Joni Mitchell can sleep well knowing that, in contrast to the lyrics of her song “Big Yellow Taxi”, they’re going to pave a parking lot and put up a paradise at 8150 Sunset Boulevard.
Hollywood lore says Mitchell’s lyrics, “they paved paradise, and put up a parking lot,” were inspired by the 1959 demolition of the Garden of Allah at the site – a hotel that attracted the likes of Humphrey Bogart, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. Now, with the help of architect Frank Gehry, Townscape Partners development group plans to build a new $300 million development where the famous hotel once stood.
“By coincidence, I was in L.A. when the Garden of Allah existed, and while I don’t have a tangible image to relate to the present, I have a feeling that this design leans toward the representation of my memory,” Gehry said. “I wanted to capture the feeling of the experience of that place which was vibrant and memorable. It has always been important to me to be a good neighbor to the surrounding buildings, and I think we have created an ensemble that responds to the great diversity of the neighborhood and is an asset to the community.”
Gehry’s plans feature five structures, which will each have distinctive characteristics that will unite at a common plaza. The project will cover approximately 334,000 square feet and have 249 residential units – 28 of which will be affordable housing. There will be 820 parking spaces.
The proposal includes a 15-story structure on the west portion of the site that will be specifically scaled to create a visual relationship with the nearby Chateau Marmont; an 11-story structure on the east portion of the site; a five-story building on the central portion on the site between the east and west towers; a retail building that will vary in height from one to three stories that will front Sunset Boulevard; and a smaller, single-story retail structure within the interior of the project site.
“Frank Gehry has proposed an iconic and powerful design,” said Townscape Partners co-founder Tyler Siegel, the project’s developers. “His plan brings truly innovative architecture to an important and historic corner, where Los Angeles and West Hollywood meet. At the same time, Gehry’s plan for the site provides welcoming and accessible pedestrian areas that will encourage people in the community to gather and visit, as well as much needed additional housing options in the neighborhood.”
Townscape’s previous proposals for the site were met with neighborhood opposition. But the developers said in response to community feedback, they started several design alternatives. In March, Townscape picked Gehry to develop the new plans.
The biggest change is the significant reduction in commercial space. Previous plans called for 111,339 square feet of commercial, retail and restaurant use. In the Gehry designs, commercial space will total 65,700 square feet.
“They’re building something that will be community-centric that people will actually live in, instead of somewhere where they’d stay while looking for somewhere permanent,” said Andrew Macpherson, of the Save Sunset Boulevard citizen group that opposed original plans. “I’m extremely impressed the developers listened to every suggestion, and listened to neighbors’ concerns.”
Macpherson applauded the designs and the developers for reducing the commercial space, adding a level of parking and proposing two- and three-bedroom apartments as opposed to the original plans that called for studio bed sets.
Cyd Zeigler, vice president of Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council, who also had concerns about the previous designs, commended the developers, as well.
“You can’t look at that model and those renderings and not say that’s going to be a spectacular addition to the neighborhood,” Zeigler said. “The best part about this though, is the developers are listening to our concerns. I want there to be something that’s special and that enhances the neighborhood, and you’re never going to get everyone to agree, but it’s encouraging that the Save Sunset folks are behind it.”
Zeigler and Macpherson agreed their underlying issues were more with the city approving what they called irresponsible projects than with the developers. Zeigler said the original proposal proved politicians in the city and state don’t care what residents want. He added that there’s a lot of frustration among residents with the city’s planning department, mayor and council who he said want to “line their pockets with developer money.”
“They want to create as many construction jobs as they can to further their own political careers,” he said. “It is the cumulative effect of the past two mayors trying to transform the city into the Manhattan of the west coast. The overall cumulative effect is gridlock.”
Macpherson agreed, saying the “nightmare” of overdevelopment has been put on residents by city hall.
“Their desire to take money knows no limits,” he said. “I think we got incredibly lucky that we got a really great set of developers that would work with the community for what is a win-win for everybody.”
Macpherson and Zeigler both expressed remaining concerns with the proposed height and what should be done with the intersection at Sunset and Crescent Heights boulevards. Zeigler said he hears from residents that 200 feet is not in the character of the neighborhood because there are not any other structures in the area as tall as the proposed plans. But Zeigler, Macpherson and a Townscape representative said the developers are working with the community to identify the best solutions.
Gehry’s plan will be submitted for environmental impact review this month and the developers hope to begin construction late next year or early 2017.
Gehry will be the subject of a traveling retrospective that will document his career at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The exhibit will include designs and models for the 8150 Sunset Boulevard project and will be open from Sept. 13 until March 20.
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