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The Breakfast Conversation: Los Angeles Conservancy
The executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy and actress-preservationist Diane Keaton sat down at FIG to talk about her personal fight for L.A. architecture—and why Brad Pitt should buy the Ennis House
Photograph by Forest Casey
On the Los Angeles Conservancy: “The Los Angeles Conservancy was founded in 1978 as part of the effort to stop the proposed demolition of the Central Library downtown. There had been preservation efforts before, for different buildings, but not a sustained organization that would promote advocacy and education. The L.A. Conservancy works very hard to engage people and let them know that we have these great historic resources that are worth saving.”
On saving the Century Plaza Hotel: “The game changer on the Century Plaza was that we made it a campaign issue in CD5 [Council District 5]. We typically interview the candidates in the runoff stage. This time we did it before the runoff…. When [city councilmember Paul] Koretz won, his first week in office, unbeknownst to us, he started the designation process for the Century Plaza.”
On losing the Ambassador Hotel: “The Ambassador Hotel fight was about a 20-year effort on behalf of the Conservancy…. The LAUSD said they would work with us through a process…but it was a charade. They went through the motions, but they had no intention of saving the building.”
On Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House, which is for sale for $10.5 million: “The Ennis House needs more work than we possibly can handle in the nonprofit sector…. It’s on the market so that the right steward can enjoy it and take care of it. Due to the extensive stabilization work done at the property, the motor court is probably one of the safest places in L.A. to be in an earthquake.”
On the status of Clifton’s Cafeteria: “It’s in escrow right now. We’ve met with the new owners. They get it. They know what they are buying.”
On Los Angeles architecture: “All of L.A. means so much to me. I’m in love with Los Angeles—this place that has always looked toward the future, with this Wild West mentality. It’s fascinating that we’ve got all these milestones of the future that are now part of the past.
“L.A. is also my own personal history. I grew up in Highland Park—my father worked for the Department of Water and Power. I remember going to Angels Flight with my dad, seeing City Hall and so many other landmarks. It was like a fantasy come true to see these extraordinary buildings. And, of course, the Ambassador Hotel. My mother was crowned Miss Los Angeles by Art Linkletter at the Ambassador. The loss of that building had a deep personal meaning for me.
“I truly believe that our architecture is the most significant thing about California. People don’t realize that we have this amazing architecture to offer that no one else does. Not even New York.”
On her personal preservation projects: “I’ve probably done things that some people would question. My approach to reviving historic homes is not always absolutely pure. But I have kept these houses standing, and I’ve never changed their outward appearance. I’ve tried to honor the notion of preserving a historic home’s context in the neighborhood.”
On working with LACMA: “Under the leadership of Michael Govan, LACMA has a vision of collecting great works of architecture by leading L.A. architects. So much of L.A.’s historic architecture is art, so it makes perfect sense for the museum to collect important examples. LACMA’s architectural initiative is a singular opportunity to do something extraordinary: to honor our unparalleled concentration of great historic residential architecture. These homes—built on dreams, based on genius, rooted in L.A.’s unique sense of high entertainment and variety—don’t exist anywhere else. Not in New York, not anywhere. Michael Govan and LACMA would make Los Angeles stand out and shine in an area that totally sets it apart from any other place in the United States of America—they can help make Los Angeles a truly great city on its own.”
On why Brad Pitt should buy the Ennis House: “If one person stepped up and saved this masterpiece—just one person—I shouldn’t name names, but I have a list in my head of the people who could do it. I wonder why I can’t be seductive enough to convince someone that they’ll have a great legacy in Los Angeles—they’ll be known as the person who ensured the preservation of an irreplaceable part of our history. This one person’s efforts could have a snowball effect. We’re definitely getting there—there are some terrific stewards who have rescued very important homes. But we need to do more. We could wake up one day and have this amazing collection of historic residential architecture, some Schindlers, Neutras, Lautners, and many others, and they would all be part of the cultural life of L.A. People could go and experience these homes, and they’d be taken care of the way that they should be…. That’s my fantasy.”