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.