Great Southern Hotel
September 28, 2005, 12:53 AM
Filed under: Historic Preservation

September 28, 2005

Replacing the historic Great Southern Hotel with a condo tower turns out to have more negative consequences than just the opposition of thousands of Hollywood residents which the mayor and commissioners have routinely dismissed, with only Commissioners Furr and Oliveri responding positively to the public outcry.

We now have historic preservation staff weighing in from three levels of government (national, state and county) raising a specter of serious consequences from the “drastic change” to the Great Southern Hotel that would be caused by the 19-story condo/garage building planned to replace it.

The Acting Chief of the Historic Preservation Grants Division of the National Park Service wrote to the Mayor in July expressing his belief that issuing the demolition permit for the Great Southern Hotel could cause our historic business district to be removed from the National Register of Historic Places.

Then in August came a letter from Chris Eck, Broward County Historic Preservation Officer, directed to the State Historic Preservation Officer, requesting an opinion on the Great Southern development project. Mr. Eck wrote in part as follows:

“Recently, I have had discussions with members of my board and have received hundreds of telephone and email messages from both residents and non-residents of Hollywood concerned about the negative effect that the proposed 19-story condominium building may have on the historic hotel and the district.”

In response to Mr. Eck’s request, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Barbara Mattick wrote in part as follows:

“The redevelopment of the Great Southern Hotel, as proposed, would entail the demolition of nearly all of the building, and the subsequent construction of a 19-story garage/condominium within the remaining shell of the historic building.  We concur with Mr. Hampton Tucker, Acting Chief, Historic Preservation Grants Division of the National Park Service, that such a drastic change to the Great Southern Hotel will totally change the character of the building and would result in the loss of its designation as a contributing resource in the district; i.e., it would lose its National Register status and all benefits attached to that designation.”

“Furthermore, the construction of a 19-story building would be a severe departure from the scale and massing of the rest of the HBHBD [Hollywood Boulevard Historic Business District] and would insert a major non-contributing element between Young Circle and the downtown commercial corridor of the district.  The intrusion of a building that is so out of character with the rest of the district could jeopardize the district as it currently is configured.  At the very least, it would call for the re-evaluation of the district’s boundaries for continued listing in the National Register of Historic Places.”

So now here we are, with federal, state, and county historic preservation staff concurring that Hollywood is on the brink of destroying the very heart of our historic downtown and that if the city should carry through with this plan, there are consequences to pay.

How did we get to this low point?  The answer lies in large part because we have amateurs in action.  The mayor and commissioners are playing the part of developers as they approve one mixed use condo tower after another, without adequate knowledge of the consequences.   The fact is that our elected officials are not developers and we did not elect them to get carried away as they have in pursuit of destructive development.

In this case, some Hollywood Historical Society (HHS) board members tried their hand at playing developer too. Back in 2004, a handful of HHS board members (most of its executive committee at the time) approved an agreement with the developer in which the HHS would receive a “facade easement” and some $200,000 for an archives building.  In return, these executive officers committed HHS to support the 19-story condo/garage development to be fronted by two facades of the old hotel and a partial third one.

When the rest of the HHS board learned the details of this agreement months later, disagreement erupted with the outcome that those executive committee members who agreed to support the development are no longer members of the HHS board.  While the former board members may have felt their actions were in the best interest of historic preservation, that turns out not to be the case as the reaction of professional historic preservation officers at the county, state, and federal levels reveals.

How to unravel the damage that has been done:  this is a question in need of serious attention.  Whatever it takes, we should preserve the Great Southern Hotel in its entirety and stop this ill-conceived condo/garage tower now, as Beth Dunlop, architecture critic for the Herald, urged us to do over a year ago.

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