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.