A few years ago, the city of L.A.’s Planning Department adopted the slogan “Do real planning.” Unfortunately, in our city, there has never been a consensus to allow that to happen. Rather, politics seems to always trump good planning. I wonder what kind of a city we might have if we let the experts do their jobs?
I read Charles Crumpley’s April 22 Comment column, “Hollywood Surprise,” with interest. Certainly, at first blush, it might seem incongruent to have a 54-story tower adjacent to a 13-story historic building. But then if that were true, then why did the L.A. Planning Commission unanimously vote to approve the project? Why does the Planning Department staff support the project? Why did the Council District 13 Design Review Committee express unanimous support for the project? There must be more than initially meets the eyes here.
Even the original architect of the Capitol Records building, Lou Naidorf, has said that he always expected his building to be surrounded by other tall buildings – not parking lots – and that he is confident that it will be able to hold its own. There are other examples that are appropriate. Our historic Central Library in downtown is adjacent to the 73-story U.S. Bank Tower. In Boston, the Old Statehouse, which is two stories, is surrounded by skyscrapers. In both cases, those buildings definitely “hold their own.”
In this particular case, there are some very good reasons why the developers are proposing these high-rise towers. If you look at the nearby Hollywood & Vine project, which includes the W Hotel, you find a development on approximately the same acreage with about the same amount of square footage and at the same density that is being sought for the Millennium Hollywood project. What you see is a very blocky design and very little open space. The Millennium developers do not want to replicate that model and are attempting to frame the Capitol Records Tower by pulling their buildings as far back as possible to create open space and to not impinge on the view of Capitol.
By using very small floor plates for the towers (9,000 and 13,000 square feet), they are also minimizing the visual impact of the towers. This is what many refer to as “elegant density.” If you want to see examples of this, go to downtown San Diego and look at some of the beautiful residential towers that have been erected there. You will see that they really do add to the visual harmony of the district. If the proposed towers are lowered in height, it means that the floor plates will increase in size, which will result in a much greater impact on the view corridor. It means that the street-level open space will decrease. It means that certain vantage points of the Capitol Records building might be somewhat obstructed. What might have been a great project will be diminished.
There are many examples of places where high-rise towers abut low-rise neighborhoods. In Vancouver, Canada, along the route of its Sky Train, they have built impressive high-rise projects adjacent to transit stops. Locally, Wilshire Boulevard comes to mind.
Millennium Partners and Argent Ventures, the developers of this project, have spent six years fine-tuning their plans to come up with a development worthy of this world-class site. What they have proposed is a landmark and iconic development that makes an important statement about Hollywood. They are preserving Hollywood’s rich past, but looking to the future. They are saying that Hollywood’s best days are not behind us, but ahead. It is a project that announces that Hollywood is indeed back and will be an important player in the regional economy.
Sure, it might be politically easier to knock the project down, but then we’ll get more of what we’ve always gotten in Los Angeles. Isn’t it time that we started taking a few chances and do things that are a little more daring? If we truly want to change the paradigm in Los Angeles, isn’t it time to start doing it? If you can’t build something truly exciting in Hollywood, then where can you build it? Isn’t it time we started listening to our planning experts and do real planning?
Leron Gubler is president and chief executive of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
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