In an unexpected turn of events, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission has told the Los Angeles City Council that they do not support the designation of Bob Hope's 15,000-square-foot Toluca Lake home as a landmark.
The decision by the commission, made public in a Thursday morning hearing, does not necessarily end efforts to landmark Hope's former estate at 10346 Moorpark St. - a process that has been spearheaded by Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu - but it makes the path to designate the property a landmark much more complicated.
In September, Ryu submitted an emergency motion to start the landmark process after news outlets reported that Hope's daughter, Linda, was pursuing plans to demolish all or part of the home in an effort to sell it. The estate, first listed in 2013, is presently listed for $22 million.
"That's just not true," Linda Hope tells The Hollywood Reporter, insisting that demolition permits were filed by a potential buyer or an agent working on his behalf. "I've never taken any steps to demolish any part of that property." A review of the demolition permit reveals that no effort to tear down the main house was made - the paperwork, filed by a contract, mentions just a garage, pool house and another outbuilding.
The recent emergency motion pitted Ryu, and the staff of the city's Office of Historic Resources, against Hope, who argued that she was well within her rights to sell the house and that she would, in fact, be defying the wishes of her mother, Dolores, if she did otherwise.
"My mother's will specified that the house be sold and the proceeds go the Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation - to make sure that veterans and people in need in the Los Angeles area could benefit," Linda says. "I am the CEO of the foundation and I have an actual fiduciary responsibility to do what's best for the foundation. It has cost the foundation nearly $1 million a year to maintain this property."
Ken Bernstein, the manager of the Office of Historic Resources office, tells THR that although the estate did not meet the criteria as an architectural landmark, his staff determined that the house should be designated as a landmark because of its "historic cultural significance." The commission has effectively overruled the staff.
"Bob Hope's association with this property lasted for six decades. His iconic role in the entertainment industry clearly made him a historic personage and this is the property most associated with his life," Bernstein says.
The house was originally built in 1939 by noted architect Richard Finkelhor, and in 2003 Hope died in the home at the age of 100. Dolores passed away eight years later. Over the years, the Toluca Lake home was visited by many Hollywood luminaries, including Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.
Linda Hope insists that the cultural, historical and architectural significance of the estate has been overstated for political reasons. "It's not like the Rat Pack was hanging out at the Toluca Lake house - my father did most of his celebrity entertaining at his house in Palm Springs and saw this house as a refuge," she notes, recalling that the most frequent celebrity guest was Phyllis Diller, who came for dinners and stayed to play on the piano with her mother. "My mom was a frustrated architect - always moving walls. It's a lovely house but I think it's clear it has no important architectural integrity."
Linda Hope says that at one point her parents considered turning the house into a museum but were told that it could not be zoned for such a non-residential use. After that, she adds, they decided it should be sold to help fund the foundation. "Honestly, my siblings and I thought they might hand it down to us," Hope says. "But that's not what they decided and put in their wills. We're just trying to honor what my parents decreed."
The decision will now head back to City Council for a final vote, but due to the ruling by the Heritage Commission, a two-thirds vote will be necessary as opposed to a majority to designate the property. (Calls to Ryu's office seeking comment were not returned.)
Due to its unique nature, the debate over the Hope estate has emerged as a case study of sorts for conservationists and elected officials who are reckoning with how, what and when certain buildings, homes and neighborhoods in L.A. should be considered and designated as historical landmarks.
According to Bernstein, who was present at the hearing, Linda Hope's testimony before the commission proved "compelling." In that testimony, she pleaded with the commission not to designate the home because it could undermine the ultimate sale of the home, subsequently hurting her parent's foundation. She also has long maintained that she is seeking a "presentation-minded" buyer and that she never advocated demolishing the main house.
"I'm hopeful we're on our way to finally doing what my parents wanted," Linda Hope tells THR. "Nothing would please me more than to find a family who wants to live in the house and preserve it as best they can. In any case, the people of L.A. who are in need will benefit."