DOWNEY – On a 4-1 vote, the Planning Commission on Wednesday night agreed to subdivide the Albert Ball estate on Cherokee Drive into four lots, allowing the current property owner, Gloria Campuzano, to build four single-family homes on the site. The original Ball mansion was demolished in 2007 with approval from the city’s design review board, with the understanding that the home would be rebuilt to its original design.
The 2008 economic downturn, however, changed those plans.
“I hate to reward a situation that had an inappropriate demolition, in the sense that it was supposed to be rebuilt,” said Commissioner Jim Rodriguez, who cast the dissenting vote. “But I have to admit that it’s a lot where something has to be done.”
About a half dozen residents and local preservationists spoke against the subdivision request, arguing that the new tract would go against the existing character of the neighborhood.
George Redfox, president of the Downey Conservancy, said the original home was historic and architecturally significant, including its front porch and columns.
But after demolition, planning commissioners said there was little they could do to restore the property’s historical significance.
“I don’t think there’s anything to save anymore,” said Commissioner Matias Flores. “We have to put that property to use.”
“In a sense, it’s too far gone at this point,” added Commissioner Patrick Owens.
Area residents also expressed concern that the four new homes, if they are two stories tall, would be out of character with the neighborhood, which mostly features single-level properties.
“One of the inducements for purchasing my home 18 years ago was the CC&Rs for Cherokee Estates established uniform property standards, not the least of which was requiring single level homes,” Thomas Burney, who lives on the 10500 block of Birchdale Avenue, wrote to planning commissioners. “My concern, which I’m sure is shared by others, is the loss of privacy and property values if a two story home is built on the minimum setback. I need assurance that the privacy my family has enjoyed over the last 18 years will be preserved.”
City staff do not believe the subdivision will create a significant adverse impact to the neighborhood and recommended the subdivision’s approval.
A historic research evaluation by the city found that the estate, located at 8572 Cherokee Dr., has no historic significance.
“While the property served as the home of one of Downey’s pioneers, Albert L. Ball, who was associated with the development of the citrus industry in the region…no specific historical events are known to be associated with the property,” according to a city staff report.
Only 12 columns and the foundation remain of the original Ball home, which was mostly demolished by former owners Salvador and Maria Cerros in December 2007. The couple planned to rebuild the home using its original designs, but the project fell through as a result of the 2008 economic downturn.
With Wednesday’s approval from the Planning Commission, the remaining portions of the home will be demolished in order to accommodate four separate lots — each over 11,700 sq. ft. — on the west side of the acreage and a private driveway along the east side.
The final vote was 4-1, with Commissioner Rodriguez the dissenting vote.
Commissioners did include a stipulation that two existing palm trees remain on the property, and that a private driveway right-of-way be widened by four feet.
Campuzano, who also owns Gloria’s Cocina Mexicana in Downey, said she often dreamt of living on the property.
“Whenever I passed by, I’d see this amazing land and say, ‘one of these days, I’ll buy it,’” she said. “Finally, last year it was for sale.”
Campuzano, who purchased the land for nearly $1.6 million, said she plans for her children and other relatives to live in all four lots and does not have any intentions to sell them.
Designed in Spanish Colonial style by famous Los Angeles architect H.H. Whitely in 1920, the original Ball mansion was once one of the most prominent homes in Downey, situated in the midst of the family’s vast orange groves.
The 7,483-sq.-ft. two-story, rectangular structure sported a red tile roof and arched windows and a sheltered porch extended from the home’s main entrance. In 1977, the Ball property was placed on the California Historic Resources Inventory as a historic resource.
“I really want to live there and I worked hard to purchase that land,” said Campuzano, who estimates construction could start in a couple of months.
Published: Feb. 19, 2015 - Volume 13 - Issue 45