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LA Conservancy sues city over Frank Gehry’s Sunset Strip project

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It’s fighting to preserve a 1960s bank building on the site

The Los Angeles Conservancy, a nonprofit that works to preserve historic buildings, is suing the city of Los Angeles over its approval of plans for a new, Frank Gehry-designed retail and housing complex on the Sunset Strip.

To make way for the new development, called 8150 Sunset, Gehry plans to demolish a Kurt Meyer-designed Chase bank building that the conservancy says, “exemplifies a transformative shift in bank design after World War II.”

In the lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the conservancy accuses the city of violating the California Environmental Quality Act, better known as CEQA, by not requiring developers Townscape Partners to incorporate the bank in its design. An environmental impact report for 8150 Sunset includes two alternative designs that would preserve and restore the bank.

“By sidestepping not one, but two, viable preservation alternatives, the City abused its discretion and violated the law,” Linda Dishman, the conservancy’s president and CEO said in a statement.

The lawsuit asks the courts to overturn the city’s approval and halt any construction on the site. It states: “When, as here, fundamental project objectives can be met without the wasteful demolition of an historic resource, CEQA prohibits any such needless cultural loss ... Lytton Savings should remain an iconic presence on Sunset.”

Financier Bart Lytton razed the Garden of Allah—a private estate turned bungalow hotel that hosted such luminaries as Orson Welles and F Scott Fitzgerald—to build the bank in 1960.

The city’s Cultural Heritage Commission had recommended it be awarded landmark status, a designation that would have made it harder to demolish. At the time, the architect’s widow, Pamela Meyer, told the commission that the Lytton building launched her husband’s career; she said he devised the structure’s distinctive, zig-zag concrete roof as a means of meeting a tight deadline imposed by Lytton.

The commission’s recommendation was forwarded to the city’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee, but it postponed its vote, and 8150 Sunset was approved by the City Council in the meantime.

Gehry has said the bank building doesn’t work with his design.

“I’ve had four or five of my buildings torn down … some buildings you can’t save,” he said in November. “They outlive their time. I’ve had that happen. It’s difficult, but we move on. Somehow I’m going to figure out how to recognize Kurt as part of our project.”

8150 Sunset would bring five news buildings with 229 residential units, about 60,000 square feet of commercial space and new public plazas to the corner of Crescent Heights.