Long Beach’s Cultural Heritage Commissioners could recommend Tuesday that the Great Depression-era Fire Station 9 in the Los Cerritos neighborhood be deemed partially historic.
The commission’s recommendation would only apply to the outside of the building — which was built in 1938 — not the interior, which has been compromised by persistent mold issues, according to the city, and could need significant remediation.
A memo from city staff said that mold remediation and possible floor-plan changes to accommodate the reuse of the building were among the reasons it is recommending only the exterior of the building be deemed historic.
The commission asked city staff in September to analyze whether both the exterior and interior were eligible for historic designation after a community group entered an application to preserve the building including elements like the original doors, lockers, stairway, fire hose tower and reception room.
Bob Gill, president of the Los Cerritos Neighborhood Association, which applied for the historic designation, said earlier this year that the association and others sought to turn the building into a community meeting and office space, potentially for nonprofits.
The city is currently trying to sell the site, which could potentially see the building reused as office space, housing or another use. A city memo said limiting the historic designation to the outside of the building would provide “flexibility” to whoever buys it.
“Without such an allowance, it may be infeasible to adaptively reuse the building due to the known toxic mold within the structure,” the memo said.
Outside of the potential mold issue, the memo noted that putting restrictions on the interior of a historic site “has generally been reserved for only the most notable historic resources such as the Queen Mary.”
The memo noted that there have been significant changes to both the inside and the outside of the building since its construction in the late 1930s after the original Fire Station 9 was destroyed by the 1933 Long Beach Earthquake.
Long Beach received funding from the federal government to build the station as well as make repairs to City Hall, which was also damaged in the earthquake. The building was designed by W. Horace Austin, whose works also include the Farmers & Merchants Bank building in Downtown and the historic terminal building at Long Beach Airport.
Almost all of the fire station’s original windows have been replaced, openings to the building have been widened and a plaque notifying people that the building was built under the Works Progress Administration has been removed.
Changes to the interior have also taken place over the decades. The original fireplace remains intact, as do the original wood ladder and hose rollers, but those can only be seen through an access panel in the non-original ceiling, according to a staff report.
While staff is recommending that only the exterior be designated historic, the memo said that some elements of the interior could be included. That list includes the reception room and fireplace, the firehose tower and the engine room’s wood truss ceiling.
More changes to the interior could be made to remediate the mold issue, something that community groups and the city have disagreed is a problem since the building’s closure in 2019.
The City Council would ultimately have to approve the historic designation.
Fire Station 9 had served Los Cerritos and other area neighborhoods since the 1930s but was closed in the summer of 2019 after firefighters fell ill and the city cited recurring mold in the facility as a probable cause.
The City Council has approved a new Fire Station 9 location just a few blocks north of the current building. Firefighters have been operating out of a temporary location near the airport in the meantime.
The Planning Commission delayed a vote in 2021 that could have cleared the way for the building to be demolished as the city sought to sell the site for development. The city is still trying to sell the site, but after a request for a proposal period closed without any bids, according to the city, it’s now using a broker to solicit offers.
The Cultural Heritage Commission is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, Nov. 28 at 5 p.m. inside the Bob Foster Civic Chambers Downtown.