Frank Gehry's '8150 Sunset Project' Cannot Demolish The Lytton Savings Bank

As I mentioned back in January, Frank Gehry’s newest project has been under intense controversy from the very beginning. His development at 8150 Sunset was set to be placed right on top of the historic Lytton Savings/Chase Bank, much to the dismay and chagrin of preservationists. The bank was built in 1960 and is known for its zig-zag roof that showcases Googie architecture.

Well, last month there was finally progress in the "battle to save the bank". Los Angeles Superior Court, Judge Amy Hogue, ruled in favor of the Los Angeles Conservancy in its lawsuit to stop the demolition of the Lytton Savings Bank.

“We’re very grateful for this decision, and we’re excited that the development project can move forward incorporating the historic Lytton Savings building,” said Linda Dishman, the Conservancy’s president and CEO to WehoVille.

Los Angeles is accustomed to the challenge, or privilege, of marrying old structures with newer ones, as evident from the countless modern buildings popping up next to historic structures all throughout LA.

“We’ve worked with many architects and developers to successfully integrate historic places into new developments, and now that can happen here,” said Adrian Scott Fine, the Conservancy’s Director of Advocacy. “Blending old and new is the wave of the future in Los Angeles.”

Initially, the developers explored two designs that included the historic building. Early on, the Conservancy began collaborating with the developers, Townscape Partners, to incorporate the bank. However, once Gehry developed a new design for the site, both plans that included the bank were eventually deemed not feasible and the city approved the demolition. This sparked the Los Angeles Conservancy to take drastic action to protect the building and inevitably lead to them filing their lawsuit.

What saved the building was the developer’s failure to fully comply with environmental impact rules set by the state. The court found the City of Los Angeles’ approval of the building’s demolition violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The law requires cities to study the effects of some new buildings on things like traffic, noise, animals, views and historic buildings in order to find ways to minimize potential harmful impacts.

At a court hearing, Hogue said it “didn’t seem right” for the developer and the city to demolish the building simply because they wanted to build something modern. In the end, she ruled to “withhold approval of demolition [of the bank building] unless it can prove the benefits of the project outweigh the significant environmental effect of demolition.”

The bank amounts to just 6% of the project’s total square footage, so there is trust that a new design will able to accommodate Lytton.

Despite the Conservancy’s efforts, the building could still be at risk. Hogue’s decision perhaps only bought time for Gehry’s team so they can come up with better justification for why the bank needs to be torn down. Gehry has made it clear that demolishing older buildings is part of life and something he's had to witness before with his own buildings.

It seems like almost every week there’s a new debacle between saving old buildings and bringing modern flair to Los Angeles. One of the things I love about LA is the mix of historic architecture with modern buildings, but alas, it is not always possible. For a building of such architectural significance, you would think they could find a way to incorporate the Lytton Bank. On the other hand, it might compromise the design of the new structure, and the current trend on Sunset Boulevard toward modern, glass buildings with a more contemporary urban feel.

What do you think – Should the Lytton Savings Bank be saved, or go the way of the dodo?