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Hollywood Council Rejects Historic Villa Carlotta’s Conversion to Hotel — ‘It’s the Canary in the Coal Mine’

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The city landmark had 50 apartments under rent control

The Hollywood United Neighborhood Council nixed a proposal Monday night to convert the Villa Carlotta — a city landmark in The Franklin Village — from rent-controlled apartments to a hotel.

Hollywood, and the rest of Los Angeles, cannot stand to lose affordable units, fed-up council members said. "We see on one hand the mayor very concerned about homelessness, and on the other hand, residents being displaced," said council president Susan Swan.

Built in 1926, the Spanish Colonial Revival on Franklin Avenue once housed actress Marion Davies, director George Cukor, (My Fair Lady, A star is Born), producer David O. Selznick (Gone With the Wind), and architect Wallace Neff, and was later a "haunt for rock and roll musicians in 1960s Bohemian Hollywood," according to report prepared by land use consultants working for the developer, CGI Properties.

It will ultimately be up to the Los Angeles City Council to determine the fate of Villa Carlotta, as the neighborhood council’s vote is only a recommendation. But residents see it as much more than that. They say they believe it will send a message not only about residents wanting to preserve rent-controlled units, but also about rampant development and the loss of neighborhood vibes, a change that some describe as the Manhattanization of Los Angeles.

"The precedent is enormous," said Sylvie Shain, a former tenant, the last to move out of the Villa Carlotta eight days ago. She was evicted along with the other tenants under the Ellis Act, a state law that allows landlords to boot their tenants from rent-controlled buildings if they're getting out of the rental business. (Landlords typically have to provide relocation assistance, anywhere from $7,550 to $46,500).

"I’ve been crying every day since," Shain said, asking the council to send, "a reverberating message to developers that this can not continue to happen."

Hollywood is in the midst of a wild development boom with more than a dozen hotels either planned or under construction. Just last month, the City Council gave the thumbs up to turning a rent-controlled building at 1850 North Cherokee Avenue into a boutique hotel. Nearby, tenants at the Yucca-Argyle apartments are fighting plans to convert their affordable units into a mixed-user with a hotel.

"The Carlotta is the canary in the coal mine," Swan said.

At the Carlotta, even though the hotel plan has not been approved, construction is already underway to renovate the units’ kitchens and the lobby’s ceiling and wood beams. A rehab of the exterior is about to start.

CGI consultant Dana Sayles says, if approved, the hotel would provide a "unique," "neighborhood-serving" experience for guests who don’t want to stay in "party central," a.k.a. the heart of Hollywood, which is where most of the other hotels are being built. Booze would be served in the lobby and courtyard, but there’d be no bar or restaurant. Converting Carlotta into a hotel would require zoning changes and a General Plan amendment.