A Facebook group has emerged, along with concerns from several historic preservation groups, in regards to saving one of West Hollywood’s older industrial buildings.
The Factory, located at 661 N. Robertson Blvd. and stretching to an adjacent block at 652 La Peer Drive, would be demolished under plans to create the Robertson Lane Hotel project.
The pre-draft environmental impact report (DEIR) comment period came to a close at the end of January, with groups including the Los Angeles Conservancy and West Hollywood Preservation Alliance (WHPA) asking the developer to consider alternatives to razing the building.
“We are concerned with it and we do think it is an historic resource that is important to West Hollywood,” said Adrian Scott Fine, director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy.
The Factory was built in 1929. It was used as the manufacturing headquarters of the Mitchell Camera Company, and played an important role in the rise of the motion picture industry before World War II, conservancy officials said.
Early this year, the Save the Factory West Hollywood Facebook group was created, and it has since amassed more than 460 likes, although the founders declined to comment for this article.
“At one point, about 80 percent of all Hollywood movies were being shot with Mitchell cameras (‘Citizen Kane’ was shot on a Mitchell),” the website read.
After the Mitchell Camera Company moved, the building became known as The Factory, an A-list nightclub, from 1967-1972. The Factory then morphed into the Studio One discotheque until 1988, catering to West Hollywood’s gay community. Now operating as Ultra Suede, the location remains popular in the club scene today, neighbors said.
“This is a light industrial building with significant association to the Mitchell Camera Company. It was architecturally and culturally significant with the motion picture industry,” said Jennifer Dunbar, board president of the WHPA. “We think this is a significant building for the LGBT community because of its association as a dance club from the late 1960s all the way up until now.”
Both the WHPA and Los Angeles Conservancy are asking that the DEIR consider alternatives to demolishing The Factory.
“Architecturally, we think there are things there for an adaptive reuse,” Dunbar said. “It could still be a really cool project.”
The Robertson Lane Hotel project calls for an eight-story, 252,700-square-foot, 251-room hotel at 652 La Peer Drive. The project would have 1,048 parking spaces in four subterranean levels and could house approximately four restaurants and 23,000 square feet of retail. It would create a new street called Robertson Lane that would run through the project and serve as a pedestrian corridor, linking the Pacific Design Center, West Hollywood Park and West Hollywood Library.
Faring Capital is developing the project.
“It’s pretty early in the process but the Lane has garnered so much positive reaction,” said Jason Illoulian, managing partner at Faring Capital. “There is a long way to go. All these impacts will be studied and examined.”
The remaining DEIR process could take as long as 18 months, and must consider public comments.
Illoulian said that so far he has received “overwhelming” support from the neighboring stakeholders of the project. He said he wants the project to help connect the triangle of Santa Monica Boulevard, Melrose Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard.
“We did a lot of outreach for about six months before we submitted,” he said. “All the reviews were super positive and we took a lot of input already. The consensus from many people was take [The Factory] down. What we are proposing is so much better.”
However, Illoulian said he understands where WHSA and the Los Angeles Conservancy are coming from.
“To be honest, I don’t really have an opinion as far as that goes, but I’m very sensitive to those issues,” he said. “I’m not an out-of-town guy, this is my home.”
Illoulian added that The Factory had been denied historical protection in the past.
“The public elected body said, ‘No, this doesn’t qualify,’” he said.
WHPA board treasurer Victor Omelczenko said he found information that the former Cultural Heritage Advisory Board denied cultural resource status for The Factory during a meeting in 1994. The West Hollywood City Council upheld that decision in 1995, but the city hasn’t found the documents for how the issue was presented.
This time around, preservationists said it should receive protection for what the Mitchell Camera Company meant to Hollywood and what the clubs later meant to the LGBT community.
“It’s an industrial building and those have their own character,” Fine added. “It’s not going to be a master architectural building because it was designed as a factory, but in West Hollywood, where there are very few signs of industrial roots, it’s significant.”
“As an architect, I believe there is always more than one solution to a problem,” Dunbar said. “I personally think this building is worth saving. It is interesting and unique in West Hollywood.”
Illoulian said he wanted to let the city process take its course, but his intention is to create a neighborhood-friendly and pedestrian-friendly corridor with smaller restaurants and shops.
“We didn’t want big users to come in, we wanted to be an authentic, neighborhood-driven spot,” he said.
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