One of the insider landmarks of Beverly Hills is the Tower of Hope, an art-covered oil derrick that sits at the edge of Beverly Hills High School, clearly visible from Pico Boulevard. Covered with fabric panels painted with colorful flowers by young hospital patients, the 155-foot-tall tower is a remnant from the days when the area was covered with oil fields (the high school once contained almost 20), and it’s become a popular visiting spot. It also still pumps oil, for Denver-based Venoco, with some of the proceeds going to the school. But Beverly Hills High’s major expansion plans call for removing the well altogether.
The school’s new campus, designed by DLR Group, will include a renovation of the original 1928 buildings (including administrative, library, dining, and auditorium spaces), improvements to the playing fields, a new athletic building, and a modernization and re-skinning of its less attractive 1960s era one, which contains classrooms. The 510,000 square foot, $150 million project will be brought together with green spaces, plazas, and pathways, replacing a street that once ran through the campus. “The school board wasn’t happy with how the old and new buildings used to have no dialogue at all,” said DLR Group Principal Brett Hobza.
The renovation plan will not, most likely, contain the tower, which was conceived in 2000 by local artist and writer Ed Massey. Site plans now include a new softball field on the site, said DLR Group principal Brett Hobza. Venoco’s oil field lease is up in 2016, and at that time it will revert back to Beverly Hills Unified School District. The district would not comment on what they have called a “politically charged” issue. Venoco spokesperson Steve Greig acknowledged that if the oil field lease (which Veneco has held since 1994) is not extended then the tower will be torn down. He added that if that happened the city and the district would lose a “significant percentage” of the revenue from its wells. Over the last ten years Veneco has paid over $30 million in revenues to Beverly Hills.
Roger Sherman, an LA architect and the author of L.A. Under the Influence: The Hidden Logic of Urban Property, calls the tower an “accidental landmark,” a public anomaly forged through the resolution of conflict. (Its exterior panels were originally installed to minimize drilling sounds.) Several similar LA icons, “lessons in how the urban realm gets built,” have also been lost in recent years. He described their loss as symbols not just of NIMBYism, but of a city that seems to want to ignore or whitewash its idiosyncratic history in favor of a “falsified version of its past,” like the Grove or other Rick Caruso developments.
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