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Judge sides with LA Conservancy, putting Frank Gehry’s big Sunset Strip project put on hold

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The decision might help save a historic bank building

Starchitect Frank Gehry has said, “some buildings you can’t save.”

The Los Angeles Conservancy would probably disagree. It has won a lawsuit aimed at preserving a 1960s bank building on the Sunset Strip that Gehry wants to knock down to make room for a new housing and retail complex.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles Superior Court judge Amy D. Hogue ordered the city of Los Angeles not to demolish the landmark bank building—currently home to a Chase bank—until it can do a better job justifying why it needs to be torn down.

At a court hearing last week, Hogue said it “didn’t seem right” for the developer, Townscape Partners, and the city to demolish the building simply because they wanted to build something prettier.

In her ruling, she concluded the city violated state environmental laws in approving the new development, called 8150 Sunset. The city, she wrote, must “withhold approval of demolition [of the bank building] unless it can prove the benefits of the ... project outweigh the significant environmental effect of demolition.”

8150 Sunset is a five-building complex planned for a 2.5-acre site on Sunset and Crescent Heights, where a strip mall stands today. Plans call for 249 units of housing, pedestrian plazas, and 60,000 square feet of new commercial space with a restaurant and market.

Gehry says he’s sculpting buildings that will serve as a new eastern gateway to West Hollywood’s iconic Sunset Strip.

When 8150 Sunset was approved in November, he told the City Council: “I’ve had four or five of my buildings torn down … some buildings you can’t save. They outlive their time. I’ve had that happen. It’s difficult, but we move on.”

Tuesday’s decision stems from a lawsuit filed by the Los Angeles Conservancy, which argued an environmental impact report for 8150 Sunset acknowledged Lytton Savings as a historic resource—but ignored two alternative designs that would preserve and restore the bank.

California’s Environmental Quality Act requires cities to study the effects of some new buildings on things like traffic, noise, plants and animals, views, and historic buildings. The law also mandates that they find ways to minimize those impacts.

The conservancy calls the bank building, originally home to Lytton Savings, one of thee "earliest remaining examples" of the "transformative shift" in postwar-era bank design.

It’s treating the ruling like a victory. The city can change the design now “to accommodate this historic building, which represents just six percent of the project’s total square footage,” said conservancy president Linda Dishman.

“We’re very grateful for this decision, and we’re excited that the development project can move forward incorporating the historic Lytton Savings building,” she added.

But Gordon Hart, an attorney for Townscape Partners, said they just need to provide more evidence for demolishing the building. “We believe there was substantial evidence in the record to support that already,” he said.

Hart said they’re evaluating whether to appeal.

The conservancy’s lawsuit was joined together with other claims filed against the project. In all of the other cases, the judge ruled in favor of the city and developer.