As West Hollywood turns 30, the question on the minds of many is whether the city can preserve its “urban village” charm while also continuing to add the businesses and housing necessary for any city to remain vibrant and economically viable.
Jason Illoulian believes the answer is “yes,” and he hopes to prove it with a project he is calling “Robertson Lane.”
Illoulian is a fourth generation real estate developer who lives in and grew up in West Hollywood. He says development is in his blood, recalling that his father began grooming him to take his place in the family company at the age of five.
“He walked me around and asked, ‘What do you like about this shopping center? This building’,” Illoulian recalls.
Illoulian studied international economics at Georgetown University and then took a master’s in real estate and urban development at Harvard University. At law school at Emory University he worked on a project with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Now 31, Illoulian is embarking on what may be the most significant of his projects to date. Robertson Lane will replace the The Factory, the iconic nightclub building that sits between Robertson Boulevard and LaPeer Drive south of Santa Monica Boulevard. Once a real factory where motion picture cameras were manufactured, it was converted into a nightclub space in 1967.
The Factory was an early hit. Then it closed in 1972 but by 1975 was converted to Studio One, a venue that its owner described as “planned, designed and conceived for gay people, gay male people. Any straight people here are guests of the gay community. This is gay!” The building has housed numerous venues, including the “Axis” club that helped make Sandy Sachs a lesbian icon, and has served as home to nights such as “Rasputin” and “Ultra Suede.” An effort to have it designated a cultural resource was rejected by the City Council in 1995.
Illoulian says Robertson Lane is a joint venture with the Goller family, which shares with the Illoulians a long history in West Hollywood. Nate Goller, an attorney, is the husband of Phyllis Morris, founder of Phyllis Morris Originals and one of the more distinctive furniture designers from 1950 until her death in 1988. Their daughter, Jamie Adler, now runs Phyllis Morris with her husband Jonathan, and their flagship is situated next to the Factory. Goller was a partner with Sandy Sachs in the Factory / Ultra Suede club that opened in the building in 2000.
Robertson Lane will replace the Factory nightclub space with a hotel with more than 250 rooms, underground parking with more than 1,000 spaces and a plethora of cafes and small retail spaces “curated,” Illoulian says, to ensure a variety of interesting shopping experiences. What he means by that, he said, is that he will reject retail tenants representing brands that have come to be seen as generic such as CVS and Target. As a model, Illoulian has Manhattan’s Ace Hotel in mind. That hotel is known as a downtown hipster hangout, with a lobby filled with cool geeks working on their laptops.
Perhaps the most dramatic part of Illoulian’s project will be the 30- to 35-foot-wide lane through the property, providing a pedestrian walkway between Robertson Boulevard and LaPeer. Robertson now is a mix of upscale shops (Christian Louboutin, Phillip Lim and Phyllis Morris), restaurants (Sur, Tortilla Republic, Hedley’s) and nightclubs (The Abbey, Here Lounge, P.U.M.P). By contrast, LaPeer is pretty much desolate. With the proposed walkway, people walking on LaPeer will get a visual invitation to cross over to Robertson, and perhaps to West Hollywood Park, which the project fronts. And those on Robertson will be able to easily walk to LaPeer.
Illoulian said that passageway, expensive for him because it will take up what could have been leasable retail space, will provide a crucial connection between several areas of West Hollywood. He notes that WeHo, while a geographically small city, nevertheless is composed of separate hubs such as the Sunset Strip, Melrose Place and Robertson Boulevard that aren’t connected. Just east of West Hollywood Park, which Robertson Lane fronts, is the Pacific Design Center and the MTA’s bus depot, which PDC owner Charles Cohen is negotiating a proposal to turn into a shopping plaza.
Just west of LaPeer and stretching to Doheny is the proposed Melrose Triangle Project, a project of the Charles Company. While Beverly Hills has those iconic signs alerting a driver that he has entered that city’s limits, the Melrose Triangle project on the Beverly Hills / WeHo border intends to shout out West Hollywood with four stories covered by glass panels that will glow at night. The pedestrian walkway through Robertson Lane will make it easier to walk west through Melrose Triangle toward Doheny with little exposure to cars. A proposal to demolish a Streamline Moderne building from 1928 for the project has drawn the ire of local preservationists.
“It becomes a beacon of entry into the city,” Alan Pullman, founder of Studio One Eleven, the designer of Melrose Triangle, said of its ‘gateway’ building facing Beverly Hills.
Illoulian engaged Hodgetts + Fung as the architect for the Robertson Lane project. Craig Hodgetts, co-founder of H+F with HsinMing Fung, has a broad background that extends from automotive design to theater to architecture. Hodgetts is a professor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning and was founding dean of the School of Design at the California Institute of the Arts. Hodgetts’s firm was involved in the six-year modernization of the Hollywood Bowl. An especially creative project was the Towell Library at UCLA. Towell (Temporary Powell Staging Facility), was a tension structure for the library erected while the Powell Library was secured against earthquake damage. Boldly asymmetrical, with a skeleton like that of a plane, the Towell’s aluminum ribs were covered with a stretched-fiberglass membrane that was in turn anchored with laced cables to surrounding masonry walls.Hodgetts praised Illoulian as that rare client who puts a premium on aesthetics.
H + F also is working on a multi-use building that will be constructed on Sunset Boulevard north of La Cienega as part of one of the largest developments in West Hollywood’s history.
Illoulian is aware that his project, like any that have been proposed or are under development in West Hollywood, will be criticized by some residents for creating more traffic in an already congested city. But he notes that it will include that underground parking garage, and that the goal of Robertson Lane actually is to make traversing the city on foot easier and more desirable.
In recent months Illoulian has reached out to businesspeople and residents near the project, inviting them to meetings where he shows the plans and answers their questions one on one, looking at home and remarkably casual in a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers. At a recent presentation at Phyllis Morris Originals on Robertson Boulevard, Illoulian took questions from an apparently skeptical resident, offering his reasoning for various aspects of the plan and thanking her for her input. Her skeptical face softened as he talked.
The next step in the project is to take it before the city’s Design Review Subcommittee. Illoulian has been consulting along the way with many city leaders, including Mayor John D’Amico, who he credits with convincing him to straighten the passageway through Robertson Lane so that passersby can look directly through it. After the design review, the project goes to the Planning Commission before a final vote by the City Council.
While perhaps the most noteworthy, Robertson Lane isn’t Illoulian’s only West Hollywood project. The city’s Community Development Department currently is reviewing a building that Illoulian’s Faring Capital has proposed for 8818 Beverly Blvd. at North Clark Drive.
On a lot that currently houses Poliform, the furniture retailer, it would be five stories high. The building would include 9,000 square feet of retail space and a 2,000-square-foot restaurant on the first floor. The restaurant will include a small outdoor dining area, which Illoulian says will help meet his goal to make Beverly more pedestrian friendly. The retail shops will be among the smallest on that stretch of Beverly and, as is the case with the Robertson Lane project, Illoulian said he hopes to attract a very diverse mix of retailers.
The second and third floors will include 26,000 square feet of office space. Illoulian said he sees a growing demand for more office space in West Hollywood, especially given plans by Beverly Hills developer Tyler Siegel to convert much of the office space in the former ICM building at 8899 Beverly Blvd. into residential units.
The 8818 Beverly project will contain 10 residential units with a combined total of 25,000 square feet on the fourth and fifth floors. The building also will feature a courtyard.
The architect is R&A (Robert & Anderson Design), whose principals are Christian Robert and Benjamin Anderson. Robert is a native of Germany, and the firm is licensed to practice there and in the United States. In West Hollywood it has designed the Fairfax Apartments at 1250 Fairfax Ave. south of Fountain, which has been approved by the city’s Planning Commission.
City planners also are reviewing a plan by Faring Capital to build 50 condos at 702 Doheny Dr. at Harland on land now occupied by two single-family houses and also used for the annual Mr. Bones Pumpkin Patch Halloween festival and the Mr. Greentrees Christmas tree lot.
According to the West Hollywood Community Development Department, that project would encompass 93,000 square feet. The property formerly was owned by Heidi Corteses’s Doheny LLC. The owners of the Mr. Bones business said last year that they are looking for a new location for this year’s Halloween event, given the property owner’s intention to develop the site.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said that The Factory had been designated as a cultural resource by the West Hollywood City Council in 1995. In fact, the Council declined to designate it as such. The story has been updated to correct the error.
We are trying to save The Factory – Studio One building from demolition. For info and updates, please see: https://www.facebook.com/savethefactorywesthollywood?ref=hl
***History and facts will help save the The Factory – Studio One building – if you have contacts, photos, info, etc to share regarding Mitchell Camera – The Factory – Studio One, please contact us at email@example.com
Let. It. Go.
I am sorry, I am late to this discussion. I just recently heard about this project and attended the EIR meeting. My question is why is reuse of The Factory building not a consideration? It could be a perfect compromise. I have driven by the building a number of times recently and because of the size it has great potential. Creative reuse of the structure could solve a lot of problems at the same time being enviromentally friendly and preserving history. *JJ architectural significance is not only defined by esthetics it can also involve character which this building has. And… Read more »
This is an old factory we are talking about. There is no architectural significance to this structure. At. All. There is only emotional significance and that alone does not deem an old dump of a building worthy of keeping it around forever. It has long out lived its purpose. Let it go.
The nice thing about living in the United States, is that you have the right to be wrong.
Funny. Was thinking the same if you.
Sadly this will happen. I have read a lot of post and I am saddened by the way we look at West Hollywood. This project is simply because it is on Robertson Blvd next to Beverly Hills. Just like most Gay neighborhoods. Once we make it pretty and our own when no one would make us feel safe in their neighborhood. They want it back. West Hollywood is no longer a Gay community in my opinion. It is gay friendly. It is a time and culture gone and yes we will move on. I am so happy I was able… Read more »
This article starts by talking about businesses and housing then goes on a lengthy verbal bj of the developer and his plans to build this hotel. I don’t like when purported “news” stories are actually press releases. It makes me distrust the source and also doubt whatever it is I am reading about. There is a desperate need for AFFORDABLE housing for older GLBT people. If the “gay city” has decided to simply sell itself for the thirty pieces of silver it can get then so be it but the residents of WeHo need to accept that their city is… Read more »
You should have been at tonight’s city council meeting when one of the city staff had the nerve to say the Melrose Triangle project will have no impact on surrounding street traffic. There was a loud groan and uncomfortable laughter in the room. It sounded like the staff were on the payroll of Charles Co. There wasn’t one issue coming from them.
If we want a gay establishment in the place of the Factory (please no more nightlife or eateries), maybe the Axel Group can put one of their “hetero friendly” – as they call it, but basically pretty much a gay hotel there, like they have in Barcelona, Berlin and Buenos Aires. Love the design of the proposed site, but after this and the proposed Melrose Triangle, it does need to stop with the over-development of West Hollywood.
Please people. The City Council can’t dictate to potential new businesses that they must be gay any more than they can tell them they must be straight. Geez. The market will dictate what survives at any given location.
YOU WANT TO PUT A HOTEL RIGHT THERE? That is one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever heard. Maybe another eatery or little nightlife spot, but a hotel? There? Puhleeeez…
Just so I’m clear, they’re getting rid of a gay establishment for an establishment for straight people in West Hollywood, an Official gay city? How about turn it into another establishment that caters to gay people. This is Weho after all, a city built for gay people. I’m so tired of people saying “gay people are more accepted in society, now lets tear down their establishments and make their place conform to people other than themselves.”
For once, I actually like the Robertson Lane proposal. It’s not on a front thoroughfare street, although it certainly abuts it, but is not on actually ON SMB or Melrose like so many of the other projects this city is building is. But as for many of the other projects, I say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! Anyone who uses the word “quaint” to describe West Hollywood anymore is either a LIAR, and THIEF, or a DEVELOPER. STOP IT. STOP IT NOW. No “Welcome Melrose Triangle” from Beverly Hills. We are ALREADY more overly-developed than our much hyped neighbor. NO to a… Read more »
Sometimes I can appreciate that I talk and now write too much But lets look at this design which I do love, really, and ask one planning question at a time… If you design a walkway with pedestrian traffic from it and other areas of the city and dump it mid block across from a park whats gonna happen ? Fyi this is actually an idea from one of our city leaders that the developer accepted and changed since when does that one member speak for the good of us all alone ? oops thats two questions Lets see if… Read more »
@Jonathan: many of the remarks and questions you throw out on this site regarding multiple projects seem to be appropriate at Design Review where you can actually see what is intended, speak with the architect and share some if your insight w the commissioners and staff. Being part of a solution seems more productive than bashing whoever you deem to be at fault. Hope you will attend the upcoming DR.
Lynn Thank you … But I don not understand why my asking questions or hoping the DRB does is bashing ? These are clear development items that clearly are not being discussed and major projects are being approved with common sense mistakes because they look like “jewel boxes” Thats silly I clearly do not believe that the DRB or the Architect Have any interest in discussing these items with me and its really not my place. I am not a paid Architect and not making the high 5 or 6 figure income some of our staff are making and doing… Read more »
There is a looming closure of Arena, Circus and now the Factory. Sad day for party people!