A nine-story hotel on the southwest corner of Robertson and Beverly boulevards?
That was the idea that local developer Jason Illoulian proposed during a neighborhood meeting on Thursday night. The idea was met with mixed reactions. Several residents living nearby were strongly opposed, saying nine stories was far too high, while other residents and nearby business owners liked the idea, hoping it could help revitalize Robertson Boulevard, which has a number empty storefronts just south of Beverly Boulevard.
Emphasizing that this was merely a preliminary proposal, Illoulian said he wanted input from the community early in the development process to help create a building people would be happy with.
“This is where we start the project, not where we end it,” Illoulian told the group of approximately 30 people attending the meeting.
Through his real estate development company, Faring Capital, Illoulian owns the entire block on the south side of Beverly Boulevard between Robertson and Clark Drive. Current city zoning allows for a four-story building there. Since the block is in a “mixed-use overlay zone,” which encourages both retail and residential units in the same project, buildings there can go another story (10 feet) higher. State law also allows the project to add an additional floor (10 more feet) if it includes “affordable housing” for low-income residents. Thus, a project can go up to six stories in height under the existing regulations.
However, since the building near Clark Drive abuts existing residential apartment buildings, Illoulian is proposing to break up the massing on that block. Rather than doing six stories across the entire block between Robertson and Clark, he suggested having just three stories near Clark, but nine stories near Robertson.
“We think it’s better to do three [stories] and nine [stories] rather than six [stories] across,” Illoulian said.
Several of the attendees who own homes nearby were aghast at the idea of nine stories, noting that such height could hurt their property values. “We’ll fight nine, but would love four,” said one person. Another said, “This is beautiful. The problem is the height.”
However, resident Amanda Goodwin, who is a candidate for the West Hollywood City Council in the March 7 election, reminded attendees to keep an open mind and work with Illoulian. She noted that he has a record of creating projects that residents like, pointing to a residential project currently under construction on Doheny Drive, just above Santa Monica Boulevard, where the old Christmas tree and pumpkin patch lot used to be, that residents are happy with.
Going up to nine stories would require approval from the West Hollywood City Council, but Illoulian reminded attendees that the area already has several buildings nearby that are that tall – the 8899 Beverly building on Beverly Boulevard, the Pacific Theatres building on Robertson and several buildings at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.
The three stories near Clark Drive would have ground floor retail for shops and restaurants with residential units on the upper two floors, plus a rooftop swimming pool. The nine stories near Robertson Boulevard would have ground floor retail and a high-end luxury hotel on the floors above, possibly including residential units. The hotel would be called The Perry, a name chosen in honor of Illoulian’s uncle, who loved to stay in luxury hotels. It could have as many as 130 rooms, plus an enclosed restaurant on the top floor with sweeping vistas.
The upper floors of the entire building would be set back ten feet or more so as not to create a giant wall and overwhelm Beverly Boulevard. Additionally, the ground floor retail spaces would have varying setbacks from the sidewalk to create the feeling of separate buildings and add more of a neighborhood feeling, or a “human scale” as Illoulian phrased it. He cited the varying setbacks of the retail buildings along Melrose Place, between Melrose Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard, as an effect he hoped to emulate with this building.
Richard Giesbret, president of the West Hollywood West Residents Association, praised the setbacks and the entire building. He, too, noted that Illoulian is known for cooperating with residents.
This block of Beverly Boulevard is also home to the building housing the historic Herman Miller Furniture Company, a building Illoulian intends to keep and restore. The building, which dates back to the late 1940s, was the only commercial building designed by Charles and Ray Eames, according to Roy Oldenkamp, head of the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance. The Eames husband-and-wife team were much better known for designing mid-century modern furniture (including the famed Eames lounge chair), as well as residential houses. The Eames building, at 8806 Beverly Blvd., currently houses the DDC (Domus Design Collection) high-end furniture showroom. The building currently at the corner of Beverly and Robertson houses Michael Aram, a home decor shop that opened in July of last year.
Preserving the Eames building, which the preservation alliance hopes to get designated as a “historic cultural resource,” will be a feat since the project calls for three levels of underground parking. Illoulian reported the Eames building would be carefully supported with stilts while they dig the parking garage beneath it.
Architect Benjamin Anderson of the Culver City-based R&A Design, Inc., told WEHOville that he and Illoulian have been planning the project for the past 18 months, soliciting input from many people and visiting other sites for inspiration. While no finalized drawings have been done, his initial sketches call for closing the alley behind Robertson that opens onto Beverly. The alley would be shifted to open on Clark Drive and would be at least 20 feet wide to allow for delivery and trash trucks. Additionally, the entrance for the underground parking garage and the hotel would be along Clark Avenue.
Several other community meetings will be held regarding the project in the coming months. Illoulian also offered to meet individually with people about their concerns.