Jeff Klein, owner of the Sunset Tower on the Sunset Strip and new owner of the San Vicente Inn wants to create a quiet, luxurious urban inn from the tired old bones of the four, long-neglected Old Sherman historic bungalows that make up the San Vicente.
Klein is known for sensitive rehabilitation of historic, landmark properties. His first property, purchased in 1999, was the City Club Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Built in 1904, the City Club Hotel was originally a non-partisan private club for New York politicians to meet and discuss politics of the day. It was renovated into a high-end, 65-room boutique hotel with a highly acclaimed restaurant, the DB Bistro Moderne.
In 2004, Klein purchased the Leland A. Bryant-designed Sunset Tower. Opened in 1931, the Sunset Tower is considered one of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture in Los Angeles. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Sunset Tower and Tower Bar were restored in 2006 to universal acclaim and remain highly popular.
Right about the time Klein was working on his first project in New York, the City of West Hollywood designated the bungalows that make up the San Vicente Inn (three contiguous properties on the west side of San Vicente north of Santa Monica Boulevard and the stand-alone Victorian structure that was moved to the vacant lot across the street) as local cultural historical resources, part of the Old Sherman Thematic Group. That group takes its name from the period in the late 1800s and early 1900s when Moses Sherman, a railroad developer, created the community of Sherman where West Hollywood now lies. The designation makes the properties eligible for Mills Act property tax reductions provided the façade is restored and maintained in accordance with specific historic preservation standards and conditions.
On Monday night, Klein met with a group of local residents at the Sunset Tower to discuss his $15 million plan for the complete renovation and imagination of the San Vicente Inn. The inn long has operated as a “clothing-optional” gay resort and developed a reputation as a place for drug abuse and prostitution.
Klein has hired architect Marc Appleton of Santa Monica’s Appleton & Associates, Inc. to lead the project and Robert Chattle of Chattle, Inc. as the project’s historic preservation consultant. Klein said he chose Appleton because he loved the work Appleton did at the San Ysidro Ranch, a luxury hotel in Montecito, and he wants the yet-to-be-renamed San Vicente Inn to reflect that tranquil, high-end aesthetic.
Currently, there are 29 rooms at the San Vicente Inn. The new project proposes 33 rooms. However, a radical rethinking of how the properties flow together and operate was proposed at the meeting.
Most of the guest rooms are currently in the three contiguous lots on western San Vicente Boulevard. The proposed project eliminates almost all of the current guest rooms. The plans call for a new 23-room structure on the land behind the old Victorian house (the original Sherman post office) at 850 N. San Vicente Blvd. The structure will be up to 45 feet tall at the rear and wrap around the north side of the property. The old post office building will become a quiet lounge area where guests can eat breakfast, read, and work. None of these areas will be open to the public.
Average room size will be slightly less than 300 square feet and room rates are estimated in the range of $250 – $300.
The three contiguous properties (845 – 849 N. San Vicente Blvd) will be the more public face of the new urban inn. The southern bungalow will become a new high-end restaurant, approximately 2,500 square feet, open to the public. Capacity would be around 70 persons. A restaurant liquor license will be requested as part of the package. Outdoor dining will be featured in a courtyard to the east of the bungalow, with pool views.
All rooms behind the original bungalow will be removed and a small two-story multipurpose structure will take its place. The space can be used for small private gatherings, reading/office space, yoga classes, etc.
The center bungalow will house a small bar and lounge area, restrooms and a cabana. A new reception area will be built where the driveway currently is fenced off. The existing pool will be slightly enlarged and the two rooms currently west of the pool will be turned into a cabana-style lounge area.
The northern bungalow will be reconfigured into three suites. A new two-story structure will be built along the rear and northern property lines to provide six to seven new suites. This is the only portion of three western properties that will have hotel rooms.
One of the major issues that concerned those at the meeting was parking and the flow of guests between either side of San Vicente. Klein said he had secured a lease on the Video West parking lot on Palm Avenue across from Santa Palm Car Wash. All parking will be done by valet. However, given the discrete location of the lot, most agreed that it would be a challenge.
Some residents thought that a lighted crosswalk would be a good idea. There has always been a lot of jaywalking between the properties. However, a representative from the Sheriff’s Department and one of the project consultants said they didn’t think that the city could approve a crosswalk between the properties. Klein floated the idea that they could use golf carts driven by hotel employees to shuttle guests from side to side.
It was clear from the discussion that there was no simple answer to either parking or egress. It will take some time to get this project through the planning process, which will include approvals by the Historic Preservation Commission the city’s Planning Commission and the City Council. Klein has an optimistic and ambitious timeline for the project and hopes to have approval sometime by mid-2014 with project completion in 16 to 18 months.
Comments from the guests were nearly universally positive. Most people were concerned about the long history of drug use, prostitution and violence that are part of the Inn’s checkered past. The proposed project will close that chapter of the Inn’s history and open a new one as another first-class boutique hotel and restaurant in West Hollywood.