On a 4-to-3 vote Monday night, West Hollywood’s Historic Preservation Commission recommended certication of the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the proposed Robertson Lane project and also affirmed that the project conforms to standards for rehabilitation for the historic Factory building on the site. The City Council will make the final decision as to whether to accept the EIR.
The project straddles 1.94 acres of land between Robertson Boulevard and La Peer Drive, just south of Santa Monica Boulevard, that now is occupied by parking lots and the Factory building. The project will include a nine-story hotel with a total of 241 rooms, plus a rooftop restaurant and pool. With six levels of underground parking, Robertson Lane also includes ground-level retail and restaurant space, plus a 35-foot wide walkway, known as a “paseo,” in the middle of the site, going between Robertson and La Peer.
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, the building will also be repositioned on a north-south axis along Robertson. Plans call for the 240-feet long Factory building to be shortened by about 100 feet when it is reassembled. 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.
Because the Factory building is on the California Register of Historic Places, thanks to its connections to the motion picture history (it once housed Mitchell Camera, an early maker of movie cameras) and LGBT history (from 1974-1992, it housed the famous Studio One nightclub), the Historic Preservation Commission’s approval was needed.
A majority of the commissioners liked the project, feeling it had been greatly improved since the Commission reviewed the draft EIR in May 2017. They believed it was an acceptable compromise between the competing demands of modern development and historic preservation.
“This strikes the perfect balance between preservation and development. It meets the [U.S. Secretary of the Interior] standards for rehabilitation,” said Commissioner Christopher Winters.
Several area preservation groups, including the Los Angeles Conservancy and the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance, also gave their thumbs up, as did the Los Angeles field office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
However, three of the commissioners – Ed Levin, Gail Ostergren and Cathy Blaivas – voted against the project. While the three liked the overall project, they had concerns about moving and shortening the Factory building, feeling those actions meant it no longer met the Interior Secretary’s standards for rehabilitation.
“Changing the orientation of this building, I think, by the National Register [of Historic Places] criterion, would make it ineligible for listing in the California Register after this project is finished,” Levin said. “I don’t see how I can approve the Certificate of Appropriateness for that reason.”
“I continue to struggle with how [moving and reorienting the building and also shortening it by 45%] could possibly be a less than significant impact and how that could meet the Secretary’s standards,” said Ostergren.
Blaivas concurred, saying, “I’m battling with how the relocation in addition to the foreshortening of the building passes the muster of the Secretary of the Interior’s standards.”
Of the 21 people who spoke during public comment, 20 favored the project.
Resident Amanda Goodwin called the project “visionary,” saying, “in order to create history, you have to preserve history.” Resident Sam Borelli called it a “win-win.” Meanwhile, Tod Carson, who owns an antique store nearby, felt the project would bring foot traffic that has been missing in recent years back to Robertson.
Ron Hamill, who worked at Studio One in the 1970s and 1980s, said he never expected the building to still be standing in 2018. “The building means a lot to me. This is a great idea, a fabulous idea,” said Hamill.
Pleased by such enthusiastic support, Commissioner Yawar Charlie said, “You can feel the excitement and love for this project in the room…we don’t always see that.”
The only person speaking against the project was Elle Farmer, a representative of UNITE HERE Local 11 hospitality workers union, who felt the project was inappropriate and did not meet the Secretary of the Interior’s standards.
Jason Illoulian, who is developing the project through his company, Faring, called The Factory the “jewel” of the Robertson Lane project. In an effort to better highlight the Factory building, Illoulian changed the project’s original plans and lowered the height of the buildings immediately adjacent to the 40-foot-tall Factory building, a move that will also bring more sunlight to the paseo area.
Robertson Lane next goes to the Planning Commission on March 1. If approved there, it will then go to the City Council for final approval, likely in early spring.
9091 Santa Monica Boulevard
The Commission gave unanimous approval to designating the building on the northeast corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Doheny Drive as a historic building, while also approving Mills Act tax breaks for the historic renovation of the building.
Built in 1924, the building at 9091 Santa Monica Blvd., once housed a drug store and many other businesses over the year. It is unique in that it had second floor apartments, something that was rare for buildings of that period.
The building has been vacant for the past 25 years, but developer Taylor Megdal plans to renovate it and have a restaurant on the ground floor and a six-room hotel on the second floor.
The billboard atop the building will remain, but the Commission voted down plans to install a rooftop deck for hotel guests, believing it could generate noise that would disturb the surrounding neighborhood. With removal of the roof deck, they also voted to eliminate an elevator going to the roof.
Megdal told the commission he had long admired the building and was excited to guarantee that it would always be a part of West Hollywood.
Calling it “excellent adaptive reuse,” Commissioner Cathy Blaivas praised the plan saying it “hit all the marks for historic designation.” Commissioner Jake LaJoie also liked the plan, saying he was glad it was applying for the historic designation.
Noting that the building was in serious disrepair and “falling apart,” Commissioner Ed Levin said it would need to be substantially rebuilt. On that note, Commissioner Yawar Charlie said he was excited to see something done with the building, but felt the budget outlined for the restoration was not realistic.
Concerned that the modern appearance of the billboard does not fit with the historic building, Commissioner Christopher Winters requested that it be restored to look like billboards did in the 1920s and 1930s, when the billboard was first erected.
Six of the seven people speaking during the public comment period supported the designation. Jill Collins, who owns an antique store next door, spoke against the project plans, saying the small alley the buildings share was already busy and didn’t need any more traffic.
Several of those commenting said that outdoor seating for the restaurant might not be a good idea since the sidewalk along Santa Monica Boulevard is narrow and people often line up in front of the building while waiting to get into shows at the nearby Troubadour music club a few doors down.
The project next goes to the Planning Commission for approval, likely in March.