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Saving Iconic Architecture in Southern California

Discover How SIA Is Enriching Our Future By Preserving The Past

By Renée Soucy

Save Iconic Architecture - SIA Co-founders, Jaime Rummerfield & Ron Woodson

SIA Co-founders, Ron Woodson & Jaime Rummerfield

Composer Gustave Mahler once declared that “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” Though he was referring to music, his observation could apply equally to the work of Save Iconic Architecture (SIA) who, since 2017 have tirelessly advocated for the preservation of some of Southern California’s most iconic buildings. SIA’s approach to architectural preservation isn’t merely the veneration of bricks, beams, and mortar but a recognition of the intangible cultural value which make a structure truly iconic.  



THE VISION OF SIA: MORE THAN JUST PRESERVATION


SIA Co-founder Ron Woodson explains “Iconic architecture to me is defined by notable architecture, the architect, the provenance of the space (as in who inhabited the space) and what happened in the space.“


Known for their signature approach to contemporary Hollywood opulence, Woodson and SIA co-founder Jaime Rummerfield (both L.A. natives) helmed their celebrated design and architecture practice, Woodson & Rummerfield’s House of Design from 2005-2023, building a client list which included John Travolta and Kelly Preston, Courtney Love, and Christina Aguilera amongst others. Their work has been featured in the pages of Architectural Digest, Elle Decor and Veranda. While both have announced they’ll be launching their own separate firms in the months ahead, their long partnership continues in SIA’s mission to bring awareness and take action in preserving endangered architectural and significant cultural structures as art through three core strategies: landmarking, preservation, advocacy, and awareness.

Modern home interior design by Jaime Rummerfield & Ron Woodson

Interior by Woodson & Rummerfield’s House of Design


THE BIRTH OF SAVE ICONIC ARCHITECTURE (SIA)


“Iconic architecture is the foundation for future architecture.” Richard explains, “When iconic architecture is demolished and erased, there goes that history of a particular period, history of an area and history of what happened in the space. When that history is erased, future generations have no point of reference about that history of space and time.”

 

Though much credit is due to the L.A. Conservancy for their incredible efforts, the sheer number of structures existing without landmark status mean countless noteworthy residences and buildings still fall through the cracks every year, sacrificed to the blunt social and economic philosophies of developers or home buyers seeking stature in an excess of newly-built square footage. It was from this unfortunate phenomenon that SIA was born.



THE CATALYST MOMENTS

Jaime explains: “We were with a potential client at the Jim Backus estate and the storied, Ranch style, pink-with-trellises, ornate-broken-pediments-with-urns, Bel Air home was glorious—a perfect example of old Hollywood glamor with mature, sprawling landscapes. Just as you would imagine an old George Cukor film set would be. The client immediately told us the house was too small and they were going to tear it down. We strongly recommended against that. We realized there was no one to contact to help us save this structure. It was a very helpless feeling.”

Mid-Century modern-style house designed by Greta Magnusson Grossman

Jim Backus Estate designed by Greta Magnusson Grossman built in 1950’s

She continues “Within weeks we were brought out to the Chuey house by Richard Neutra that was for sale as a “tear down”.  We just couldn’t believe the unawareness of good design and how unique these special structures are to the vernacular and story of our city, yet sadly, considered so disposable. By then I’d hounded the LA Conservancy so much about these at-risk structures, that they taught us how to nominate a building for landmarking ourselves.  Hence, the non-profit organization Save Iconic Architecture emerged.”


EARLY SUPPORT & SPONSORSHIP

It was at this earliest stage that Snyder Diamond CEO Russ Diamond learned about their project, immediately understanding and supporting their mission. “We were there at the very beginning when they were discussing the whole concept. Before they formed SIA, both Ron and Jaime were upset that these iconic residential structures and even commercial ones like the Brown Derby were destroyed, and they really had a desire to figure out how to preserve them. Of course, we know and appreciate the LA Conservancy who are involved with the cause, but it was clear that Ron and Jaime would and could take a deeper dive into the issue. When they launched SIA, we were there from the start, and one of if not perhaps the very first sponsor.”


THE CORE STRATEGIES OF SIA


Poor preservation mandates, predatory developers and a lack of awareness mean that even structures steeped in the legends of their prior owners (often icons of popular culture themselves) are at risk, most recently and notably Marilyn Monroe’s Brentwood home whose fate at the time of writing remains uncertain. “I think one of the biggest threats to iconic architecture is [the philosophy] that bigger and new is best. I also think it’s a lack of education.” Says Ron. “Being a third generation Angeleno and being exposed to iconic architecture at an early age, the idea of preservation and history was formulated early for me, but I think the real breaking point was when Jaime and I would go on interior design consultations to some noteworthy properties and have the owners tell us point blank they wanted to tear the property down for something new and shiny.”

Marilyn Monroe Spanish-Style Brentwood home

Marilyn Monroe Spanish-style Brentwood home

PRESERVATION INITIATIVES


In a city whose existence is so closely tied to the power of imagination and images, the built environment acts as the ultimate canvas upon which every generation paints their dreams and ambitions. And, as one generation’s era turns into its twilight, those brick-and-mortar dreams have often been at best painted over or, at worst, destroyed by the new guard eager to assert their dreams and visions, unaware of the cultural and aesthetic treasures they embody.



ADVOCACY AND AWARENESS CAMPAIGNS


When asked about the architectural icons lost to the bulldozer and wrecking ball, Jaime simply replies “Oh where do we begin?” before listing a veritable roll-call of noteworthy properties all fitting the definition of an icon: “Pickfair, Lytton Savings, Eva Gabor’s Paul R. Williams (home), Zsa Zsa Gabor’s John Elgin-Woolf (home). The Minnelli Mansion by John-Elgin Woolf, Enchanted Hill by Wallace Neff.  Trader Vic’s in the Beverly Hills Hilton, Coconut Grove in the Ambassador Hotel, The Chasen’s Estate by Paul R. Williams…Sixty percent of Trousdale is gone.”



CHALLENGES AND THREATS TO ICONIC ARCHITECTURE


Some are gone, but all is not lost. Like every good Hollywood script, there are triumphs, too, including victories for works by Richard Neutra, Donald Wexler and James Allen Walter. The next time you’re driving on Sunset near Sweetzer, admiring the Standard Hotel’s perfectly undulating balconies, take a moment to thank Jaime, Ron and all the team at SIA. Thanks to their grit and determination, in 2022 the City of West Hollywood's preservation commission unanimously voted to give historic preservation status to the Herbert Kameon designed 139-key hotel.



IMPACT OF POOR PRESERVATION MANDATES


“The reason we fight so hard to save iconic architecture in LA is because there is such a wonderful diversity of architecture in this city.” Ron explains. Jaime echoes his sentiment “Iconic architecture is art in the third dimension.  We have world class architecture right here in Los Angeles and it is important to protect these city treasures.”

Iconic Sunset Strip Landmark - The Standard Hotel

The Standard Hotel on Sunset Boulevard

JOIN US! BECOME A MEMBER & HELP US SAVE ICONIC ARCHITECTURE


Follow on IG: SaveIconicArchitecture

www.SIAprojects.org



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