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Sportsmen’s Lodge redevelopment skewered by cultural heritage commission

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The landscape plan “just leaves me cold,” commission president says

Plans to build a shopping center on the site of Studio City’s long-running Sportsmen’s Lodge event center are moving forward, with new owners at the helm.

But before construction can begin, the owners need to clear one big planning hurdle—and it might not be easy.

The lodge opened in the late 1930s as simply a “small roadside fishing attraction.” Now a verdant and vital social meeting place, it hosts weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other celebrations.

In its next iteration, it will be redeveloped with a shopping center that spans 100,000 square feet, holding restaurants, a high-end gym, and shops.

Plans for that redevelopment were approved in 2015. But as part of a compromise made with the city, the landscape component must be vetted by LA’s cultural heritage commission. The goal is to ensure the new green spaces “commemorate the look and feel of the former Sportsmen’s Lodge garden.”

Cbl62 / Wikimedia Commons

That review took place last week—and it did not go well for the new owner, New York-based Midwood Investment and Development.

Commission president Richard Barron said he was “totally, totally against” the design plan.

“I think the aesthetic here is way off,” he said. “The whole thing just leaves me cold. I don’t think you’ve picked up the character of what the original character of this environment was.”

He was so displeased that he went so far as to tell Midwood: “I think maybe you hired the wrong landscape architect.”

The landscape architect is Olin, an esteemed firm that’s also working on the county’s sweeping Los Angeles River master plan update and a huge redevelopment of the Angel’s Landing site in Downtown.

The suburban forest that appears in the black-and-white photos of the glory days of the Sportsmen’s Lodge couldn’t be replicated on the site today, Midwood representative Ben Besley told the commission.

Modern building and health codes and water conservation rules “would not allow what’s there today to be built again, so that’s the challenge,” he said.

Olin’s plan for the site includes water elements, large existing redwood trees, and bridges crossing the water. (Other trees on the site would be either incorporated in the new development or relocated.)

A fisherman casts a rod into a stocked trout pool at Sportsmen’s Lodge, circa 1960.
Los Angeles Public Library photo collection

One of the central elements of the new design is a large terrace for outdoor dining, set to be built beneath the redwoods. An Olin rep said the perimeter was at “seat-level” and would not block views of the water; but Barron was not convinced.

He said the outer perimeter of the dining terrace formed a sort of wall, blocking the connection to the water for the people sitting on the terrace.

Commissioner Barry Milofsky took issue with the lack of a “natural presence” coming out to the Ventura Boulevard, which runs in front of the site.

“I don’t see that at all. I see two trees at the street and I see a big parking lot.” A lack of connection to the Los Angeles River was also seen as a missed opportunity by Milofsky.

Barron suggested the development team go back to the drawing board.

In an email, a representative for Midwood tells Curbed that because of the commission’s comments, the plans will be changed.

The issue is set to come back to the commission. A second hearing date has not been scheduled.