EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story erred in saying that the commission approved the Robertson Lane project environmental impact report. In fact the commission reviewed and commented on the adequacy of the draft environmental impact report. Its comments will be included in the final report presented to the City Council. The story has been change to correct that error.
West Hollywood’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) reviewed and commented Tuesday night on a draft environmental impact report (EIR) regarding the proposed Robertson Lane hotel and retail development at 645 Robertson Boulevard, south of Santa Monica Boulevard. An expected controversy over the project failed to materialize as 15 residents praised it and only one spoke against it.
HPC’s review and comments on the draft EIR were necessary because the 1.9 acre site includes the historically designated building known as “The Factory.” Although the project’s developer, Faring (formerly known as Faring Capital), headed by WeHo resident Jason Illoulian, had originally planned to demolish the Factory, Illoulian now intends to incorporate it into the Robertson Lane project, saying he understands its historic value.
Erected in 1929, the Factory building has connections to both motion picture history and LGBT history. Between 1929 and 1946, the building was the home of the Mitchell Motion Picture Camera factory, one of the early makers of motion picture cameras. Between 1974 and 1992, the building was the site of the large Studio One nightclub, a famous dance club which catered primarily to gay patrons.
Project plans call for a 35-foot wide walkway, known as a “paseo,” in the middle of the site, going between Robertson Boulevard and La Peer Drive. To accommodate that paseo, the Factory building, which sits on an east-west axis between Robertson and La Peer, will be dismantled and rebuilt on a different portion of the site and reoriented on a north-south axis along Robertson.
Plans also call for the 240-feet long Factory building to be about 100 feet smaller after it is reassembled along Robertson. The building was constructed in prefabricated sections, so dismantling it and rebuilding it will be considerably easier than moving other types of commercial buildings. Faring plans to store the unused sections of the building, in case they are needed in the future.
To honor the Factory’s two historic periods, the reoriented building’s south entrance (currently the Robertson side) will be restored to what it looked like when it was Mitchell Camera. Meanwhile, the north entrance (currently the La Peer side), will be preserved to look like its Studio One days.
The draft EIR, prepared by Pasadena-based environmental consultants Dudek, attracted negative comments from two of the commissioners. Cathy Blaivas questioned why it did not contain a more thorough discussion about leaving the Factory building in its current location. Commissioner Gail Ostergren echoed that sentiment and also questioned the document’s failure to explore why the building’s size needed to be truncated. Commissioner Ed Levin recused himself from the discussion.
During public comment, resident Michael Wojtkielewicz, decried the plans. “This is not a face lift, this is an amputation and a dislocation,” Wojtkielewicz said.
Other speakers were quite happy the building would be preserved. Resident Joe Clapsaddle said he was joyous that the project will “enliven” that section of Robertson Boulevard. Similarly, Norma Triangle resident Bobbie Edrick commented that the project will be a “strong asset to the community.”
Faring consulted with preservation groups the Los Angeles Conservancy, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance on the plans and received their approval.
Adrian Scott Fine, director of advocacy for Los Angeles Conservancy, called it a fine example of “adaptive reuse” of a building.
“We fully acknowledge the proposed project is not perfect preservation in terms of retaining all of the existing building that comprises the Factory,” Fine said. “However, the project does address the unique circumstances present here. It does retain the primary character defining features of the Factory and it is a creative partial preservation approach that we believe will result in a meaningful preservation outcome.”
In a press release, Chris Morris, Los Angeles Field Director at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, praised Faring’s plans. “Robertson Lane treads the very difficult line of respecting and promoting the intangible layers of history that make [The Factory] special and significant, while maximizing those physical and material qualities that make it suitable for a new life and a new use,” Morris said.
In October 2016, the California Historic Resources Commission designated the Factory building as a state historic resource. A city staffer said Faring’s plans to dismantle, rebuild and reorient the building will not affect that designation. In February, the U.S. National Park Service announced the Factory was eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
Faring head Jason Illoulian, in a press release, promised, “The completion of Robertson Lane will ensure The Factory will remain part of our community for years to come, for future generations in West Hollywood to enjoy. Robertson Lane will celebrate the Factory’s storied past and start a new and exciting chapter in the building’s history.”
The commission’s approval of the draft EIR is the first of several approvals the project must receive before construction can begin. The final EIR is expected to come back before HPC in a few months.