One of the symbols on Los Angeles’ official city seal is a stylized castle. Maybe it should appear with a wrecking ball hanging over it. Raze first, ask questions later has often been the drill with historic buildings. But the city, working with the Getty Conservation Institute, has crafted a website of historical resources, HistoricPlacesLA.org, to inventory sites of “rich social significance” and alert public and private interests to their existence. One man who’s been tracking them all along is Wayne Ratkovich, an advisor to the project. His development firm has been one step ahead of the wrecking ball in some cases, polishing tarnished architectural jewels into landmark status. Instead of resisting historic designation, he’s made a specialty, and his reputation, out of it.
Aren’t landmarks impediments to development?
In the mid ’80s, developers and preservationists were almost at war with each other, developers claiming property rights and preservationists saying, “This is the heart of our city.” Now you see groups like the Urban Land Institute, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and developers working together. HistoricPlacesLA is a step in the same direction. It says, “These are the things we value in our city; come bring them back to life if they need it, and if you’re thinking about demolishing them, you might want to look at other places, because this is something we treasure.”
Why do you go to the trouble of rehabbing old buildings?
We’d like to be an example of capitalism in its most admirable form. We function in the private market, not with government subsidies, and we fulfill our mission to profitably produce developments that improve the quality of urban life. That allows us to do well and do good at the same time. ….