Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Saga Continues: 431 N. L Street


My introduction to this property was when it appeared on a Nuisance Abatement Board agenda. At the same meeting, we also dealt with another property at 431 N. K Street which happened to occupy the exact same location on the block immediately to the west - the southwest corner of the intersection at 5th Avenue North. Both were owned by the notorious Joe DiMauro. We heard evidence of code enforcement issues
while the properties were occupied. Apparently, these two properties acted in tandem to terrorize the Mango Groves neighborhood - both through their blighted conditions and the sorts of tenants housed on both properties. I remember hearing a series of frightening tales being told by responsible residents in the vicinity that helped us in our decision making.

Based in part to our action on the Nuisance Abatement Board, the City was able to eradicate the nuisance and obtained title to both properties. The property at 431 N. L Street became the City's responsibility (see PBC Property Appraisers card below) in July of 2006.

Upon inspection of both properties by officials in the Building Department once the City had possession, they determined that the best action was demolition of both structures due to unsafe conditions and in an attempt, I believe to eliminate the possibility of the same situation with tenants and the potential impact they would have on the neighborhood.

At the September 20, 2006 meeting of the PZHRPB, both items appeared on the HRPB agenda as requests from the City for demolition of all buildings on each property. Darrin Engle, the City's Urban Designer (who has since moved and no longer works for the City) prepared excellent staff reports on both properties. He concluded, and the board agreed, that the property on K Street, even though it was a contributing structure within the historic district, was in such bad condition structurally and experienced many historically insensitive changes over its lifetime, that it was worthy for demolition. The actual act of demolition occurred back in May of this year.

The building at 431 N. L. was another matter entirely. It is also a contributing building in the same historic district. Depending on the source, the property has either 10 units (City) or 9 units (County) - apparently all legal. However, it was originally designed as a 4 unit walk-up - you can check out the original blueprint above for the 1st floor plan. And guess who it was designed by - G, Sherman Childs.

Mr. Childs worked as an architect for Addison Mizner and did a lot of of designs for buildings in Lake Worth. He was the architect for the Muncipal Auditorium that we now use as City Hall, the Casino building, City Hall Annex, the Birthday Cake house, etc. Mr. and Mrs. G. S. Childs are listed as Lake Worth pioneers (that can be found in the City Hall conference room. And, after World War II, Edgar Wortmann, who redesigned the Casino building and was architect for the City Library, did the work to make the original four units into eight (the other units are in the out buildings to the west of the main structure).

So, the building has a pedigree. When it came before the PZHRPB, we decided to allow for the demolition of the out buildings which were too far gone and not that architecturally significant. This will eventually open up more yard area for a flexible future plan for the property. The PZHRPB deferred action on the requested demolition. At the 9/20/06 meeting, we asked that if be brought back at the first meeting November. After looking on line at minutes and agendas today, I don't think it was ever brought back for formal action. My last meeting on the Board was 12/20/06 so that I could run for office. It might have appeared on a subsequent agenda. I'll check with the Planning Department tomorrow as they were closed today.

The source of most of our discussion at that meeting was finding a suitable use for the property. Since it is already owned by the City, we thought of a recreation center of some sort. That would also be a nice tie-in with the building's architect as he designed many City buildings. Or, the City could find someone to turn it back into its original design of four units - in a condominium arrangement of some sort. The thought is that it is fine to save the building by not demolishing it, but what is going to save it in the long run is finding an economic supportive use for it.

Right now, the job is only half done. The human nuisance factor is gone, but we still have a derelict, vacant building that rehabbed would make a nice addition to the neighborhood. The point was made by Darrin Engle during the meeting, and I have also highlighted those sections in the staff report, that it is important to professionally "mothball' this building until the City identifies an appropriate use for it, or find another private party to buy it. I have reason to be more than a little concerned - one need only look at the building at the A Street round-about - the reportedly oldest building in Lake Worth - to see what happens when the City controls the destiny of a historic structure. More on that one later...

I think the point here is that we are either going to take historic preservation seriously and walk-the-walk or we might as well not have the infrastructure to support a historic preservation program. Right now, Darrin Engle's position has not been filled and there is a gentleman working 20 hours a week at $100 an hour that has NO BACKGROUND in historic preservation (his background is in Comprehensive Planning). He is attempting to do a job for which he does not have the adequate education and experience to do. In a City with so many demands of a critical nature, who is there to carry the torch for this building?

The opposition during my campaign like to hang a necklace on me of the demolitions we approved during my period as Chairman of the PZHRPB. Where are they now when the fate of this building hangs in the balance?

And, the frustrating part for me is that I have a friend who lives in Lake Worth that rehabs houses. He did a major project in South Beach. He is bored right now and would like to dig into this building. But how do we, as a City, get out of our own way and allow that to happen?

Your thoughts on this are appreciated.

From PowerPoint presentation made at 9/20/06 PZHRPB meeting:

G. Sherman Childs

Staff Report Excerpts

Photos Taken 11/10/07

Front of building showing central "walk-up" entrance.

Corner of 5th Avenue North and L Street.

Example of inadequate protection of the structure - open windows, partially boarded. North facade.

No trespassing sign identifying City as owner.

Another example of inadequate protection of the structure - open windows, partially boarded.

Rear view of building, western elevation.

Northwest corner of main building, characteristic Lake Worth gable over door.

Out-buildings approved for demolition - alley to the west.

View looking southeast at alley. Main building shown in background.

No trespassing sign identifying City as owner, along with miscellaneous trash.

Close up of south elevation, second floor non-weather,bird and vermin proof securing of windows.

South yard area, with southern facade showing shed for water heater and hardscape area. This area was formerly used for parking under the previous owner - see aerial.