Beverly Hills gained a vacant lot this week as crews demolished the former Robinsons-May department store at 9900 Wilshire Boulevard. The four-story, marble-clad building, designed by Charles O. Matcham, Charles Luckman, and William Pereira in 1952 with interiors by Raymond Loewy and Associates, was retailer J.W. Robinson’s first store in suburban Los Angeles.
The fate of the site, which is for sale for the fourth time since Robinsons-May closed in 2006, remains uncertain. The first developers to take control of the property, New Pacific Realty, commissioned Richard Meier to design two 14- to 16-story condominium towers to replace the mid-century modern store. Subsequent owners Christian and Nicholas Candy promised to fulfill some version of Meier’s plan, but they defaulted on the project in 2008. Hong Kong firm Joint Treasure International purchased the site and the Meier design in 2010, but nothing happened until this month, when they decided to go ahead with demolition despite having listed the property for sale.
Preservationists are mourning the demise of yet another Beverly Hills landmark. “The razing of the Robinsons-May building is a tragic loss for Beverly Hills,” said Beverly Hills Heritage’s Robert Switzer. “Not only was it a superb example of mid-century architecture, it stood as an elegant gateway structure at the west boundary of the city, beautiful in its own right without distracting from the view of another important building of the same period immediately adjacent to it, the Beverly Hilton hotel.”
Beverly Hills, previously without preservation laws of any kind, adopted an historic preservation ordinance in 2012, too late to save Robinsons-May. “Had Beverly Hills enacted its preservation ordinance before a demolition permit for Robinsons-May was filed, I suspect that the City would have made every effort to save the building,” said Switzer. “Sadly, permits issued before the ordinance’s enactment could not be revoked. Moreover, the approval of the permit and redevelopment plans were transferable to the new owner, who chose to act on it.”
Switzer worries that a contemporary high-rise development would disrupt the community’s urban fabric. “While it remains unclear whether the Richard Meier design will be constructed, any tall buildings on this site will be a jarring break in the smooth height transition that existed from the golf course on the west, past Robinsons-May to the Beverly Hilton,” he said. “It will be a less welcoming entrance into Beverly Hills.”