Neutra Offices Win Time
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Aug. 26, 2008
An endangered office complex Richard Neutra designed in 1963 in Newport Beach, Calif., is safely bound up in bureaucratic red tape—for now.
In June, preservationists learned that a developer planned to demolish the Mariners Medical Arts Center for a new office building.
On July 11, the city suspended a building permit issued in January to Orange County-based Venture Development Group, stating that it could not begin construction until two studies were completed: a traffic-phasing ordinance, and a historical assessment required under the California Environmental Quality Act.
Now a new potential buyer, who has pledged to restore and preserve Neutra's work, is interested in the Mariners Medical Arts Center. It's unclear whether Venture is willing to sell the property. Principal John Bral did not return phone calls.
When Orange County architect John Linnert heard in June that the complex was threatened, he visited City Hall and combed through files on the project, which has been in the works for four years.
"I found some notes about a letter saying it was historically significant and the owner had to follow historical procedures," Linnert says. Despite the planning board's specific request in 2005, no historical assessment was done before the city issued a building permit. As a result, Linnert organized a group that wrote letters citing the oversight and highlighting the complex's importance.
"It is a singular work of architecture at a national level of significance, a work which synthesized Neutra's ideas and architectural skills into one extraordinary complex," architect Barbara Lamprecht, author of Richard Neutra – Complete Works, wrote in a July 4 letter to the city. "It will always be a destination to those architects who need to experience such a masterwork, to listen intently to it, and learn."
The state review process, which Venture must pay for, could take at least four months. The delay, however, might not save the Mariners Medical Arts Center, which is not listed on national, state, or local historic registers.
"In six to eight months, they could demolish it. I don't think the city cares too much about the buildings, and the owner, from his actions, doesn't either," Linnert says. "There are a lot of people who really like this building. It's a Neutra, for crying out loud, and it's a darned good one, too."
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