To the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, it was just a dilapidated old building and a pain in the neck. To many citizens of Independence the historic hair shop DWP tore down Thursday morning was valuable, memorable and one more symbol of the big city’s disdain for all things Owens Valley, except, of course, the water.
Thursday before daylight, LADWP crews apparently assembled and started to tear down the historic hair shop while most residents still slept. Nancy Masters of Independence, long active in preservation of Owens Valley history, said LADWP knew the old hair shop was considered historic. She said insurance maps showed it was a barber shop at the turn of the century.
Masters called LADWP’s pattern of systematic destruction of Owens Valley
structures and trees “cultural genocide.” She said they’ve been doing this since day one – “eliminating residences, ranches, dead trees, places, landscapes, memories. If you eradicate memories, you’re destroying history,” she said.
Masters said the old barber shop was documented, and DWP was told it was an historical structure, protected under law. “They don’t care about the laws. What we’re all seeing,” she said, “is disregard for the law. The Water Agreement creates rules and civilized behavior. They’re not following them. We are nothing more to DWP,” said Masters, “than a sediment basin that holds water.”
As for rules, according to the Inyo County Building Department, LADWP applied for a demolition permit which was transferred to the Planning Department for possible approval. Procedure dictates that the permit would have to be returned to the Building Department for issuance. Building Inspector William Ralston said he had not received it back from Planning and had not issued a demolition permit to LADWP.
We were further informed that Planning Director Josh Hart had been in conference with the County Counsel’s office over this issue. We have not received return calls from either of those officials yet.
We placed calls to the new upcoming DWP chief in the Owens Valley, James Yanatto, and to DWP Real Estate but received no return calls.
Masters and others also added that LADWP had earlier set up a process for people to lease the building. Masters said the Independence Civic Club had made a proposal with volunteers and money to restore the building. Masters said, “DWP never got back to us.” Late Thursday, LADWP did email a statement to Sierra Wave Media about the demolition:
“The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power removed the old Hair I Am addition in Independence on Thursday, April 26. The Hair I Am building was actually a small addition to an existing building that is now being leased to the Independence Lions Club. The Hair I Am addition sat on a dirt and rock foundation and was unsafe and not up to code. The addition was unusable in its current condition and extensive renovations would need to be done before it was safe to occupy. A professional historical study determined that the Hair I Am addition was not a historic structure. As a result, LADWP decided the addition needed to be removed for safety reasons. The LADWP will now make improvements to the adjacent structure that is leased to the Lions Club, including siding, a new roof and windows and extending the fence to the building.”
We did not have an opportunity to speak with any LADWP official. After hearing LADWP’s statement, Ms. Masters said that LA hired a consultant who, she believes, spent 2 hours looking at the building. Masters said, “They did not follow the state process of determining an historic structure.” She said DWP declined to give her the report by their consultant.
Ironically Civic Club members and others had recently met to go to work on the Independence Historic District with the first project to create a map of historic structures. Now, Masters said, one of them is gone. She said, “There is so little left because of the consistent practice of destruction.”