The Los Angeles Conservancy has asked the L.A. County Superior Court to block the demolition of the Streamline Moderne building at 9080 Santa Monica Blvd. near Doheny.
That West Hollywood building is slated to be demolished as part of the construction of the Melrose Triangle project at the city’s western border with Beverly Hills. The Conservancy filed a petition with the court asking that a judge block the Charles Company, its developer, from proceeding with the project and alleging that that an analysis of it by the City of West Hollywood failed to comply with state requirements for assessing the environmental impact of construction projects under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). That environmental impact study includes an assessment of an existing building’s cultural or historic significance.
The City Council in a meeting last month endorsed the Melrose Triangle project. The project will sit on a plot of land bounded by Santa Monica Boulevard, Melrose Avenue and Almont Drive at the city’s border with Beverly Hills. It will consist of three buildings with a total of 300,000 square feet with a wide public passageway connecting Santa Monica Boulevard with Melrose Avenue. It will house offices, restaurants and shops and 76 residential units, 15 of which would be reserved for low- and moderate-income renters.
The project has been praised by some for serving as a dramatic gateway to West Hollywood. But other residents objected to the proposed demolition of the 9080 Santa Monica building. That building was built in 1928 and then renovated in 1938 in the Streamline Moderne style by Wurdeman & Becket, one of whose principals, Welton Becket, designed the Capitol Records building and the Cinerama Dome. For many years the building served as the Jones Dog & Cat Hospital, whose clients included actors such as Charlie Chaplin.
The Council, at its August meeting, ignored requests to block the project because of the demolition of the 9080 Santa Monica Building. However it did ask city staff members to investigate ways to reduce the impact of various problems such as traffic congestion that the new development is likely to cause. Representatives of the developer, the Charles Company, said at that meeting that their client would be interested in finding a way to preserve the entryway to the 9080 Santa Monica building within the Melrose Triangle Project.
The project has been under development since 2004. Like many such projects, it was delayed because of the Great Recession, and the developer and the city have been in lengthy negotiations regarding its appearance and impact. A 2006 assessment of the property by LSA Associates said the building appeared to be eligible for listing in the California Register of Historical Resources as an example of Streamline Moderne design. However no one has taken any action to request such a registration.
“We are not a litigious organization, but the city’s violation of CEQA was so egregious that we had no choice,” said Linda Dishman, the Conservancy’s executive director. This is the first litigation filed by the Conservancy since 2007, when it filed a suit regarding the now-demolished Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
In a press release, Dishman said that the Conservancy considers the environmental impact statement certified by the City Council to be flawed and inadequate “because of its cursory analysis of preservation options for the building. Though the EIR purported to identify a preservation alternative, it offered no details, schematics, or other information to allow meaningful evaluation and comparison with the proposed project.”
“Cities have to obey the law when it comes to environmental review,” said Adrian Scott Fine, the Conservancy’s director of advocacy. “West Hollywood’s actions set a dangerous precedent.”
The Conservancy acknowledged that the Charles Company had agreed over the summer to work with the preservation community to evaluate options that would incorporate the building into the proposed project. “Yet in this case, the developer proposed only to reconstruct a small portion of the facade in a new location. That is not meaningful preservation,” the Conservancy said.
“We’re not opposed to the development of a mixed-use, gateway project at this location,” said Fine. “We oppose the needless loss of this historic building when its adaptive reuse as part of the overall design is so clearly feasible. State law requires no less.”
Lisa Belsanti, manager of West Hollywood’s Public Information Office, said the city is in the process of reviewing the Conservancy filing.