Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Cocoanut Grove's Last Stand

Cocoanut Grove at its peak. Of course, by the 1970s, Sammy Davis had turned the room into the cheesy, disco-ish "Now Grove." Which is how it pretty much remained to the end.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to Franklin Avenue and Ambassador's Last Stand readers, but it's now official: Most of the last remnants of the fabled Cocoanut Grove structure -- part of the last remaining pieces of the 1921 hotel still standing after last year's demolition -- will be torn down shortly.

As I noted back in November, the L.A. Unified School District had posted signs at the Ambassador site, noting that it felt the original plan to preserve the Cocoanut Grove structure was no longer feasible:

The "Notice of Preparation, Supplement to Final Environmental Impact Report" reads: The 2004 FEIR included mitigation measures for the adaptive reuse of the Cocoanut Grove as an auditorium subject to structural materials testing. Based upon extensive testing and evaluation by the District's structural engineer, consultants and staff, the District determined that it is technically infeasible to retain and reuse all of the features that were described in the 2004 FEIR due to their age and degraded and unstable condition.

Now, the L.A. Times reports that the LAUSD board voted 7-0 to approve the changes -- and tear down what's left of the old Cocoanut Grove. Demolition begins next month; the paper notes that the new school should be completed by 2010:

In a state-mandated environmental impact report, the district acknowledged that the property was historically significant. To mitigate the impact of tearing most of it down, L.A. Unified said it would preserve the pantry where Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968 and keep the Cocoanut Grove, turning it into a high school auditorium.

In public statements and during court proceedings, the district said it would cut out the pantry and preserve it whole. Officials said those plans were based on a review of blueprints and visual inspection of the site.

But under current plans, only the east wall, the circular entry and a portion of the glass west wall of the nightclub and historic Paul Williams cafeteria will not be destroyed, along with some interior features that were removed and will be incorporated into the design. As for the pantry, L.A. Unified decided in 2005 that the district would collect 29 items from it -- mostly doors, electrical items and an ice machine -- put them in storage, and tear down the rest of it.

According to a supplemental environmental impact report approved by the board Tuesday, testing found that the concrete connections were inadequate and the cement content and strength of the concrete were too low in most of the Cocoanut Grove.

Shoring the walls would take up so much space that ceilings would be low and hallways too narrow for the area to be functional, said Jim Cowell, the outgoing head of new construction for the district. Instead, the district will tear down the concrete walls and build new ones in the same place, move the stage and slope the floor, so the nightclub can work as an auditorium. The east wing was stronger than the rest of the building, so the structural elements there will be maintained.

Another nail in the coffin, I suppose, but since the Ambassador has already been buried, all I can do is once again sigh.