Starchitecture or Heritage?

Two historic L.A. structures saved from demolition (for now)

Development News Preservation West
View of Lytton Savings Bank. (Courtesy Los Angeles Conservancy / Hunter Kerhart )
View of Lytton Savings Bank. (Courtesy Los Angeles Conservancy / Hunter Kerhart )

Two historically-significant structures in Los Angeles were temporarily granted a reprieve from the wrecking ball last month when both were approved by the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Committee (CHC) to receive cultural landmark status as a Historic-Cultural Monument.

View of Disney House (Courtesy Los Angeles Conservancy / )

View of Disney House. (Courtesy Los Angeles Conservancy / Linda Dishman)

One structure, the Charlotte and Robert Disney House, a craftsman bungalow that served as Walt Disney’s first Los Angeles residence and the location of his first animation and production facilities in the region, was recently being eyed as a potential tear-down property. A demolition permit was filed by the owner to remove the one story structure and garage to enable new construction. Located in the Los Feliz neighborhood, the house originally owned by Walt Disney’s uncle and aunt, and was used by the visionary storyteller as a temporary residence in the early 1920s when he first moved to the Los Angeles area. 

The structure was recently listed on the Los Angeles Conservancy’s preservation watch list, a designation that brought public attention to its impending demolition and helped convince the CHC to take action on the structure’s nomination. Adrian Scott-Fine, director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy, credited a diverse partnership between activists and city officials for the preservation success, telling The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) over the telephone, “The Disney residence represents another threatened building where the Department of City Planning stepped up to the plate and initiated the nomination process.” Community and political will toward preserving the vernacular structure was anchored by the cultural and symbolic importance of Disney’s work in that community and in Los Angeles at-large.

A second structure, the midcentury modern Lytton Savings Bank building designed by Kurt W. Meyer in 1960 , has also cleared the CHC’s vetting process. That structure has been under threat of demolition to make way for 8150 Sunset, a Gehry and Partners-designed development proposed by Townscape Partners. The $300-million complex is organized as a pair of towers stacked above an articulated podium, rising between five and 15 stories above the city, on a site carved into multiple, leafy public plazas fronting the Sunset Strip.

View of 8150 Sunset Boulevard development designed by Gehry and Partners (Courtesy Visualhouse / Gehry and Partners)

View of 8150 Sunset Boulevard development designed by Gehry and Partners. (Courtesy Visualhouse / Gehry and Partners)

The design for 8150 Sunset was approved by the Los Angeles City Planning Commission (LACPC) in August and aims to add 249-units of market rate housing, 37 units of affordable housing, as well as 65,000 square feet of retail space. One problem: The developer’s preferred scheme calls for a blank site, wiped clean of the historic bank. The bank’s architectural features, a roof made of folded concrete plates and expanses of glass and stone, invigorated preservationists to make a case for the structure. Scott-Fine told AN that the Gehry project, as presented, would “unnecessarily demolish a historic cultural monument,” and that “there’s a very clear way for this project to move forward while preserving the bank building.”

The developers were prepared for this turn of events and presented various options for the development to the LACPC in an Environmental Impact Report, including several of which called for the preservation and restoration of the bank structure. The project has been controversial on multiple levels, with other neighborhood factions decrying the project’s density, height, and massing. The LACPC’s project approval itself was contingent on the developers boosting the affordable housing component of the project by nine additional units, from 28 units to 37 units. Regarding where preservation in relation to other complex urban issues like affordability, gentrification, and development, Scott-Fine told AN, “One doesn’t trump another, nor are they mutually exclusive. You can achieve multiple goals at once,” adding, “Starchitecture doesn’t trump our heritage.”

Next, both of the structures will head to the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee for final approval of their nomination status. So far, Townscape Partners have not issued a statement on the bank’s nomination. 

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