April 1, 2012

Saving a House

Honoring the wishes of a departed friend

  • By: Lauren Walser

Allegra Allison never knew she was an activist, let alone a preservationist. What she did know was that the city of West Hollywood, Calif., was planning to redevelop the 1914 Colonial Revival manor that she had called home for 27 years. And she was ready to do anything to save it. 

The manor, known locally as Tara for its resemblance to the O’Haras’ house in Gone With the Wind, stands on nearly an acre of wooded grounds. Adolph Linick, a Chicago amusement park owner and pioneer of the nickelodeon, moved his family to the property in 1924, and entertained luminaries such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, and Charlie Chaplin in the grand dining room. Linick’s daughter Elsie and her husband, developer Sidney M. Weisman, converted the house into four apartment units in 1941.

But Elsie Linick Weisman died in 2000 at the age of 101, and suddenly, Tara’s future became uncertain. Although she had stated her intentions to give the property to the city as a community space, Weisman left nothing in writing. Shortly after her death, West Hollywood officials announced plans to gut Tara and create an apartment complex for low-income seniors. Interiors would be stripped, dozens of trees removed, and free-standing, three-story additions added to either side of the mansion.

Allison sprang into action, forming “Save Tara,” a group dedicated to honoring the dreams of Weisman, Allison’s longtime neighbor and friend. The city offered her $42,000 to end her campaign, but she refused. The group attended city council meetings and identified alternative lots for the apartments, never backing down when meetings turned ugly or when she and the five other tenants were evicted.

Save Tara filed two lawsuits against the city. After a series of appeals, the battle went to the California Supreme Court. In October 2008, the court ruled that city officials had failed to properly evaluate the proposed project’s environmental impact.

Finally, last August, the city council voted to abandon its plans for Tara—eight years after Allison placed her first picket sign in the yard.

The city has since turned the front of the property into a community park, and officials are seeking public input for the rest of the estate. “Elsie wanted it to be used by the community—that’s the bottom line,” Allison says. She will make sure Weisman’s dream is realized: “Sometimes you just can’t turn away. I lived with Elsie too long to do that to her.”

Lauren Walser served as the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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