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Frank Gehry-Lytton Savings Cliffhanger Reveals a Rotten PLUM

DEEGAN ON LA-Frank Gehry has two options -- some may say a Hobson’s choice – now that the LA City Council has unanimously approved Historic-Cultural Monument status for Kurt Meyer’s Lytton Savings Bank building located on the property Gehry wants to transform into a complex of skyscrapers at the western gateway to the Sunset Strip. 

He can drop his objections and work his 8150 Sunset project around the Lytton Savings Bank building, or he can help developers Townscape Partners move it offsite to a new location. It’s not as if he doesn’t already have enough problems at 8150 Sunset: this project is faced with three, possibly four, pending lawsuits. He’s also contending with a vocal community that doesn’t really want the project there in the first place. 

Anything can happen. We are suddenly experiencing a through-the-looking glass political environment coupled with lots of aggressive political activism when it comes to the lava-hot issue of land use and development. Many Los Angeles communities, HOA’s, Neighborhood Councils, and NIMBYs are pushing back hard against development and these local uprisings have been one of the big political stories of 2016. Next March, in the Mayoral and City Council elections, candidates will have to face many voters who are sick and tired of unregulated over-development. They may just be inclined to support a show-stopper like the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that would recast how zoning variances are handled -- if it is voted into reality on the March ballot. 

Getting Historic-Cultural Monument status for Lytton has been a risky but so far successful process showcasing which politicos have been brave and which have not. A couple of guys (Steven Luftman and Keith Nakata, both neighborhood council board members and land use committee members) identified the Lytton Savings Bank as something worth saving and launched a campaign for Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) status for it. The road ruptured when City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management committee (PLUM) placed approval of Gehry’s 8150 Sunset project on their agenda for consideration and then approved it, before knowing the HCM status for Lytton – the consideration for which was scheduled several weeks later. Not only was it feckless of PLUM to avoid first making a decision about Lytton, but it was also a backwards procedure. What to do about Lytton should have appropriately and logically been decided before deliberating about the 8150 Sunset project. 

Not satisfied with being chickens just once, the same PLUM committee -- Chair Jose Huizar, Curren Price, Gil Cedillo, Mitch Englander and Marqueece Harris-Dawson -- when they eventually heard the case for HCM status decided to forward it to the full City Council without any recommendation. Twice, they abandoned their responsibility to weigh in on a significant land use issue that eventually benefitted a developer. 

Bravely, Councilmember David Ryu (CD4), who brokered an agreement over the 8150 project, stepped in and publicly voiced his support of Lytton’s HCM status. This helped push it through. Whatever it was that happened behind the scenes, led to the result, a few days ago, of the council unanimously approving Historic-Cultural Monument status for the Lytton Savings Bank building. 

All councilmembers, including the five PLUM members that twice dodged the issue, voted for it in the go-along-get-along City Council culture. In this case, they appear to have gone along with Ryu. 

What the supporters of Lytton have gained may be a Pyrrhic victory: the HCM vote may slightly delay demolition, but it does not guarantee that the building will survive. At least, not at its present site. 

In an October 27 letter to the City Council, Frank Gehry addressed the Lytton Savings Bank building issue, telling the politicos that he had tried different massing options without finding one that would preserve the Lytton bank. He concluded, I really do not believe that I can design a successful project while keeping the bank on the site.” More prosaically, he admitted to the PLUM committee that his construction crane needs to sit on the existing footprint of the Lytton building so, he says, the Lytton building cannot coexist with his project

If he sticks to the claim that the Lytton Bank building is in his way -- although there are two alternative findings in the Environmental Impact Report concerning Lytton that challenge that assertion -- the only other option for saving it is to move the building to a new location. But finding a sponsor and a piece of land may be very difficult. Two valuable resources, cash and location, would need to materialize and, so far, there is no one, including Gehry, who publicly advocates and is willing to pay for moving Lytton to another site. 

The effort to save Lytton has produced many wins, including the willingness to challenge a world famous architect, pushing the politicos, exposing the double-cowardice of PLUM members Jose Huizar, Curren Price, Gil Cedillo, Mitch Englander and Maurice Harris-Dawson, and creating a cohesive community around this critical neighborhood issue. 

The only possible loser is the zig-zag-roofed Lytton Savings Bank –and maybe -- a couple of city councilmembers on the decaying PLUM committee (Gil Cedillo-CD1 and Curren Price-CD9) who are up for re-election in March 2017. They could be ripe for replacement by anti-out-of-control-development voters in the City of LA.

 

(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Photo credit: Los Angeles Magazine. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.