Moving the historically designated Lytton Savings building intact to a new location is not feasible. And cutting it into sections and then moving it to a new location for reconstruction is possible.
However, salvaging the building’s character-defining features and assembling them on a newly constructed building might be the most effective way to preserve it.
That was the report the City of Los Angeles’s Cultural Heritage Commission heard Thursday about the 59-year-old building located on the southwest corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights boulevards in Los Angeles, just a few hundred feet north of the West Hollywood border.
The Lytton Savings building is slated for demolition if moving it proves impractical. Developer Townscape Partners plans to construct a multi-building, high-rise, retail-residential project on the property with 229 residential units and 65,000 square feet of commercial space. It is being designed by the firm of noted architect Frank Gehry.
Currently, a shopping center and the Lytton building sit on the 8150 Sunset Blvd. site. In March 2018, an appeals court cleared the way for demolition of the Lytton building. The preservation advocacy group Los Angeles Conservancy appealed that ruling to the California Supreme Court, but in June 2018, the court declined to hear the case. However, in September 2018, the L.A. Cultural Heritage Commission blocked the demolition for 180 days, demanding a relocation feasibility study be conducted.
The Lytton Savings building was designed by noted Southern California architect Kurt Meyer. Now a Chase Bank, the highly praised mid-century-modern concrete and glass building with its zig-zag folded plate roof, glass walls and interior art work offered a radical architectural departure from traditional staid bank buildings when it opened in 1960. The Los Angeles City Council designated it a historic site in 2016, shortly after the Council also approved Townscape’s plans for the retail-residential project.
Historic preservation architect Dick Gee of the Pomona-based Spectra Historic Construction provided a 356-page analysis of the possibilities for relocation to the Commission on Thursday.
During his presentation, Gee explained that Sunset Boulevard going eastbound is only 70 feet wide while the building is 78 feet wide and 166 feet long. At roof level, the width extends to 102 feet, making it impossible to move intact. Even if it were possible, the building’s weight of approximately 3,000 tons means trucks could only transport it a few feet a day. When the Shubert Theatre in Minneapolis, which had a similar weight, was moved intact to a new location two blocks away in 1999, it took 12 days to accomplish.
Gee said the Lytton building could be cut into four or five sections of varying size for transportation, with the largest section being 56 feet wide. Gee compared moving that section to transporting the Space Shuttle Endeavor 12 miles from LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) to Exposition Park in 2012, at a cost of approximately $10 million. Various street lights would have to be moved and many trees trimming to accomplish that, just like with the space shuttle.
However, the weight of the heaviest section would be about 1,000 tons. Transportation would require that steel plates be placed on the street to distribute the weight while the truck rolled over it, otherwise the street might collapse from the weight.
Gee’s report noted that cutting the building into sections and reassembling it would result in a “substantial adverse change in the significance of the historical resource . . . such that its status as a locally registered Historic Cultural Monument would be materially impaired” (i.e., cutting it into sections and rebuilding it could jeopardize its historic designation).
Further complicating the matter, at present, there is no place to move the Lytton Savings building to. Steven Luftman, who co-founded the Friends of Lytton Saving group that spearheaded the preservation efforts, reported several organizations have expressed interest in relocating the building but needed more details, which this study has now provided.
No price is listed for the building, but Townscape would likely sell it for a nominal price. However, the relocation costs would be the responsibility of the buyers.
Gee’s report did not include a cost estimate for partial disassembly since that would depend largely on transportation costs which cannot be determined until they know how far away the new location is. However, it would likely run in the tens of millions. Moving the significantly smaller “Levitated Mass” rock 120 miles to the L.A. County Museum of Art on Wilshire Boulevard in 2012 cost $10 million.
Salvaging Character-Defining Features
Finally, Gee’s report suggested the most technically feasible solution would be to remove the building’s several dozen character-defining features including the zig-zag roof (which was prefabricated in panels before being attached and therefore easy to remove), art work and travertine veneer and then reinstall them in a newly constructed building. Architect Kurt Meyer’s original plans for the building are available, so an exact replica could be constructed and the salvaged features could be assembled into the building as it is being constructed.
Gee’s reported estimated a cost of $15 million to $18 million to remove and preserve the salvaged parts of the building. The construction costs of an exact replica are unknown. However, the historic integrity of the building would be completely lost by using this option.
After the meeting, Steven Luftman told WEHOville he was happy to hear the report and glad to know relocation was feasible. However, he was disappointed Townscape was not doing more to preserve the building.
“[Townscape is] is doing the minimum to save the building, not the maximum; they should be doing the maximum to try and save the building,” said Luftman. “They’re not even ready to move forward on the project that’s going to replace it. They seem to be concentrating only on flattening the building and in getting permission to get rid of the building.”
A spokesperson for Townscape declined to comment.
The five-member Cultural Heritage Commission plans to discuss the report and relocation options at its meeting in early February. The Commission’s 180-day stay on demolition expires in late February. After that, if there is “meaningful progress” toward preserving or moving the building, the full Los Angeles City Council can extend the stay for another 180 days.
Councilmember David Ryu, who represents the district in which the Lytton building stands, has not taken a position on the relocation efforts, although he did support the historic designation in 2016. A spokesperson for Ryu said he would need to study this report before taking a position.
The 8150 Sunset Blvd. site is the location where the famed Garden of Allah hotel complex sat for almost 40 years. The Garden of Allah buildings were demolished in 1959 to make way for the Lytton Savings building and shopping center currently on the site.