8850 Sunset Project Receives Praise and Criticism at Design Review Meeting

8850 Sunset Blvd. (Morphosis Architects)

The controversial, futuristic-looking, high-rise hotel/residential complex at 8850 Sunset Boulevard received mixed reviews from the Design Review subcommittee of the West Hollywood Planning Commission during a Zoom teleconferencing meeting on Thursday. Concerns were raised about the project’s mass and height as well as queuing for parking, and the ground-breaking design drew both praise and scorn.

Slated to encompass the entire block on the southern side of Sunset between Larrabee Street and San Vicente Boulevard (where the Viper Room nightclub is currently located), the 369,000 square-foot project with two towers will be 200 feet tall, as measured from the lowest point on the site, and 185 feet tall from the Sunset Boulevard side. The design is by Culver City-based Morphosis Architects (headed by award-winning architect Thomas Mayne), with Arne Emerson being the chief architect on the project.

With ground-floor restaurants and bars, the project’s western tower will have 115 hotel rooms. The eastern tower will have 31 luxury condominiums plus 10 units set aside for low-income residents. With a 100-foot-wide opening in the middle separating floors three through 14, the two towers will be connected on the top (15th) floor, which will have a restaurant and bar open to the public. Once built, a new Viper Room club will be housed in an underground area.

The three-hour meeting (Design Review typically lasts 60 to 90 minutes) found several residents upset about the futuristic design, with the word “monstrosity” used several times. However, other residents liked the appearance, as did the commissioners.

Commissioner Rogerio Carvalheiro thought it was the kind of bold, progressive architecture that West Hollywood should welcome.

“We are a community that is experimental. We are a community that is groundbreaking. So why not mark this moment in time with something that is equal to that,” said Carvalheiro. “It would bring value to Sunset Boulevard, value to our community. It is forward thinking and it sets a new bar.”

Commissioner Lynn Hoopingarner commented she liked the look of the building and is thrilled to see interesting and creative design concepts. She reported she sometimes refers to it as the “Pac-Man” building because its west tower looks like it is chomping its way into the east tower.

Meanwhile, during the public comment period, resident Lynn Russell thought the project borrowed design elements from many other better designed projects. “Sunset Boulevard deserves a building that clearly speaks for itself, is comfortable in its surrounding, not attempting to be a design salad of too many elements,” said Russell.

Resident Elyse Eisenberg felt the style of the two towers was so different that it looked like two separate projects.

On the other hand, resident Josh Fritaris of Norma Triangle felt the building looked like “a piece of art.” Pink Dot owner Sol Yamini, a board member of the Sunset Strip Business Association, felt the design was “iconic” and would “bring global attention to West Hollywood” as well as help activate the street.

At 15 stories high, the project would be taller than anything nearby and public commenters were fearful the project would loom in the horizon towering over the entire city below, blocking views of the Hollywood Hills.

“I don’t’ want it becoming the focal point of all of West Hollywood,” said resident Susan Milrod.

Resident Sharon Siegel did not like that it is so much bigger than surrounding buildings, feeling it would be better at nine or ten stories. However, she liked the open viewpoint area in the middle.

Eisenberg said with hotel and residential units, restaurants, bars and nightclubs, plus banquet and meetings rooms, there were too many uses for the site. “It is way too intense for this site,” said Eisenberg.

Lobbyist Steve Afriat, representing the adjacent London Hotel, said the London may not be located directly on Sunset, but since the current buildings on that block are one-story tall, it does have a presence there. Once this project is built, the London will lose that presence. Likewise, guests at the London who have north facing rooms will lose their view of the Hollywood Hills except for the open middle area.

Architect Arne Emerson explained the 200 feet of height evolved from the need to create something unusual while accommodating all the “programming” within the building. He added the open area in the middle would make it feel less massive.

“An extruded pancake building that maybe is four or five stories lower is a completely missed opportunity,” said Emerson.

Carvalheiro said his initial reaction was that “going to 200 feet seems like an assault to the community” but added that he came to believe the additional height with the viewpoint in the middle is worth it.

Commissioner Sue Buckner felt the building could be smaller but still have all of the elements in it.

Several people pointed out that when the Pacific Design Center’s Blue Building was built in 1973, many were upset by the large size and out-of-place style of the building, but now it is beloved and considered part of the fabric of the community.

With four levels of underground parking for a total of 269 spaces (189 for hotel and commercial guests; 80 for residents), the parking will be accessed at the rear of the property with entrance on San Vicente and exit on Larrabee.

Commissioners and residents alike commented the parking situation will likely be problematic since it is immediately adjacent to the alleyway which the London Hotel uses for its guests to drive in. People felt drivers may be confused having the vehicle entrances to the two properties side by side, with drivers missing the entrance and having to go around the block again.

They also pointed out that the queue to get into that alley to access the London Hotel can sometimes back up far down San Vicente. Many predicted the 8850 building will create similar queues on San Vicente. And if the both the London and the 8850 building were having large events starting at the same time, those parking queues could be massive and end up blocking all northbound traffic on San Vicente. All felt the building’s parking entrance should be moved.

Hoopingarner questioned whether 189 parking spaces for guest uses would be enough since the building’s banquet room and meeting rooms can hold 500 people. Meanwhile, Eisenberg suggested a separate entrance for residents would be helpful.

The building has terraces on the second and third levels in the open middle section with greenery covering the area. Hoopingarner and several public commenters suggested finding a way to include some of that lush green area on the ground level.


10 Comments
  1. Is there now an Insanity Division in Architectural Competitions? This horrific project looks as if the building on the left was a remnant of a recent hurricane with blown out windows and remnants of greenery clinging to them.

    The structure on the right seems ready for lift off to outer space searching for another unsuspecting planet. The original inspirations for this pastiche actually exist in other locations however this looks as if it was conceived with the benefit of mind altering substance.

  2. The PDC’s Blue building is “beloved and considered part of the fabric of the community”, you mean the “Blue Whale”?……Hardly.

  3. I love the look of this building and live within a 3 minute walk. My only concern is that it should have less hotel space and more residential. What’s with all the hotels we’re approving?

  4. I really like the design of this building, which will receive attention across the world. it’s that good. But I suspect it’s a bait and switch and the final building won’t look like this. Also, I DO NOT UNDERSTAND how this city can support so many hotels. There are only so many tourists coming to LA, and they don’t all want to stay in west hollywood! I think these hotels are going to go out of business.

  5. It’s Butt Ugly and way too big for this block. I’m speaking aesthetically in both instances. Gotta say I dreaded when the Marriott was being built; I live just 2 house lots from that monster, but, at least it sits in “harmony” with the rest of the area.

  6. Seems like lots of people praising this project do not live in what will be its looming shadow. I do. I live on Larrabee a block and a 1/2 south of Sunset. Every time I walk out my building’s front door, this ridiculous Las Vegas/Dubai mothership will be in my face. It is not for residents, oh please.. 10 low income units? Gee that’ll fix everything! (not.) I’m sure this hotel’s management will welcome having 20-30 underprivileged residents constantly wandering around their shiny mecca to the global elite! (not.) And let’s not pretend developers of this thing give a crap about The Viper Room. What they plan to build is a generic bar w/stage with no genuine local rock history; it’ll just be a space The Viper Room owners will be desperate enough to license for a year, then after it goes out of business for lack of charm and lack of tourists (this entire hotel will stay empty– you really think Covid’s going away?) the hotel’s marketing team will just rename it Club Rock, or The Spin Room, whatever soulless name. Ask our dwindling tourists what they call this area, they’ll tell you: “The Sunset Stripped.” As in, Sunset’s been stripped of what used to draw tourists here–the legendary rock & roll history of this place– now all torn down and replaced with luxury developments wooing the local super rich, or, if we’re really lucky, a Tocaya Organica chain. But sure. Let’s build this monstrosity. The big names who don’t have to live here love it! Why should they care traffic on San Vicente, Sunset AND Larrabee will be effed up 10x worse than it is even now? They’ll have something “bold and progressive!” to put in tourist ads. Meanwhile, The London will go out of business. Viper Room employees will be laid off. People who live north of Sunset will have their city views permanently screwed. And 1000’s of residents of streets around this lot will suffer intense noise pollution, aggravating street clogs and the ugliness of 2-3 years of construction. Thx, WeHo City Council!

    1. Alicia. I also live on Larrabee I am furious about this building for all the reasons you noted. I hate speaking in public, but I forced myself to sit through this meeting so I could comment
      It was excruciating and went on for hours.when the Commissioners repeatedly pointed out that it lacks 100s of necessary parking spaces, the architects best answer was that people would be using ride sharing
      when the architect was questioned about the hide he said he didn’t want to build a plane five story building
      please Find whatever way works for you to fight this building. Loud and constant public outrage is the only thing that will stop this tower of doom and rich people looming over our lives

    2. You and Susan are both right! West Hollywood is no longer controlled by residents but rather by outside interests. Look to campaign contributions and board and commission memberships. West Hollywood is a playground, and it’s not for people who actually live here.

  7. I love the look, I hate what its going to do with traffic in the area. I’d also like to see in addition to the 10 low income, add 10 mid income units.

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