Thursday, September 27, 2007
The most compelling argument for preserving historic buildings is that, like endangered species, once they are gone they can never return. So it’s understandable that preservationists are upset over the decision of the Los Angeles Board of Education this week to tear down the building that housed the Cocoanut Grove. The famous nightclub was a focal point of the city’s nightlife and entertainment scene for decades. It was part of the old Ambassador Hotel, which witnessed the fatal shooting of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968; the hotel was demolished by the school district, which owns the land, last year. The plan is to build a large new school complex on the site.
The chief reason that the school board decided to demolish the nightclub building is that it appears unsafe in its current condition, and that renovations to make it withstand earthquakes would impair its use as a building. The loss of the historical structure is sad, but safety is paramount in today’s America (even the name “Cocoanut Grove” brings up harrowing lessons of safety). And I’ll suggest that buildings that witnessed history but that are not particularly architecturally distinguished (as the hotel and nightclub were not) deserve a lower priority in preservation than buildings whose walls and windows themselves provide inspiration.