The French Market Project Gets Praise for Its Design

Faring’s 7985 Santa Monica Blvd. project (R & A Architecture and Design)

The office-restaurant-retail complex proposed for the old French Market restaurant site received high praise, along with a few reservations about its size and parking plan, from the Design Review subcommittee of West Hollywood’s Planning Commission on Thursday.

The project at 7985 Santa Monica Blvd., at Laurel Avenue, will preserve the popular French Market building, while the area that was the French Market’s parking lot will see a new building erected for retail and restaurant space, with a paseo separating the two structures.

A four-story, 60-foot-tall office building will be built at the rear of the property and above the new building. That office building will be done in a contemporary industrial style with each floor a different size and shape, the result of which looks like “randomly stacked boxes,” as the city’s urban designer, Gwynn Pugh, described it in his design memo. Large terraces will surround much of the office area, which will have either a solid glass or perforated bronze metal façade.

West Hollywood resident Jason Illoulian, who is developing the project through his company, Faring, explained the Center City has a severe shortage of office space, so the project will help activate the area during the day, while the restaurants and a 2,746 square-foot subterranean bar will offer a destination at night.

Outdoor dining at 7985 Santa Monica Blvd. (R & A Architecture & Design)

Commissioner Rogerio Carvalheiro thought the project was “incredibly well thought out,” and had “design logic.” Commissioner John Altschul said the design was “spectacular,” while Commissioner Sue Buckner said it was “nicely articulated” despite the fact it looked like a series of boxes.

During the public comment period, many people praised the project, several saying they wished their offices were in the building. Resident Tod Hallman called it “magnificent,” while resident Roy Oldenkamp described it as “dynamic architecture.” Resident Lynn Russell called it a “thoughtful project,” saying it was respectful of the past but would inspire the community toward the future.

However, a few people disliked it. Resident Kay MacLaine, who lives nearby, thought it looked like “cargo containers that have been stacked,” while resident John Gale said it was “too much in too little a space.”

Although zoning for the area only allows a maximum height of 45 feet, Faring is requesting permission to build the four floors to 60 feet. Architect Ben Anderson, of the Culver City-based R&A Architecture + Design, explained they plan to rent it as “creative office space,” where 15 feet is the standard height for ceilings. Resident Steve Martin, who liked the project, said the extra height wasn’t especially noticeable since the offices are set back from Santa Monica Boulevard.

However, Altschul and Buckner both expressed doubts about getting that much extra height approved and encouraged reducing the height and massing.

Meanwhile, the Commissioners and the public alike had concerns about the entrance and exit to the three-level underground parking garage being on Laurel Avenue, wondering if the residential street could handle so much extra traffic. Buckner and several others suggested putting the garage entrance on Laurel, but the exit onto Santa Monica Boulevard.

The project’s draft environmental impact report (EIR), due in late August, is expected to address traffic concerns extensively. Altschul said the project should come back to Design Review for a second critique after the draft EIR is out and requested that the meeting be properly noticed so neighbors and residents can attend (mailings regarding Design Review critique sessions are not typically sent out).

Also concerning to some was the fact the zoning code requires 353 parking spaces, but Faring is proposing to only build 269 spaces. Illoulian explained there will be “shared parking” due to distinct daytime and nighttime uses (office workers will use most spaces during the day, but restaurant and bar goers will use the spaces at night). A shared parking analysis will be included in the draft EIR.

Faring plans to not only preserve the French Market building itself, but also do a tribute area honoring the restaurant’s place in local LGBT history. Current plans also call for murals of prominent LGBT figures to be painted on the exterior side walls.

The Laurel Avenue facade with illustrations of Edith Windsor and Bayard Rustin (R & A Architecture & Design)

Commissioners and the public alike shared fond memories of dining at the French Market, noting that from its opening in 1973, it was one of the first restaurants openly targeting the LGBT community as its primary clientele. Various gay organizations met there over the years, and many gay political groups held meetings there at a time when the LGBT community was first recognizing it could achieve political power. The restaurant’s outdoor patio was a special amenity since gay people could dine there and be seen from the street, rather than being hidden away in bars/restaurants that had darkened windows or were down long alleyways.

Carvalheiro said preserving the patio was essential for understanding the French Market experience. Meanwhile, Altschul was delighted about the LGBT tribute, feeling that preserving the French Market was far more important for LGBT history than preserving The Factory in the new Robertson Lane hotel-retail project (another project from Faring that was recently approved).

Resident Dan Morin requested the restaurant cater to area residents, noting many people cannot afford the high-end restaurants that have opened in the Center City area in recent years. Illoulian assured that one of the restaurants would be a diner with affordable prices.

 

7617 Santa Monica Blvd.

The Design Review subcommittee gave mixed reviews to a retail-residential project proposed for the Madison Car Wash site at 7617 Santa Monica Blvd., near Curson Avenue.

The four-story, contemporary-style building will have ground-floor retail/restaurant space with 71 residential units on the three floors above. Using several courtyard areas, the building will set aside 11 units for lower-income residents. It will also have 176 parking spaces in two levels of underground parking.

Commissioner Rogerio Carvalheiro liked the project, calling it a “great building” where all four sides were “well-articulated.” He said it was one of the best buildings that had come to Design Review since he joined the Planning Commission in May 2017.

However, Commissioner John Altschul said it was “acceptable” but “not sensational,” feeling the Santa Monica Boulevard façade was somewhat bland and should be more significant.

Commissioner Sue Buckner agreed the Santa Monica Boulevard façade needed tweaking. She felt the project, from architect Ben Anderson of R&A Architecture + Design, did not match the greatness of Anderson’s design for the French Market project or his 1120 Larrabee St. condominium project which the Planning Commission approved last week.

During the public comment period, several people living nearby favored it. Alex Kehashi, who lives directly behind the project, said he wanted to move in, while George Nagle, who also lives behind the project, said it would invite people to hang out.

Meanwhile, Lynn Russell said the project seemed “repetitive” and very similar to Anderson’s design for the Larrabee Street condo project. She agreed that it needed better articulation.

Resident Victor Omelczenko felt the project was too “box-like” and wished it could somehow pay a tribute to the distinctive Googie style of the Madison Car Wash in the building’s design. He suggested incorporating some of the car wash’s Googie pylons into the design, an idea Altschul liked.

However, Buckner said she could not imagine using any element of the car wash in the design. Carvalheiro suggested a tribute to the distinctive architectural style does not have to be on the site, that a Googie tribute could be done somewhere else in town.

Developed by La Terra Development, the project will have 41 more parking spaces than is required by the zoning code. La Terra president Charles Tourtellotte explained they plan to rent the extra spaces to people living in the neighborhood, which has a shortage of street parking. They’ll also rent spaces to the fire station next door which does not have enough on-site parking for the firemen assigned there.


13 Comments
  1. Honestly – it is one of the UGLIEST DESIGN RENDERINGS I’VE EVER SEEN.

    (also – that part of SMB is already a traffic Nightmare – does anyone disagree?)

    And do we need OFFICE SPACE on SMB. It isn’t known for being a ‘business’ blvd, but rather a dine, drink, coffee and local small shops.

    There is tons of available office space all over the entire greater L.A. Why does it need to be there?? Maybe on La Brea?

  2. I live around the corner from here. I think this is a very nice design, as opposed to the one for Barney’s Beanery. However, I recall the developers were considering a food hall rather than two restaurants. Think this neighbourhood could benefit more from a food hall experience that two more exclusive eateries. We already have quite a few around here (ex. Laurel Hardware, The Hudson). As someone who has felt for a long time that we need a more neighbourly experience — a small village — I think food hall would be a more relaxed and convenient experience for the people who live around here.

  3. The real issue is traffic; the access and egress is all on Laurel Avenue which is simply not workable. There needs to be an entrance and exit on Santa Monica. While that will adversely impact the design it is the only way not to create a bottle neck on Laurel north of Santa Monica that pushes traffic northward.

    Steve Martin

    1. Exactly! Not only employees, visitors, late night club people (and the noise to adjacent residents on Laurel) but the hordes of delivery trucks makes Laurel a bad choice. Plus Laurel is a very small street with an incredible amount of cut-through traffic and trucks already cannot maneuver around the roundabouts nor turn onto Laurel easily from east nor west bound Santa Monica Blvd.

    2. This seems to be the issue everyone raises with every development, and I’m not saying it isn’t valid. The Robertson project, for example. I know they do traffic studies, but those won’t necessarily reflect the reality after one of these is built, nor do they represent what might change (possibly for the worse), in the future. So many of these developments are being built off SMB with a traffic entrance on a two-lane side street. I can see this being a problem.

      1. While parking on the side is might be an immediate issue the buildings effect over the next 2,3,4,5 + decades has to be considered. That area of Weho is being transformed into a walkable avenue so they want to keep the areas where cars and pedestrians have to cross to a minimum. Most people accessing this building would be parking during the morning and late afternoon for the office space and some occasional parkers for food and drinks. Most others will be foot traffic and taxi/ride sharing services. Also having parking access onto Santa Monica Blvd would cause more traffic problems with cars slowing down to enter and exit. At night that corner is already packed with Ubers and Lyfts dropping off passengers at Laurel, Delilah, and other bars. Have to think long term as the city slowly tries to move away from being as reliant on cars. Besides in 20 years we’ll all be riding around in self driving ubers.

  4. Our offices were there for 9 years before we were given notice and like all the other tenants had to leave when this project started… I actually really like the design. It’s modern yet incorporates the old building in style and tribute and it makes me smile.

    My concern having been a tenant 9 years is the parking. The entrance to parking from Laurel will no doubt be an issue and frustrating for many. Laurel is super narrow, a little Montesorri school right across from it and a residential building right behind it. As it was, I experienced quite a bit of traffic on that street… not to mention the traffic that will occur with people either making a right or left from Santa Monica Blvd… AND… pedestrian traffic… I’ve missed a light many a time allowing people to cross. I’m guessing, that in addition the few metered parking spots on the street just north of Santa Monica will also have to end up being removed to become a no parking zone in order to make the street a little wider.

    As far as the shared parking… if it will be creative spaces… there really isn’t any fixed 9-5 sort of hours and although there may be a lot of 9-5 offices being utilized, the restaurant will still be opened for breakfast and lunch were big draws at the Quarter and I suspect will be again so there will still be competitive parking…. the lot was always packed during meal times in the past as it was.

    I’d love to see them offer “some” community space for the local non-profits to be able to utilize for meetings, support groups and the like. There is so little of that now. Local non-profits like ours are finding it harder and harder to find spaces like that.

    1. THANK YOU! They always have some big headline … then throw in another project that was part of the meeting, but having NOTHING to do with the headline. It seems to happen after each planning meeting.

  5. The public should also know THE LAVENDER EFFECT® launched an LGBTQ and Allied Community Project called “QUEER SPACES: Memories from the French Market Place.” This participatory project is conceived to celebrate and document this unique West Hollywood gathering space in regional LGBTQ culture and history. The initial research phase of this project was made possible with support from Faring Capital and local volunteers. Everyone can participate by sharing photos, videos, and stories at http://www.thelavendereffect.org/queerspaces/.

  6. My last name isn’t Nagle (and my husband’s isn’t Kehashi). We both attended because we live in a house right behind 7617 Santa Monica Blvd. I did not say it would make people want to hang out. I said we have a serious crime and homeless issues in our neighborhood and pointed out that the open spaces any encourage homeless to hang out there. Something to consider. Alex was saying it looks nice enough to move in, but will it be an island cut off from our little neighborhood? I also suggested that they look into working with the city to give a law enforcement presence in the retail space there for the east side.

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