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Renovation irks architects

Work done on Mariners Medical Arts building doesn’t honor original design by famed architect Richard Neutra, some say.

February 18, 2010|By Brianna Bailey

When Costa Mesa architect John Linnert discovered recently that workers had ripped out a strip of florescent lighting at the historical Mariners Medical Arts center to replace it with fixtures, which he calls fit for “a cheap bathroom shower,” he fired off letters to Newport Beach city officials and fellow architects — anyone who would listen.

“Every little bit of this building is important,” Linnert said. “It’s like a symphony. If you take out a violin, it suffers.”

To his horror, Linnert also discovered that a crumbling exterior staircase on one side of the building had been completely ripped out.

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The building at 1901 Westcliff Drive was designed by prominent 20th century architect Richard Neutra. The white, mid-20th century cluster of doctor’s and dental offices on a bustling street next to a small shopping center features an atrium and exterior stone walls.

Newport Beach declared the building a historical resource last year, after Linnert and other Neutra admirers pushed the city to save it from the wrecking ball.

The distinction means that any significant changes to the structure must undergo an environmental review by the city.

Peter Buffa, a governmental consultant who represents the buildings’ owner, real estate investor John Bral, said Thursday that his client is working with the city to restore the building.

Buffa also is a columnist for the Daily Pilot.

“The property owner thought he was doing some basic maintenance that was badly needed and didn’t realized there was a precise way to do that,” Buffa said.

The building’s owner intends to replace the staircase, which was structurally unsound and needed to be rebuilt, Buffa said.

He said his client also maintains the light fixtures were not part of the original building design and needed to be replaced.

Although the property owner did not obtain the necessary city permits to replace the lighting or remove the staircase, he has cooperated with city officials looking into the matter and has vowed to follow guidelines for restoring historical buildings, Newport Beach Planning Director David Lepo said.

“We’re very positive at this point we can reach some agreement on this whole property.” Lepo said. “It’s not the owner’s desire to take the building apart piece by piece.”

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