senior officials at Building and Safety were further investigating the project. A senior official at LADBS confirmed this to the Buzz, but would not provide further comment.

The question we posted — “Has this project been reviewed and approved by the HPOZ?” — seems to have a more complicated answer, and for now, we don’t have it. We will continue our inquires because front landscaping questions seem to be an increasing topic of discussion in the neighborhood, and everyone would benefit from knowing the rules.

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About Patricia Lombard

Patricia Lombard is the co-editor and publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.

6 thoughts on “HPOZ Enforcement Questions at 115 N. Rossmore Avenue

    1. Regarding the ugly pretentious lions.

      UGLY
      These lions came from the Harold Lloyd Estate– a home on the National Register of Historic Places at which I had the honor of restoring the gardens. The lions were a gift from Bernard Solomon, the owner at that time.
      They were made by the same Los Angeles company that designed and built all of the historic street lamps that currently stand in front of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The original casting came from the Villa Gamberaia just outside Florence, Italy.
      The lions are placed in a profile that replicates the original MGM logo used by Louis B. Mayer on his movies.

      PRETENTIOUS
      The lions were cast of concrete in 1927, signed and dated. They are made of the same concrete formula used throughout all of Tuscany. Mind you, the Romans invented concrete. They are not oversized, but life-size, and placed in front of a 1922 7,000 square foot Italian Renaissance replica built by a bootlegger during Prohibition which, in of itself, is the standard of pretention.

      LIONS
      Lions are a welcoming entry motif dating back to the Han Dynasty and used as a repeated entrance thematic through the ages- the Breakers in Newport, RI; the New York Public Library; ad infinitum.

      Judging the work half-complete without the final fit and finish flourishes- ie: plantings and the time for them to grow in- is shortsighted at best and myopic in the extreme. Please look at my website: jaygriffith.com. Perhaps this will give you a deeper insight into what I do and who I am.

  1. Dear Ms. Lombard:

    I have reviewed your article regarding my home at 115 N. Rossmore Avenue, published yesterday in the online Larchmont Buzz. Your article contains several inaccuracies and internally conflicting statements. My outstanding professional reputation as a landscape designer has taken years of hard work to nurture and the sloppiness of your article, without cause, impugns that reputation. As discussed below, there are several corrections that you should deliver to your readers to set the record straight.

    As an initial nit, my last name is Griffith, not Griffiths, but that is less problematic than other errors in the article I hereafter detail.

    First, you state: “Homeowners making alterations are required to get approval of the HPOZ board, managed by the City’s Planing Department in concert with volunteers from the neighborhood, before proceeding with construction and LANDSCAPING in the visible area.” (Emphasis added.) Then you make the conflicting statement that some work does not require HPOZ approval, including “awnings and shutters, grading and site development or LANDSCAPING in front yards (except landscaping in public rights-of-way and landscaping specifically called out in the Historic Resources Survey).” (Emphasis added.) Your second statement, which cannot be reconciled with the first, is the accurate one. Since your article is focused on the jurisdiction of the Hancock Park HPOZ, citation to the actual language that controls is appropriate. It is not my opinion, or yours, that matter, but rather the operative language itself.

    To start, front yard landscaping specifically is excluded from the HPOZ review and approval process. See Hancock Park Preservation Plan (“HPPP”) at Section 3.5(c). Thus, my landscaping of the front yard is exempt and requires no HPOZ review or approval. Nevertheless, the lead-in to your article implies that my landscaping somehow violates a requirement of HPOZ approval even though none exists – you wrote “After watching work that appears to be substantially altering the front LANDSCAPE at 115 N. Rossmore Avenue, we contacted the Hancock Park Homeowners Association to inquire if the project had been approved by the Neighborhood’s Historic Preservation Overlay Zone board.” Similarly, your caption to the photographs at the top of your article implies that HPOZ approval of the landscaping work may be required, despite what you posture as my contrary opinion, stating: “115 N. Rossmore – where front landscaping is currently underway without approval from the neighborhood’s HPOZ because it is not subject to review, according to the owner.” Given the HPPP’s unequivocal exemption of landscaping from the coverage of the HPOZ, your article should have so stated – it is the words of the HPPP that exempt the landscaping, not the opinion of the owner (me).

    As to the 42” wall across the frontage of my property, you appear to have misunderstood what I told you. The HPPP specifically provides for frontage fencing along Rossmore Avenue. See HPPP Section 8.2, Guideline 6 – “New fencing is strongly discouraged except on Rossmore and Highland Avenues.” Section 3.6 of the HPPP delegates authority over the approval of walls and fences in the front yard to the Planning Department’s Director of Planning. That is exactly what I did – attached, for your information, is a copy of the HPOZ approval of the 42” CMU wall that I built across the frontage per the approved plans I submitted. The phrasing of your article regarding the wall appears to imply that I did not get the required approval – you wrote: “Mr. Griffiths [sic] told the Buzz that he went to the HPOZ to get approval for a 200-foot long, 42” high fence, which he constructed . . .but then decided to bury with mounds of dirt because he didn’t like its appearance.” I not only “went” to the Planning Department, I obtained HPOZ approval as discussed above. There was full compliance in connection with the construction of the wall.

    Regarding the grading of a soil planting slope in front of the HPOZ approved wall, what you call a berm in your article, that work did not require HPOZ approval. Unfortunately, your correct statement quoted above that “grading and site development” do not require HPOZ approval is not connected by you to your discussion of the slopped planting area in front of the HPOZ approved wall, thus leaving the impression that the grading change, the planted slope in front of the 42” CMU wall, is a change for which I required HPOZ review and approval, which I did not. Further, as I explain in greater detail below and discussed with you, the grading in front of the wall is a design gesture that is demonstrably superior to the HPOZ approved wall standing alone.

    The stairs that you reference in your article were designed and sited to conform with the statement of purpose in the HPPP regarding the formality of front yard layout and design. In Section 9.4, the HPPP provides:

    Traditionally, residential structures were sited on their lots in a way that emphasized a progression of public to private spaces. STREETSCAPES LED TO PLANTING STRIPS, PLANTING STRIPS TO SIDEWALKS, SIDEWALKS TO YARDS AND FRONT WALKWAYS, WHICH LED TO PORCHES AND THE PRIVAE SPACES WITHIN A HOUSE. The height and massing of historic structures in an intact historic neighborhood will generally be fairly uniform along a blockface. Nearly all historic residential structures were designed to present their face to the street, and not to a side or rear yard. Common setbacks in the front and side yards helped ensure these orderly progressions. Preservation of these progressions is essential to the preservation of the historic residential character of structures and neighborhoods. Preservation of these progressions is often essential to the maintenance of historic neighborhood streets as functioning resources around which a neighborhood interacts. (Emphasis added.)

    The former entrance walkway, which you can see along the row of palm trees in the “before” photo you included with your article, was not original to the house (it was constructed of an exposed aggregate popular in the 1960s). More importantly, it did not adhere to the formal progression the HPPP describes and what is the norm for a house of the scale of mine in Hancock Park. What I have added provides the typical formal progression from the street, across the parkway to the public sidewalk, then up the steps to the porch at the front entry of the house – the exact approach suggested by the HPPP. Based upon my research and work on the house, which was materially altered several times since it was first constructed in 1922, I believe in its original design it had the formal entry progression that I have replicated.

    Your comments regarding the bamboo awning also are misleading. You have phrased your comments such that it appears that the subject of awnings and HPOZ approval is a matter of uncertainty, particularly in the case of my home. However, Section 3.5(i) of the HPPP exempts “awnings and shutters” from HPOZ review and approval. Thus, there is no uncertainty and your article should provide your readers with that fact, not innuendo regarding a violation that does not exist.

    Your article includes a photograph of the home before the work was performed and you seem to be suggesting to your readers that but for my work, in violation of the HPOZ, that the house would still look like that photograph. The truth is otherwise. Nostalgia notwithstanding, the HPOZ does not mandate that my home remain as it was when I bought it. As discussed above, the 42” concrete block wall across the entire Rossmore Avenue frontage was approved in accordance with the HPOZ. I could have left it with just that blank unfinished concrete block wall. I can only imagine what your article would have said about that approved wall standing alone. Instead, I have, in full compliance with the express provisions of the HPPP, endeavored to create a landscape that will add beauty and character to the neighborhood. The grading will result in a beautifully landscaped slope, rather than a blank concrete block wall, along Rossmore Avenue. The landscaped slope will absorb our considerable street noise rather than reflect it back at my neighbors across the street, as the CMU wall alone would have done. The steps create the formality of progression that the HPPP trumpets. The awnings are exempt from the HPOZ process, and as I explained to you are a quick solution to a solar heat gain problem that I am assessing.

    Finally, you are writing about a project that is in mid-process. Before suggesting that the work, which conforms with the HPPP, somehow diminishes the character of the home and the neighborhood, I respectfully suggest that you wait until the work is completed and then reach your judgment. I have created countless landscapes that have been recognized in publications and professionally acknowledged for their design excellence and I expect that 115 N. Rossmore Avenue, when completed, will be another one on that list.

    Sincerely,

    Jay Griffith

    1. Hi Jay. Firstly, welcome to the neighborhood and congrats for negotiating the HPOZ process. I live in Windsor Square and deal with a similar review process and it’s not easy at times. Hang in there; you’ll get through it. You have the extreme disadvantage of high visibility, so your every move will be seen. I love the lions and that they came from the Harold Lloyd Estate (Greenacres?) is awesome. You attention to the details is plainly seen and I believe that the old house will regain her sparkle once you’re done. Good luck!

      1. David,

        Thank you for that- mostly for the welcome to the neighborhood. This is one of the few times anyone has engaged me about moving into my house and commencing work and prefaced it with a welcome-to-the-neighborhood. What I usually get is an earful of unsolicited commentary delivered with a fair amount of vitriol.

        And, yes, Greenacres- one of the great masterpieces of vernacular architecture in Southern California.

        Thank you for the support. I shall endeavor to see out my Faulkner-esque tribute to Hollywood royalty.

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