Frank Gehry Steps in on Contested Sunset Strip Project

Frank Gehry Steps in on Contested Sunset Strip Project
Frank Gehry
(LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)

A Los Angeles strip mall that stands on the paved-over site of the famous Garden of Allah hotel, frequented by F. Scott Fitzgerald and his Hollywood contemporaries from the late 1920s until the ’50s, will be torn down to make room for Frank Gehry’s latest project in the architect’s adopted hometown. Real estate development firm Townscape Partners announced on Monday that Gehry is designing its forthcoming project at the eastern gateway to the Sunset Strip, known by its address, 8150 Sunset. The Sunset Strip site — located across the Strip from the Chateau Marmont — is currently home to a mid-century Chase Bank building, various small businesses, and a parking lot.

Earlier renderings for 8150 Sunset by San Francisco-based architect Hart Howerton have been the subject of heated local debate for over a year. Gehry’s involvement is the latest development in an ongoing confrontation between the developer and community activists, many of whom have previously argued that the site, located at the intersection of two major thoroughfares, is not suited to a monumental project that will further exacerbate surrounding traffic conditions, and compromise views and the neighborhood’s architectural identity.

The developer says that the decision to hire Gehry stems from an effort to appease those local critics who argued that the previous plan was inappropriate for the site. “After listening to the high priority placed on design by civic leaders in the City of Los Angeles and the local community, we knew there was only one choice for the preeminent architect of our time, and he happens to be local,” said Townscape’s Tyler Siegel in a statement on Monday.

Later this spring Townscape will reveal Gehry’s renderings of the mixed-use project, which is to be located on a 110,000-square-foot site, the largest contiguous plot of land on the infamous stretch. While the Pritzker winner’s design will undoubtedly bear the aesthetic hallmarks of his practice, various details are likely to be carried over from the previous design. For example, a Master Land Use Permit Application states that the project will contain an organic supermarket and 249 apartments, 28 of which will be for low-income households. It also states that, at its highest points, the structure will be 16 stories tall, a height Gehry may well have to maintain in order to fit all the project’s planned amenities.

A local activist organization, Save Sunset Boulevard, has repeatedly called for Townscape to scale down its plans for the 8150 Sunset site. The organization’s president, Alexandra Rose, penned a letter in April 2014 detailing the group’s numerous qualms with the project (as it was envisioned by Hart Howerton), asserting that it’s out of scale with the neighborhood and would congest local traffic. The Los Angeles Conservancy also takes issue with the demolition of the existing strip mall, which contains a 1960 bank building designed by Kurt Meyer with a distinctive zigzag folded plate roof. Some locals, however, have filed comments to city authorities in favor of the development — those sentiments generally favor updating the architecture on the plot of land, not the work of Hart Howerton in particular.

Save Sunset Boulevard called the news that Gehry will be designing the project an “interesting turn up for the books” on its Facebook page. Given the banal mediocrity of Hart Howerton’s earlier design, Gehry’s work will almost certainly be an improvement; how much of an improvement the starchitect’s involvement generates remains to be seen.