By Juliet Bennett Rylah
On the border between West Hollywood and Hollywood, near the Sunset Strip, a new mixed-use development designed by Frank Gehry will cause the demolition of the historic Lytton Savings Building, despite preservationists’ calls to incorporate the bank into the building’s design.
Townscape Partners plans to raze the bank building and a strip mall to make way for its development at 8150 Sunset Blvd., due to begin construction next year. It will contain ground-floor retail and 203 residential units, including some affordable and workforce units, according to Urbanize LA.
The design will consist of two towers connected by a central courtyard meant to pay homage to the Garden of Allah, a hotel beloved by celebrities for its seclusion, that was, ironically, demolished in 1959 to make way for the Lytton Savings Building.
West Hollywood and Hollywood have both been popular neighborhoods for large, high-end commercial and residential developments over the past couple of decades. Luxury mixed-use development all over the region has resulted, in many cases, in the demolition of historic buildings.
Adrian Scott Fine, director of advocacy at the Los Angeles Conservancy, a historic preservation group, said the conservancy was never against the development, but had hoped for a solution that would blend the “old and new, and respected the layer of history on that site.”
The Los Angeles Conservancy petitioned in 2018 to save the Lytton Savings Building, arguing that architect Kurt W. Meyer’s Googie-esque design indicated a shift in the way banks looked following World War II and served as a showcase for art, architecture and interior design when completed in 1960. Key was its folded plate concrete roof, which looks a bit like an accordion.
That same year, historic preservation architect Dick Gee submitted a report to the city that explained it would be impossible to move the building in one piece, and highly impractical and very expensive to cut it into sections and relocate it. Gehry claimed the bank couldn’t be incorporated into the development’s design because they needed to put a crane where the building stood, though Fine and others remain dubious about that. The California Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal to block the bank building’s demolition in 2018.
Townscape recently released a new design for the project based on conditions of approval from Los Angeles City Council that the developer will present to the city’s Planning Department.
A crew has already removed “The Family,” a bronze statue outside the bank that Lytton Savings had commissioned from artist David Green. Townscape said the statue will return to its original location when the project is complete.
There are challenges to incorporating a historic structure into a new development. A frequent one is navigating code requirements that require a certain number of parking spaces. But Fine said there is usually a way to marry preservation and development when there’s a willingness to do so.
He pointed to two Sunset Boulevard examples of projects that successfully accomplished. The ArcLight Hollywood kept the Cinerama’s iconic geodesic dome when it opened in 2002, while the Earl Carroll Theater will be restored and reopened as a venue as part of the Essex Hollywood mixed-used development.
The impending loss of Lytton Savings Bank shows an inability to learn from the past, according to Fine.
“When the Garden of Allah was demolished in the late ‘50s, there was no preservation program in the city of Los Angeles,” he said. “Now, we have tools and a preservation program, so we shouldn’t be repeating our past mistakes or, in this case, favoring a history that’s been long gone over another.”
Juliet Bennett Rylah is a freelance reporter who covers Hollywood and West Hollywood. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.