Like a caterpillar in spring, a historic Mar Vista building is in the midst of a metamorphosis.
Known as Historic Los Angeles Fire Station 62, the structure stands like an aging sentinel not far from Palms Boulevard and Centinela Avenue, one of Mar Vista’s highly-traveled intersections.
The structure at 3631 Centinela Ave. was closed several years ago when the city built a new station on Venice Boulevard, and Mar Vista residents have been working to refurbish it for a larger community purpose.
The building is being transformed from a place where firefighters spent their time in between calls to respond to fires and other emergencies in the region into a community multipurpose center through the efforts of a group of local volunteers, who for several years have made preserving the building a top priority.
A non-profit called the Friends of Historic Fire Station 62 was created in March to raise the necessary funds to complete the building’s transformation, and late last month the grocery chain Whole Foods came aboard as the charity’s first community partner.
Sharon Commins, the chair of the Mar Vista Community Council, worked with Rachel Swanger as co-chairs of the council’s Historic Fire Station 62 Committee for several years prior to stepping down from the committee after she was elected chair following the resignation of Albert Olson last year.
Commins envisions a place that Mar Vista organizations can call home.
“Hopefully, this will become the central meeting place for all of the community’s cultural and civic organizations,” she said recently outside the former fire station.
Swanger said the new uses of the historic structure will be in sync with what many residents desire in terms of openness and a feeling of stability associated with a fire station.
“Fire stations have always served as friendly open places dedicated to providing protection and support in times of disaster and distress,” she said. “We see the evolution of this building towards a multipurpose community center as just an extension of that original mission.”
The multipurpose center will also have a room for a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).
“This will be a place where citizens can come for CERT training and to learn other new skills, appreciate art and music and gain an understanding about the history of Mar Vista,” Swanger said. “We also hope it will serve to further advance local governance and grassroots democracy – by housing the Mar Vista Community Council and other community meetings.”
The Whole Foods store in Mar Vista agreed to donate 5 percent of its April 25 sales to the Friends of Historic Fire Station 62 for its goal of rehabilitating the building. “We are actively seeking other partners,” said Commins. “And Whole Foods is an excellent community partner.”
The building, once considered as a possible senior center or affordable housing complex, has survived a variety of obstacles on its way to becoming a community meeting place.
Commins and others mobilized three years ago when the fire station, as well as many city-owned buildings, were being considered for sale by city officials in order to reduce the municipal budget. A petition to save the structure was distributed and City Councilman Bill Rosendahl helped get the building placed into the city’s Housing Trust Fund.
Rosendahl had the structure placed in the trust fund in an effort to keep it off the city’s list of assets that city leaders could sell and because he viewed it as a possible site for senior and affordable housing. But the councilman decided to follow the wishes of the majority of his Mar Vista constituents, who overwhelmingly indicated their support in surveys for a community center.
“I’m very proud of Sharon Commins and of the committee that has provided very strong leadership on this,” the councilman said.
Swanger and Commins plan to make the building as “green” as possible, which is music to the ears of Sherri Akers, co-chair of the Mar Vista Community Council’s Green Committee. Akers applauded the volunteers who are converting the building into a community center for keeping with what has become a Mar Vista tradition of sustainable living, not only in their residential areas but in commercial and government buildings as well.
“I have a strong belief that a community needs to lead by example. The residents of Mar Vista share a commitment to sustainability and it’s important that our community center be a showcase for that,” she said.
Swanger envisions the community center as a location where interested parties can meet to continue to learn about and consider environmentally conscious living.
“Absolutely we will try to be as green and sustainable as possible in the renovations,” she stated. “And we hope that (Historic Fire Station 62) will serve as a place where citizens can come to learn more about how to be green and sustainable in their daily lives.”
Akers, one of the organizers of the Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase, thinks the multipurpose center can serve as an example, if it is renovated in an environmentally sustainable manner, of how city-owned property can be functional in other parts of Los Angeles.
“By doing so, we’ll send a strong message to the city and raise the bar on what is expected in our public spaces,” she asserted. “Look at the model that has been achieved at the Mar Vista Farmers Market – with separate bins for recyclables, compost and trash.
“We need to follow that model at Mar Vista Recreation Center.”
Swanger and the committee are uncertain as far as when they think the center could open. They still have a good deal of fundraising to do for electrical and plumbing work inside the building, as well as acquiring the necessary city permits for construction.
“We will move forward as quickly as a community group dependent upon volunteers can,” she said.
Rosendahl, who lives a few blocks away from the former fire station, said he would like to have a desk in the center for constituent services work.
“This building will house lots of dreams and potential,” he predicted. “If we can raise enough money to handle a lease there for the new nonprofit foundation and maintenance for the building, the possibilities really are endless.”
When the center does open, Swanger agrees that the possibilities are boundless for what the historic building can be a home to and what groups it will attract.
“In terms of events, we see it as a place for art exhibits, music recitals, dances, community meetings and lots of classes — yoga, cooking, etc,” the committee co-chair concluded. “I think we are only limited by the imaginations of the Mar Vista community.”