Speculation, Blight, and Fire

C.C. de Vere

C.C. de Vere

· 5 min read
570 Normandie, a cream-colored three-story home with visible signs of neglect and a demolition permit posted on the fence. Photo by Kim Cooper.

There's a thing called real estate speculation.

The idea is simple enough: somewhat like buying stocks, you buy something you think will increase in value, hold onto it, and sell it when you're able to get the price you want (or when you need money for something else).


Stock speculation is most likely to only hurt you (and possibly your family) if you make a bad investment. Real estate speculation hurts entire communities.

See, buying and holding a stock isn't a bad thing (unless it's an evil company that deserves to have its stock price collapse). Buying homes and keeping them empty in the hopes of selling them to developers or gentrifiers years later sure as hell is.

Assuming they're in livable, or repairable, condition at the time or purchase, it's highly unethical to keep homes vacant at a time when fewer and fewer people can find any affordable housing whatsoever.

Properties that are kept vacant for any length of time can also attract squatters. And sometimes, squatters start fires, accidentally or not.

You'd think that real estate speculators would WANT to keep their properties secure and in good condition, and you'd think that they would rent them out while waiting for the property to rise in value. The sensible ones, perhaps. The greedy ones, no.

It's easier to sell an empty building, and easier still to sell an empty lot to a developer. Speculators are often unconcerned about the home itself and only interested in the land underneath it.

Let's say, hypothetically, that you are a speculator and can get your hands on a lovely, but neglected, house on a nice big lot in West Adams for a pretty low price. West Adams has been gentrifying at a rapid clip, so you buy the house and leave it empty. If you don't have any pesky tenants, you don't have to evict them on behalf of a buyer who wants the property fully vacant, and you don't have to make any repairs unless the city cites you. You leave it empty, maybe apply for a demolition permit, but demolition costs money and you'll have to replace any lost RSO units (which older homes tend to be). So maybe you leave the flimsy chain-link gate unlocked, knowing someone who is desperate will ignore the faded No Trespassing sign and squat in the house. And you keep paying the insurance, knowing that with no utilities, squatters trying to warm themselves or heat up food or light a candle juuuuuuust might accidentally set the house on fire. And if that fire is bad enough (as is often the case with older, wood-framed homes), the fire department will knock down your burning spec house, and you get a more or less empty lot.

It's called demolition by neglect, and it happens far too often in Los Angeles.

The fact that the resulting fires are dangerous to the entire community, release polluting smoke in an already-polluted city, and can spread to other structures or cause someone to get hurt is too often ignored. I cannot think of a single example of a negligent property owner being held accountable for a house burning down.

KTLA states that 570 North Normandie Avenue "burst into flames" on the 24th. Did it really, or was it demolition by neglect?

The linked article quotes a neighbor who mentions people coming and going, using drugs, and even setting a couch on fire outside in the two months since the property was abandoned. This was a disaster waiting to happen.

Had the owner kept the property occupied or at least properly secured it, there's a good chance the house would not have had that fire. Instead, firefighters had to knock it down (with taxpayers footing the bill).

East Hollywood's gentrification has been accelerating in recent years, with at least one local magazine trying to make "EaHo" a thing and Sqirl inexplicably still being in business. Was the owner TRYING to get the house burned down in the hopes of cashing in? I sincerely hope not, but only he knows why that house was empty.

And I may be able to provide a clue: Normandie Investments LLC (Adam Surnow) and a representative, Alchemy Planning + Land Use (Gary Benjamin) applied for a demolition permit in 2021, seeking to build a 16-unit apartment building. In fact, zoom in on the picture of the house and you can see a permit posted on the fence - with the gate WIDE OPEN. That isn't an especially new picture; it's a perfectly ordinary Google Street View shot taken in February.

570 North Normandie Avenue was a three-story townhouse-style home built in 1923. It survived a century of the changing fortunes of Hollywood (the neighborhood, not the industry), changing tastes in home styles, and the frequent car crashes that plague East Hollywood.

And yet, it couldn't survive being left empty and unsecured for two months.

Damn it.

570 North Normandie Avenue, East Hollywood.

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C.C. de Vere

About C.C. de Vere

C.C. is a fourth-generation Angeleno and is horrified at what greed and hubris are doing to Los Angeles.

This website was built by her preservation pals at Esotouric.

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