Several proposed changes to the Robertson Lane project, including the restoration of even more of the historic Factory building, got the unanimous support tonight of the West Hollywood Preservation Commission and dozens of local residents.
In a plan approved by the West Hollywood City Council in June 2018, Faring, the developer, had proposed repositioning and renovating 55% of the Factory building and including it in the Robertson Lane hotel, retail and restaurant development. That project, which features a nine-story hotel, covers two acres and extends to La Peer Drive on the west. The revised proposal that went before the Historic Preservation Commission tonight calls for the removal of two existing design showroom buildings at the south end of the project, which will allow Faring to preserve 79% of the Factory building and relocate a proposed driveway that was to have entered the base of the building.
Removing those showrooms also will allow Faring to extend the underground parking area to accommodate the same 750 parking spaces on three underground levels rather than the six initially approved. The removal of those buildings also allows for a 42-foot setback from the Factory building and the building to the south, improving its visibility. And the extra square footage on the site means that instead of directing the driveway into the base of the Factory building, there will be two driveways into the project from Robertson Boulevard, one on the south side of the Factory and one on its north side. Instead of the three driveways proposed for the La Peer Drive side of the property there would be only two.
The proposed revisions drew praise from a representative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and from Victor Omelczenko of the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance and Adrian Fine, who represented the L.A. Conservancy. Both organizations had pushed for Faring to change its original plan, which had called for the demolition of the Factory building. They had argued that the Factory, constructed in 1929, needed to be preserved because it had once been home to Mitchell Camera, an early maker of movie cameras, and later to the famous Studio One gay nightclub. The southern end of the Factory building will terminate at the new entrance to the Robertson Lane ballroom, which was the former entrance to the Studio One nightclub and where Faring intends to commemorate Studio One.
Jennifer Gregg, executive director of the ONE Archives, praised Faring for its recognition of the role Studio One had played in gay life. It was in 1975 that Scott Forbes, a gay optometrist, opened the club called Studio One during the height of the disco era. Studio One closed in 1988.
Several speakers said they had not appreciated the Factory building, given its current condition, until they had seen Faring’s plans to renovate it, which include restoring its exterior and, where necessary, replacing its glass panels. Sam Borelli said that he hadn’t supported the idea of preserving the Factory building initially but had changed his mind as the design progressed. Stephanie Harker, known for her work to save Plummer Park from a proposed renovation that would have demolished its historic Great Hall / Long Hall, acknowledged that she was likely to surprise some of those at the meeting before she expressed her support for the revised project. Cathy Blavis, who had opposed the project during her tenure on the Historic Preservation Commission, spoke in support of it tonight, saying “this is adaptive re-use at its best.”
Commissioner Ed Levin, who originally had voted against the project, noted that it has been approved by the City Council and that the Commission’s task tonight was only to consider the proposed alterations to the original plan. Levin said he viewed the alterations as “an enormous improvement.” Levin asked that Faring also commemorate the Factory’s role as the manufacturing plant for Mitchell Cameras, which supplied cameras to the nascent motion picture industry. Matt Dubin, newly appointed to the Commission by City Councilmember Lauren Meister, echoed Levin’s request.
Lola Davidson, who was sworn in as a commissioner tonight by Mayor John D’Amico, also expressed her support for the project, saying she was touched by the amount of support it got from community members.
Commission Chair Christopher Winters said the changes over time in the design of the project have led people who initially wanted to demolish the Factory building to appreciate it. “This is very much the Robertson Lane project being incorporated into the Factory and not the Factory being incorporated into Robertson Lane,” Winters said.