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Bank building threatened by Gehry project saved—for now

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The Cultural Heritage Commission will consider the building for landmark status

A midcentury bank building at the eastern edge of the Sunset Strip, soon to be the site of a massive Frank Gehry-designed multi-use complex, received a temporary stay of execution Thursday as the city's Cultural Heritage Commission voted unanimously to consider it for historic cultural monument status.

"I think this goes into the realm of a no brainer," Commissioner Barry Milofsky said just prior to the vote.

While the commission is reviewing the project, the bank cannot be demolished—possibly delaying construction on Gehry’s project, which was approved by the planning commission last week. If the building eventually receives landmark status, it can still be razed, but the process will be time consuming. The cultural heritage commission can delay the demolition up to 180 days while seeking ways to preserve the property.

More than a dozen people were at the meeting to support the building’s nomination, initiated by Steve Luftman, who last year fought to save the Beverly Grove apartment complex in which he resides. In a presentation before the commission, Luftman went into history of the Kurt Meyer-designed building, originally built for financier Bart Lytton in 1960—it’s currently owned and operated by Chase Bank.

Lytton constructed the savings and loan building atop the former site of the lush Garden of Allah estate that luminaries like Orson Welles and F Scott Fitzgerald once called home. (It’s long been rumored that the structure’s demolition inspired Joni Mitchell to write "Big Yellow Taxi.")

Luftman argued that the bank’s distinctively modern (dare we say Googie?) style marks a break from traditional bank construction style and serves as both a community icon and a unique architectural achievement. He went into great detail about some of the bank’s most distinctive features, including a floating staircase and stained glass screen designed by Roger Darricarrere in the building’s interior.

Meyer’s widow, Pamela Meyer, was also on hand to make the case for the bank’s preservation. "This building launched Kurt’s career," she said, explaining that the young architect had devised the structure’s distinctive, wavy roof as a means of meeting a tight deadline imposed by Lytton. The concrete roof was constructed separately from the rest of the building and installed in just two days.

While Commission President Richard Barron was enthusiastic about preserving the bank building, he expressed frustration that the structure hadn’t been nominated sooner. "I’m surprised we didn’t see this building until now—the 11th hour," he said. "We’re at fourth down here."

Luftman tells Curbed he’s hopeful about saving the building, in spite of the late start that preservation efforts have gotten. He points out that the Environmental Impact Report submitted by Townscape Partners, the developers of the Sunset Strip project, already includes an alternative design that would keep the bank building intact.

"I’m very glad the commission took this up," Luftman says. "It’s great to be affirmed of my belief that this is a building worth preserving."