With a 5-2 vote on Monday night, West Hollywood’s Historic Preservation Commission gave its OK to revised plans for the proposed French Market project. The commission had previously given its blessing to the project in August, but after developer Faring reduced the size of the building, the project had to come back for another review.
The revised, U-shaped French Market project will now be three stories tall instead of four stories in its rear portion, the height reduced from 60 feet to 49 ½ feet tall. It will also see more of the original French Market building preserved while the center “paseo” between buildings will be bigger.
With Monday’s vote, the commission certified the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and also approved the certificate of appropriateness for the historic building.
Located at 7985 Santa Monica Blvd., at Laurel Avenue, the French Market Place building dates to 1936 when it opened as a grocery store. However, its historic significance dates back to1973 when it was renovated into a restaurant and mini-shopping mall. The French Market became a major gathering place for the LGBT community. Many gay political organizations met there during the early days of the gay liberation movement, as did HIV/AIDS groups during the early days of the AIDS crisis. Likewise, many LGBT diners ate on the front patio, in clear view from the street, at a time when it was still a huge risk to be seen in a gay establishment.
The French Market closed in 2015, but developer Faring purchased the property in 2016, intending to demolish the building. However, responding to public outcry, Faring revised its plan and now intends to preserve the exterior of the French Market building (although the interior will be completely gutted).
Faring also intends to construct a new two-story building for retail and restaurant space in the area that was the French Market’s parking lot. At the rear of the property will be a three-story office tower for “creative office” space. Both these new portions will have a contemporary industrial style appearance.
The project will also include a two-level subterranean parking garage with 146 parking spaces (a change from the original plans, which called for three underground levels and 269 spaces). The French Market building will be retained in place while the garage is being dug beneath it by underpinning it with steel beams.
Under the revised plans, Faring will now preserve three of the French Market building’s exterior walls – the east, west and south facing walls. The previous plan preserved the west and south facing walls entirely, but only about two-thirds of the east wall (the one facing the parking lot). All 13 windows facing east on the second floor will now remain intact. The previous plan eliminated about five of those windows. The back (north) exterior wall will be removed to allow space to construct the office building.
Although a new building will be constructed in what is now the parking lot, it will be separated from the French Market building by a large passageway or “paseo” leading to the office building. That paseo will include displays and a mural honoring the French Market’s history. The revised plans call for a higher ceiling at the back of the paseo, which allows all 13 windows of the east wall to remain.
The Historic Preservation Commission’s task on Monday night was limited to the historic aspects of the project. Commissioner Lola Davidson said preserving more of the original French Market building was a “win,” while Commissioner Matt Dubin, who had feared the four-story back building would dwarf the French Market building, praised the reduced height and massing in the revised plans.
Commissioner Jake LaJoie especially liked the revised paseo plans, calling it “exponentially better.” He also was happy all 13 east-facing windows would be preserved.
Commissioners Ed Levin and Gail Ostergren both voted against the project, as they did when it came for review in August. They both felt that merely preserving the three exterior walls was not enough. They questioned whether such limited area of preservation would meet the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s standards for historic integrity.
“Essentially, this is a ‘facadomy.’ There’s not much of the original building that will be left,” said Ostergren. “While I do think this is an improvement and I appreciate how much support the community has toward seeing this building come back into use and certainly the façade looks much like the French Market historically did, it does not alter my fundamental interpretation.”
Levin felt the revised plans were a “tremendous improvement,” saying that raising the height of the paseo to retain more of the east wall of the original building was an “enormous plus.”
However, Levin echoed Ostergren’s concerns about retaining the building’s historic integrity with only three exterior walls. He was also disturbed about removing the curved “bowstring truss” roof of the French Market building to allow for construction of the office building above it at the rear of the building.
He noted the Secretary of the Interior’s standards allow for construction of additions to historic buildings and construction of new buildings, proved that if the additions/new buildings were removed, the original building would retain its integrity. Levin felt being able to rebuild the bowstring truss roof(if the new building was removed)was not the same as retaining the original roof.
Of the 12 people speaking during the public comment period, all supported it. Resident Keith Kaplan said it was a “fantastic” project while resident George Credle praised the fact more of the building was being preserved.
Resident Yola Dore said she had many fond memories from the original French Market and couldn’t wait to create more memories there. Similarly, resident Gail Sanes was excited that the French Market would be coming back into her life.
Resident Dan Morin commended Faring for responding to community concerns and being willing to revise the project.
After the vote, Faring officials were elated. “We are honored to again receive the overwhelming support of the Historic Preservation Commission and look forward to bringing this to the Planning Commission next month,” said Jake Stevens, Faring’s community engagement director.
With the modified French Market plans, the Pink Pussycat building at 7965 Santa Monica Blvd. has been removed from the project area. Faring also owns that building, which now houses the club known as Delilah, but is no longer considering it as part of the French Market project.
The French Market project next goes to the Planning Commission for consideration on Dec. 5.