Opinion: Faring’s Robertson Lane Project Insults West Hollywood

We are all too familiar with the shams so many developers use that leave our communities with shiny new hotels and broken promises. Faring Capital’s Robertson Lane project is an example of a glitzy hotel development that is getting massive special development favors from the city but offering precious little in return. The West Hollywood City Council should reject it because the developer plans to tear down large portions of a building it claims it’s “preserving”, has no guaranteed plan to tell the full history of the location, and because the project risks repeating the mistakes of the past by not doing enough for our City’s diverse communities.

faring, jason illoulian, the factory
Illustration of the proposed entry to the Robertson Lane project from Robertson Boulevard.

The warning signs that something was wrong with this project started early on. Three senior members of the preservation committee, including its chair, expressed serious reservations about Faring Capital’s “preservation” plan for the Factory building, the site of the famous Studio One Club. Those committee members who voted against the project doubted that the proposed hotel would still meet the criteria to be an historic structure after the Mitchell Camera Company Factory building is demolished and a portion of the remaining materials are used to build a new structure as a pair of retail shops. Read for yourself in the city’s Final Environmental Impact Report. [see attached images] You can’t demolish a building and call it historic preservation after such a complete and total change. If the developer planned an adaptive reuse of the original building that would be one thing, but tearing down over half of the Factory and then claiming to honor its history is corporate doublespeak.

We are in agreement that when we talk about the history of the Factory building, we should tell the full history of Studio One, including the stories of alleged discrimination and the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) protests against the club’s door policies. There is a lot that could be done to tell the story of the GLF and the diverse communities that fought for inclusion in West Hollywood, and we don’t think Faring Capital’s project does enough to tell it. What public art would be displayed and who would be honored? The FEIR requires documentation before demolition, but how are archived photos and a handful of interviews really telling the full story? What scope of archiving will be collected and which voices represented? How will the telling of these stories look in the context of an active retail store shoved into the new Factory building when the floorplans show no site for displaying any of it? How do we make sure that truth-telling is the real focus of the site and not just some window-dressing for a luxury hotel attracting business via sanitized history? The so-called history plan will take place *after* the building is torn down and the new project built.

Most importantly, who will have the power to decide these things years from now. The answers to these questions can’t be left in the hands of a for-profit developer and the City Council shouldn’t put that power in the developer’s hands by approving this project.

The Factory as it looks today.

One of the best ways we can respect the complex history of the Factory building is learning from it and not repeating its mistakes. There are a lot of questions in the hotel industry right now about its treatment of women, African American, LGB and transgender workers. To allow an exclusive luxury hotel to set the tone on the site of alleged historic discrimination could be deeply troubling. Just a few blocks away in Santa Monica, the City Council pushed back against discrimination and exclusion and for the inclusion of diverse communities by advocating for strong community benefit provisions in development agreements. Subsidized public transit passes; a hotel worker’s $15.37 minimum wage; a 40% local hiring goal for new Courtyard by Marriott and Hampton Inn hotels; Internships for low-income youth; and freely accessible ground-floor public space (page 348) at the new hotel project at 710 Wilshire-just to name a few.

Many recent Santa Monica hotel projects have done far better than a fraction more in TOT revenue (that could be erased by oversaturation and a drop in room occupancy rates) and a ‘promise’ to allow the public to pay to use their parking deck; so why not Robertson Lane?

As our city changes to accommodate the growing tourism industry, the stakeholders in the community should have a voice, from the workers in the hotel and shops, to neighboring businesses, to the residents who are part of the city’s history. This hotel project should be informed by the past, not just using it as a marketing gimmick. The West Hollywood City Council should reject Faring Robertson Lane development because it’s a sham that doesn’t live up to the hype.

  1. WeHoville should be ashamed of themselves for this duplicitous article without disclosing the interests of the authors. As a Unite Here Local 11 union organizer, Elle Farmer’s only goal is to secure a union contract from Faring. Had Faring signed a Neutrality Agreement, she’d be singing their praises. It’s a shame Don Kilhefner has allowed himself to be used as a pawn in this unbalanced assessment.

    1. This is an op-ed. WEHOville does not endorse the opinions of writers of op-eds. However, we do encourage readers to submit them to offer a variety of opinions on local issues.

  2. That doesn’t sound like “preservation” to me! This building has an incredible and complicated story to tell – I really hope it doesn’t get totally corporatized and whitewashed.

  3. “Three senior members of the preservation committee, including its chair, expressed serious reservations about Faring Capital’s “preservation” plan for the Factory building, the site of the famous Studio One Club.”

    Maybe Faring Capital should have brought their folks to this meeting so those senior members and committee chair wouldn’t have had to audacity of questioning and *gasp* voting against the project.

    I love visiting West Hollywood, but maybe next time I’ll stay in Santa Monica. Seems like they are more interested in holding developers accountable instead of selling off history to the highest bidder.

  4. Honestly – I will always call it “Studio One” if it came up in conversation (but it hasn’t in at least a decade, this article the one). BUT …. it was just a club space, changed names over the years & Honestly …… I wouldn’t mind seeing the structure go if it is not going to be a ‘Dance Space” or there is some kind of special or unique purpose the new Development needs. Otherwise, this time, I’m of the opinion of tear it down, it has no real significance as a structure.

  5. While it’s nice to think that West Hollywood could just stay the same way forever like some sort of version of Disneyland’s Main Street we are smack dead in the middle of the 2nd largest city in the country and the city is not going to remain a small village. I have had a blast at the factory and have good memories, but it is not the most attractive building, and besides the now terrible nightclubs nights that usually attract a bad crowd, the building is not useful anymore. The fact that the Robertson Lane project is honoring the building in the way it is should be considered a major victory. We can’t keep every old grocery store because you have memories shopping there or an old animal hospital because you had to put you animal down there. As buildings age and become outdated and spaces become vacant we have to breath new life into them. I think this is the prefect balance of both keeping the past and moving to the future.

  6. I’m astounded that anyone in their right mind would think a hotel on Robertson Blvd. makes any sense. UNLESS it is a tiny boutique hotel, under 50 rooms. Where are they locating their parking structure? Parking for all the employees? and guest? How HIGH will the structure be at its highest point? But positively NOT any brand by Marriott or Starwood or Hilton. It makes no sense!!!! The traffic!!!!! The City would have to take out ALL street parking on Robertson. Sounds like a really dumb idea to me.

    1. Obviously you have not been going to any of the meetings held where this project has been on the agenda and has been discussed at great length (and there have been many) otherwise you’d have answers to all your questions. You can also find all the answers via the City Hall website. If you’re a registered voter, the one thing I would recommend is educated yourself before you vote.

  7. I have to admit, they do have a point about the historic preservation–the developer is tearing down over half the Factory building, moving it to a different spot and then claiming it is still “preserved.” I’m not an expert, but that really doesn’t sound like historic preservation to me. AND, I think the Factory building with its rich history of Studio One is worth actually preserving for our LGTBQ community.

  8. “Subsidized public transit passes; a hotel worker’s $15.37 minimum wage; a 40% local hiring goal for new Courtyard by Marriott and Hampton Inn hotels; Internships for low-income youth; and freely accessible ground-floor public space (page 348) at the new hotel project at 710 Wilshire-just to name a few.”

    These all sound like terrible ideas that would hurt West Hollywood! Good on Faring Capital for not including these awful components in their project.


  9. I was at the City Planning Commission’s March 1st meeting at which ALL seven members voted unanimously to pass this project…and I witnessed almost 50 community and civic leaders and representatives speak on behalf of this project. Does the general public know that:
    — the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance
    — the National Trust for Historic Preservation
    — the Norma Triangle Neighborhood Watch
    — the West Hollywood West Residents Association
    — the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce
    …and One Gay Archives
    are all in support of Robertson Lane which includes the Studio One historic legacy preservation project? Thank goodness Faring is respectfully restoring the Factory using all its original materials…thus saving it from further decay and losing its structural integrity altogether if it wasn’t for their timely rescue.

  10. Advocating for better conditions for union workers is an admirable and noble goal which deserves attention and action. Mixing that worthy pursuit with some nebulous talk of preserving the spirit of a dilapidated eyesore is a stretch. I’m no fan of development at any cost, but this is a worthy addition to the neighborhood which I support 100%. Let’s create the jobs, and make sure those jobs pay a living wage.

  11. Everything else aside, I think the Robertson neighborhood is going to be absolutely shocked when they wake up and find a NINE story hotel in their midst, with all that that brings. (Rumored to have a heliport on top) Over on the east side of town, even people involved in approving 5 & 6 story buildings, are now lamenting the stark change, exclaiming, after the fact, “why did they have to be so BIIIIIG?” Suggestion to all who care…find a nine story building in your area, go there, stand next to it and look up. It might jolt you into reality of what WeHo is rapidly becoming. The “village” is no more. Only the “urban” remains.

  12. What a load of crap. The community is behind this project as evident by the public turnout at city meetings that took place during the approval process. This is a union slam piece pure and simple. Nothing more.

  13. I live nearby and I can’t wait for this development. I think it’s wonderful that they are keeping some elements of The Factory to preserve some of its history BUT that stretch could use a major facelift and quite frankly is a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

    As someone that was so bummed when The Roxy in NYC closed and was turned into an office building or when The Palladium became NYU dorms, I hear what you’re saying. However, the spirit of places like The Factory remain in the people who frequented the space. It’s time to move on, and chart new paths. And should injustices happen, we’ll fight as we always have.

    1. Amen to that, Welcome Addition.
      Farring Capital is probably the most ethical, community minded/respectful developer that works in West Hollywood. Time and time again, they have sat down with residents and local business owners, listened to their concerns and then modified their projects to address as many of those as they can. Retaining the Factory building is a step above & beyond–to my mind while the usage of the building was historic, the building is not. With their project going in where the French Market was for many years, again, they listened to residents and they are retaining some of the original architecture in the final plans for the property. In both cases, and others, Farring has been sensitive to our residents and business owners, listened to constituents and has taken action on their projects with those thoughts in mind.

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