Developer Jason Illoulian’s “Robertson Lane” hotel-retail project on Robertson Boulevard received high praise from residents and two of three commissioners at Thursday’s meeting of the Design Review Subcommittee of West Hollywood’s Planning Commission.
The project straddles Robertson Boulevard and La Peer Drive, just south of Santa Monica Boulevard, land now occupied by parking lots and the historic Factory building. The project will include an eight-story hotel in two towers with a total of 242 rooms, plus a rooftop restaurant and pool as well as a helicopter landing pad. With three levels of subterranean parking, the project also includes ground-level retail and restaurant space, an underground nightclub and 9,000 square feet of meeting/event space that can accommodate 700 to 800 people, the largest event space in the city.
Plans call for a 35-foot wide walkway, known as a “paseo,” in the middle of the site, going between Robertson and La Peer. The paseo will line up with walkways between buildings on La Peer and Almont Drive, eventually creating a mid-block pathway all the way from the proposed Melrose Triangle retail-residential-office project to West Hollywood Park. One of the two hotel towers will cross four stories above the paseo, creating a canopy over the La Peer side of the project.
As architect Craig Hodgetts of the Culver City-based Hodgetts + Fung Design and Architecture explained to the subcommittee, the paseo is intended to make the Robertson Lane project “extroverted” rather than being walled off from the rest of the world like The Grove shopping center.
“It expands out into the community and creates places for people,” Hodgetts said.
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. As it is rebuilt, it will also be repositioned on a north-south axis along Robertson. Plans call for the 240-feet long Factory building to be about 100 feet shorter when it is reassembled.
The building was constructed in prefabricated sections, so dismantling it and rebuilding it will be considerably easier than moving other types of commercial buildings. The green paint currently covering the windows will be scrapped off, so the retail shops in the reassembled building will have lots of natural light.
Illoulian, who is developing the project through his company Faring (formerly known as Faring Capital), explained his philosophy behind the project, saying, “The design that we wanted is something that is modern yet looks like it’s been there for a long time.”
Of the three subcommittee members, Commissioner David Aghaei called it a “spectacular” design, while Commissioner Sue Buckner commented that she hoped it turned out as “exciting” when built as it appears on paper. However, Commissioner John Altschul disliked the project, saying it looked like an “uncooked omelet” and needed more work.
Typically, only a handful of residents attend Design Review meetings, with one or two people speaking on projects. However, Thursday’s meeting saw more than 20 people in attendance with a dozen of them speaking during public comment, each signaling his or her support.
Resident Amanda Goodwin praised the project, calling it “fabulous” and “innovative.” Resident Tracy Patton liked the pedestrian nature of the project, something resident Manny Rodriguez also commended. Rodriguez also complimented the repositioning of the Factory building. Resident Bobbie Edrick said the project had the full support of her Norma Triangle neighbors.
Chamber of Commerce Chair Keith Kaplan said he felt the project would “awaken” an underused area of the city, bringing needed hotel rooms to both the Boystown entertainment area and the nearby design district.
“They took a piece of property and they designed a project that is so perfectly suited to that location and to that piece of property,” Kaplan said.
Similarly, resident Roy Huebner, an architect and former member of the city’s Planning Commission, called it an “amazing project.”
“It’s a rare opportunity that a parcel this large gets the opportunity to be developed,” said Huebner. “This is heads and tails above what we saw for Melrose Triangle.”
When first announced, the project drew severe criticism because of plans to demolish the historic Factory building. 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. In the 1970s and 80s, the building was the site of the large Studio One nightclub, a famous dance club which catered to gay patrons.
After extensive meetings with residents, Illoulian changed his mind and decided to preserve the Factory building. As a result of his decision, no residents spoke against the project at Thursday’s meeting. In fact, representatives of two different preservation groups even came to voice their support.
Adrian Scott Fine, director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy, called it a fine example of “adaptive reuse” of a building. He acknowledged it is not “perfect preservation” since the rebuilt Factory building will be smaller, but said the end goal was to ensure “meaningful preservation.”
Christina Morris, director of the Los Angeles field office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, noted that the Factory building was listed as one of the 11 most endangered places in America in June 2013 (following the announcement of plans for the site), but was happy with Illoulian’s willingness to preserve the building.
“It’s our opinion that if all 11 of the proposed mitigation measures are incorporated and fully implemented, the resulting structure will still retain sufficient integrity to fully tell the stories of the historic people, places and activities associated with it,” Morris said.
The West Hollywood Preservation Alliance also submitted a letter of support.
Resident Lynn Russell, an architecture and preservation advocate, called Robertson Lane “inspiring.”
“This project is what I think of as the heart and soul of future development which is preserving a sense of place and linking it to the past and allowing it to expand into a greater sense of its place in the future,” Russell said.
Since the project exceeds the height limitations for the area, Illoulian plans to ask the City Council for a “specific plan” which allows for deviation from the zoning ordinances for the site.
A potential alternate parking plan calls for some of the project’s subterranean parking to be built under a portion of West Hollywood Park on Robertson beside The Abbey nightclub. If that alternate plan is approved by the City Council, digging the underground parking would be coordinated with the park renovations currently underway.
The project’s final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is expected in August. At that time, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission will be asked to approve the EIR. After that, Robertson Lane goes before the full Planning Commission, likely sometime in the fall.
1120 N. Larrabee St.
The subcommittee also reviewed three other residential projects. The commissioners gave high marks to a four-story, 22-unit condominium project with two levels of underground parking at 1120-1124 N. Larrabee St., just north of Sunset Boulevard (directly behind the IAC building).
Sitting on two lots, the project by Culver City-based R&A Architecture + Design would replace two single-family homes. Five of the 22 units will be set aside for low-income residents.
Commissioner Sue Buckner said it was “quite beautiful,” while Commissioner David Aghaei called it an “appropriate design” and “appropriate project” for the site. The project is owned by Abady Holdings Corporation.
1012 Cory Ave.
A four-story, six-unit condominium project over subterranean parking at 1012 Cory Avenue, just south of Sunset Boulevard, received mixed reviews.
Replacing a small two-story, 1920s era apartment building, the site is across from the Soho House building at the border with Beverly Hills. Designed by Los Angeles-based BO.SHI Architects and owned by Elite Investments, the project has a rooftop pool and individual balconies for each unit.
In a design analysis, urban design consultant Gwynne Pugh called the project “an interesting design thoughtfully composed and generally graceful in nature.”
Commissioner John Altschul felt the building needed greater definition on the north side. While Aghaei was fine with the project’s mass, he did not like the cedar wood shingles used on the exterior, saying the shingles felt very 1970s and did not seem congruent with the contemporary design.
Resident Amanda Goodwin expressed concern about those cedar shingles, citing fire hazard as well as potential termite problems. The architect said the wood shingles were done to make the building feel warmer.
1153 N. Ogden Drive
A three-story, six-unit townhouse condominium project over subterranean parking at 1153 N. Ogden Drive, north of Santa Monica Boulevard, received mostly negative reviews.
Designed by Los Angeles-based TCS Architects, the project, which consists of two buildings, would replace a single-family home and two other buildings currently on the lot. The project is owned by FMB Development.
In the design review memo, the urban design consultant called the project “satisfactory.” The project has exterior spiral staircases leading from a top floor balcony to the individual roof decks of each unit. Buckner liked the enclosure of the staircase.
Resident Richard Geisbret said that the rooftop parapet with glass railings seemed “severe.”
The project’s lower level exterior is covered in a white finish, while the upper levels have a gray stone. Commissioner John Altschul felt the gray stone lacked warmth and friendliness, something that he believed would affect its marketability. While Buckner was not bothered by the gray color, she felt the project looked “unbalanced” with too much weight at the top. Aghaei agreed that it was top heavy and felt the rear of the project was better articulated that the front.