October 30, 1990 - From the October, 1990 issue

The Case of the Missing Dome and Minaret

A mosque in Northridge has been curtailed—its dome and minaret will be replaced with Spanish style tile roof. Kurt Meyer, a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, presents the City Council's decision as a worrying trend of urban design review and a violation of the First Amendment. 

During the past year, several note­worthy project approval cases have moved through the political process in the City of Los Angeles.

One of the more newsworthy was the rejection by the Planning Commission of an apartment building on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood designed by the noted architectural firm, Arquitectonica. The rejection came after Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky stated that he had a right to reject the project on the basis that he did not wish to look at the building every time he drives pass it.

More recently, Councilman John Ferraro supported the vociferous requests by a group of Hollywoodland property owners to pass a law that would allow “by right” only certain historic styles for houses built in the Hollywood Hills such as English Tudor, Italian Renaissance, Pseudo Spanish, Mediterranean, etc., even though the Hollywood Hills are an eclectic assemblage of every imaginable style. Contemporary design under this scheme would require a special review process by people who have already expressed their dislike of contemporary design.

We have pointed out on the Op-Ed page of the L.A. Times and here in The Planning Report the inherent dangers of allowing the government and politicians to become the judges of the quality of architectural design. We pointed out at that time that this pattern constituted an intrusion on the rights of the private individual to exercise the architectural art of design in a free and unencumbered way as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The Camel in the Tent

The cases listed above were only the beginning of a trend—the camel was sticking its nose into the tent, so to speak. The case of the Islamic Center of Northridge, decided just recently, represents the full smell of the camel having entered the tent: The City Council has now decided to disallow a well-established religion the use of their thousand-year-old symbols which identify this building to all as a place of worship. The Council, in a unanimous decision, rejected the design and demanded that the Mosque be designed in a Spanish style with a tile roof, without the historic dome and minaret.

We believe that this is a clear intrusion on religious freedom as guaranteed by the First Amendment the state interferes with the free, unrestricted exercise of religion.

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Think what the reaction would be if the City Council were to demand that the bell towers of a Catholic Church, designed in a historic style, in a Protestant neighborhood, would not be permitted because the houses in that neighborhood were contemporary. Can you imagine what it would mean if the Late Avenue Congregational Church were not allowed to erect the aggressively scaled cross on the 210 Freeway, because it was not compatible with the residential neighborhood? Can you imagine the uproar if a synagogue were not allowed to use the Star of David because it did not conform with the style of architecture of that neighborhood?

This, then, is an appeal to the readers of The Planning Report and to all governmental officials and City Council members to give careful thought to this chain of events and the trend it represents.

I postulate that the physical manifestations of faith, which do not threaten a neighborhood, but only represent a religious belief, are guaranteed under the First Amendment.

I postulate that artistic freedom of design, as exercised by architects in the design of buildings, is guaranteed under the First Amendment, just like free speech and free expression of other artistic ideas is protected.

For this reason our City Council or any other political body does not have the right to interfere with either the artistic metaphor of religious symbols or the creative art of architects and artists.

 
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© 2022 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.