L.A. City Council Designates Lytton Savings Building as Historical Cultural Monument

Steven Luftman, left, and Keith Nakata of Friends of Lytton Savings celebrate the L.A. City Council's decision.
Steven Luftman, left, and Keith Nakata of Friends of Lytton Savings celebrate the L.A. City Council’s decision.

In a unanimous decision this morning, the Los Angeles City Council approved designating the 56-year-old Lytton Savings building at 8150 Sunset Blvd. as a historic cultural monument (HCM). The designation bestows certain protections against demolition on the mid-century modern building, but does not guarantee its survival.

Councilmember David Ryu, who represents the district in which the building stands, urged his colleagues to approve the designation, saying, “By any objective measure, this building is historic. It is designated by Kurt Meyer for Bart Lytton, and this is important to his legacy and the legacy left on the city. It’s a classic mid-century modern with folded plate roof and floating concrete staircases. Furthermore, this exact bank is on the cover of ‘Survey LA,’ the groundbreaking guide of historic structures in Los Angeles compiled by our very own planning department.”

Townscape Partners, which owns the property on the southwest corner of Crescent Heights and Sunset boulevards, bordering West Hollywood, has indicated it is not interested in keeping the Lytton Savings building on the site. Townscape plans to develop the lot with a massive, five-structure retail and residential project designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, the man who designed the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

The project will include 65,000 square feet of retail space and 229 residential units, including 26 for very-low income residents and 12 for moderate-income residents.

In a statement regarding the designation, Townscape indicated it would work toward preserving the bank.

“We appreciate the sensitivity to cultural resources in L.A. and look forward to implementing the mitigation measures adopted by City Council as part of the balanced approval of the Frank Gehry-designed project,” Townscape’s statement read.

However, since Townscape has previously indicated it wants to demolish the building, Ryu said the historic designation would force it to explore preservation options carefully.

“For a structure as objectively significant as this one, we owe it to the preservation community and to the neighbors to have the process of preservation monitored by the cultural heritage staff and commission rather than just the protections that are within the EIR (environmental impact report),” Ryu told his colleagues. “This is exactly the kind of care and diligence that the developers agreed to when this project was approved. The previous approval of 8150 project is not before us today and remains intact . . . but the designation will provide additional review and care of this significant structure and the legacy that this architect (Kurt Meyer) deserves.”

Frank Gehry previously said he could not figure out a way to incorporate the Lytton Savings building, now a Chase Bank, into his whimsical, post-modern designs for site. He also indicated the crane needed for constructing the two high-rise towers of the project needed to be placed in the location of the Lytton Savings building. Thus Gehry favors demolition.

Should Townscape opt for the wrecking ball, the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission may object to the demolition for a period of 180 days. After that, the Los Angeles City Council may vote to extend the delay by another 180 days.

During that time, other options would be explored including relocating the building to another site. However, a concrete structure as large as the Lytton building would be extremely difficult to move, and at present, no one is sure where to move it to or who would cover those relocation costs.

Still, the council’s vote is a victory for preservationists. Keith Nakata of the Friends of Lytton Savings, the group which petitioned for the historic designation, praised the vote.
“We’re very happy with what has transpired today,” Nakata told WEHOville. “Councilman Ryu took a very strong position and supported the designation for Lytton Saving as a Historic Cultural Monument and we’re grateful.”

Nakata noted that should the 8150 project fail to be built, the bank building is now protected.
“What we were trying to do with the HCM today was protect the building in case the project is not built at 8150,” Nakata said. “If for some reason the project does not move forward, we did not want to see the bank demolished needlessly.”

Adrian Scott Fine, the director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy preservation group, also praised the vote, “We’re excited and thrilled that the [historic] nomination went through. This is what should have happened, so we’re very happy with this outcome. Couldn’t be happier.”

After the council approval, Ryu posed for pictures with preservation activists.
“Today’s a victory in terms of historic preservation and preservation in the neighborhoods,” Ryu told WEHOVille. “It’s a great day.”

Separate from the historic designation, four different lawsuits have been filed against the City of Los Angeles regarding the council’s Nov. 1 approval of the 8150 project. Those lawsuits argue that the city did not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in its review of the 8150 Sunset project. As the lead agency, the City of Los Angeles is responsible for documenting the project’s environmental impact and providing a study that offers reasons to support it.

The lawsuits were filed by the LA Conservancy, “Fix the City,” a neighborhood advocacy group, and by Susanne Manners, who lives adjacent to the 8150 site. However, those lawsuits must be resolved in nine months’ time thanks to Governor Jerry Brown’s designation of the 8150 project as an Environmental Leadership Design Project (ELDP) in 2014. That designation limits the ability of opponents to challenge the project in court. ELDP regulations stipulate that all legal proceedings, including initial hearings and appeals, can take no more than 270 days, an exceptionally short period in the California legal system.

  1. Yes I, too, fervently hope that the Lytton bank building is preserved. The Los Angeles of my youth is now about 80% gone. But I find it ironic that I always lamented that this building and the shopping center behind it had paved over and replaced the Garden of Allah Hotel and bungalows, a legendary landmark of old Hollywood. Given enough time, any structure we construct ends up getting razed, either due to obsolescence and decay, or soaring property values. All we can do is gaze at the old Hollywood picture books and sigh.

  2. Why all this coverage for a project in the City of Los Angeles. Unlike the litetally countless much larger and more destructive, weho , the city govt and the people of weho have no vested inyerests.

    Whereas, all this uproar over a project not part of weho govt involvement, why is there not the same, or half as much efgort … or one single city council member making a photo news opp expressing the universal unrest with what is only partially buillt in the single biggest project in weho history (which one? pick one. they are all unpresede tell Higer than any thing before.

  3. If Frank Gehry is incapable of figuring out a way to incorporate the Lytton Savings building, he is either being lazy or at age 87, has become too rigid in his thinking. The requirement to place a crane at the site of the bank is just blowing smoke: the footprint required for contemporary tower cranes is infinitesimal.

  4. Jim C: Glad you see that opportunity for Gehry. Perhaps the Lytton Bank will soon become a landmark restaurant……The Lytton.

  5. I’m thrilled at the designation. There is no question in my mind this this is one of the most iconic buildings on the Sunset Strip and a terrific example of Mid-Century Modernism and Kurt Meyer. But this isn’t the end of the line, we will need to fight hard to get this terrific building restored and integrated into the plan. If Mr. Gehry decides it’s below him to do the design, then maybe another more imaginative architecture firm/architect could step up.

  6. I think that this will give Mr. Gehry an opportunity to flex his creativity muscles while incorporating the Lytton Savings Bank building into the plan. It’s not a stretch to mention that the folded plate awning on the bank, and so emblematic of Mid Century design might be echoed in the shapes of the Gehry wrapping, so that its influence is truly a part of the design.

    On another note – Mr. Mills calls Mr. Gehry’s design ‘Post Modern’. Not even close. Post modernism refers to design that uses classical elements in either Ornamental or untraditional ways. If you want a good example of ‘Post Modernism’ in the LA area – one need only go into the valley and look at some of the Michael Graves buildings at Disney – like the ‘Team Building’ where the 7 dwarves are ‘pillars of support for the roof’ and several other facades of buildings I haven’t the name of are classic post-modernism.

  7. Several folks deserve a great deal of appreciation. Keith Nakata and Steve Luftman, true Friends of Lytton Savings, not even residents of the immediate area, took up the noble cause when others were too busy and kept their eye on the ball despite frequent rough water. Adrien Scott Fine filed the appropriate suit as well as three other entities devoted to a better outcome which can be ultimately realized.

    This landmark, landmark decision can and should serve as a catylist for responsible and sensitive vision critical for any thoughtful developer. A structure, such as the elegant Lytton Bank, can become a link from the 20’s through the mid century and continue the dialogue with Gehry’s interpretations of what is next.

  8. I hope the Lytton building can be saved. Otherwise, Frank Gehry will work tirelessly to design and build multiple structures for retail and residential that will stand out and demand attention, only to learn that the unassuming building already there deserves more.

  9. Now we have to stay on Gehry to reconfigure the construction site and incorporate Lytton Savings in his plans. The wit and whimsy of the structure surely will compliment Gehry’s playful design.

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