A slightly smaller “Sunset Spectacular” digital billboard project planned for Sunset Boulevard got glowing reviews Thursday from the Design Review subcommittee of West Hollywood’s Planning Commission.
The billboard tower, set to go into the city-owned parking lot at 8775 Sunset Blvd. (near the Horn Avenue-Holloway Drive intersection), was modified and reduced in size after those changes were requested at a City Council hearing in mid-July.
As originally conceived, the Sunset Spectacular was a three-sided, 72-feet tall structure made up of three 25-foot wide vertical panels, or “petals,” connected via a skeletal frame. The two petals facing Sunset will have video screens which display digital advertising 80% of the time and digital public art the other 20%.
The modified billboard plans presented Thursday look almost identical to the original, with only subtle changes. The height has been reduced to 67 feet, while the north-facing petal (the one that does not have a video screen) will only be 21 feet wide its base and 11 feet wide at the top, thereby reducing the overall mass by 18%. The width of the other two petals will still be 25 feet at the base.
Architect Tom Wiscombe explained the design cannot be reduced further without redoing the whole thing.
“We’ve reduced it about as much as we can,” said Wiscombe, who won a city-sponsored competition with his initial design. “I really think if we did anymore, we would damage it, architecturally speaking, but also as a kind of symbol.”
Commissioners Rogerio Carvalheiro and David Aghaei agreed, saying any further reduction would “compromise” the project. Both liked the design, but said they preferred the original design more.
However, Commissioner Lynn Hoopingarner favored the decreased size. She also praised the creativity of the design, saying, “This has got creativity out the wazoo.”
Hoopingarner feared the video screens might be too close to a driver’s line of sight when he was beneath it and wondered if it should be put on stilts. Wiscombe explained stilts aren’t necessary because the video screens would start at 15 feet, so it would be above a person’s line of sight when driving by.
The more obvious design changes come with the plaza area around the billboard tower. The plaza has been reduced in size by 43% to 2,113 square feet, with no permanent benches. While the original plaza plan called for removal of five parking spaces and two trees, the revised plan keeps all 78 parking spaces and all the trees.
All three commissioners praised the redesigned plaza, feeling it was more appropriate for the area. Carvalheiro and Hoopingarner both suggested the city should turn the entire parking lot into a park and move the parking spaces underground, something that would provide needed greenspace which area residents have long demanded.
During the public comment period, resident Lynn Russell suggested installing more cohesive landscaping throughout the parking lot, not just in the plaza area, an idea Hoopingarner echoed.
Of the 13 people speaking during public comment, seven praised it. Resident Robert Small, who lives directly behind the project, felt the design was great, noting that he loves modern architecture. He also praised the reduced size of the third petal, saying his primary concern was the tower blocking the view out his window.
Resident Jonathan Anderson said he welcomed the project, which he thought would bring more culture to the Sunset Strip. Meanwhile, resident Hector Barbosa said the Strip is about entertainment and this project would fit well in West Hollywood. Resident John Lovejoy supported it, saying, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Resident Joni Wood, who lives directly behind the parking lot, was concerned about light intrusion at night, but was relieved to learn the brightness will be reduced at night so the billboard should not create glare. Wood was also concerned about disruptions caused by events that will be held around the tower (monthly gatherings to display the digital public art are planned), and suggested a follow-up session 60 days after the tower debuts to address problems that arise.
Resident Jerome Cleary worried the project would add gridlock to an intersection that already has an F-rating. He noted cars will likely slow down to see the digital displays, thereby making it harder for police, fire trucks and ambulances to get through.
Cleary and several others also feared it will become a magnet for homeless people. However, Pete Scantland of Orange Barrel Media, the company that will build the $9.5 million project and sell the advertising, promised they will have a security guard on the site around the clock.
Residents of the luxury high-rise Shoreham Towers said they completely oppose the project. Miguel Duran, the Shoreham Towers general manager, reported his residents were concerned it would affect property values. Meanwhile, the president of the Shoreham Towers Homeowners Association said Wiscombe’s presentation seemed like a farce that actor Sacha Baron Cohen might do. He said the city was creating an entertainment venue and should build adjoining rest rooms to prevent people from urinating in the neighborhood.
Aaron Green, president of Afriat Consulting Group, which did community outreach on the project, reported that Shoreham Towers representatives told him they would support the project in exchange for $1.2 million. When WEHOville questioned Shoreham Towers manager Duran about Green’s charge, he denied any knowledge.
Eiffel Tower Comparisons
Noting the opposition, Carvalheiro compared the Sunset Spectacular to the Eiffel Tower in Paris. He read from reports that said many Parisians were strongly opposed to the while it was being built in the late 1880s, calling it “useless and monstrous,” but noted the Eiffel Tower is now the symbol of Paris.
Carvalheiro also felt the digital art component of the Sunset Spectacular would help bring art to the masses.
“I would like to embrace this project as a clear step toward democratization of art,” said Carvalheiro. “Embarking digital media as it’s captured all our imagination for the last ten years, this project really brings the digital world into our everyday experience. I don’t believe that the addition of this project to the Sunset Strip is going to make any more of a distraction than everything that is already there now.”
At one point, this project was known as the “Sunset Belltower,” but that name seems to have been dropped in favor of the “Sunset Spectacular.” Wiscombe’s design received a prestigious 2017 Next LA Award from the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
After the meeting, Wiscombe told WEHOville he was delighted people were happy with the changes he’d made since the July City Council meeting.
“I was really encouraged that people responded to the changes that were made in the last month. I was really happy to hear that it resonated with people,” he said. “We tried to respond to a lot of things. I feel like we were successful in doing that and I feel really good about that. As an architect you want to design a structure that the community wants.”
The project next goes to the city’s Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission (ACAC) meeting in September, where the commissioners will be asked for input about the public art component only. ACAC will not be allowed to weigh in on the overall project.
After that, the Sunset Spectacular goes to the full Planning Commission in October and the City Council in November.