Should Starchitecture Trump History? | Los Angeles Conservancy

Should Starchitecture Trump History?

Lytton Savings architectural rendering
Architectural rendering of Lytton Savings from 1960 Los Angeles Times advertisement.

Los Angeles is blessed with great architecture by world-renowned figures, from Frank Lloyd Wright to Frank Gehry. Yet the bulk of our built environment was designed by lesser-known architects, including Kurt W. Meyer of the firm Hagman & Meyer. An important work by Meyer, the 1960 former Lytton Savings Building (now Chase) at Sunset and Crescent Heights Boulevards, could fall to the wrecking ball in favor of a new design by Gehry. This outcome would be shortsighted and entirely unnecessary. 

Developer Townscape Partners seeks to demolish the Lytton Savings Building and replace it with 249 apartment  and condo units and more than 65,000 square feet of commercial retail and restaurant space. The current proposal includes two buildings ranging from three to fifteen stories. 

The Conservancy is not opposed to a mixed-use project at this location. Yet we firmly believe that the development can and should incorporate the existing historic building, like many other projects have done quite successfully. A viable preservation solution for the site exists that would blend historic and new construction into a dynamic project. There is no need to lose this irreplaceable part of our history. 

We’ve been working to prevent this needless demolition since the project was first proposed in 2013. Throughout the environmental review process, we have urged the City to fully evaluate preservation alternatives that incorporate the Lytton Savings Building. 

Chase Bank/Lytton Savings
Chase Bank, formerly Lytton Savings, 2016. Photo by Hunter Kerhart.

After initially meeting with the Conservancy, the developer was in fact moving toward reusing the building. Yet by August 2015, Townscape had unveiled Gehry’s new design for the site. The new design attempts to address some neighborhood concerns over the proposed project, yet it fails to respond to many others, including the building’s demolition.

State law (the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA) requires public entities to fully evaluate alternatives to demolishing historic places. While the environmental review for the Townscape project has evaluated two distinct preservation alternatives, it has provided no substantial evidence or analysis demonstrating why the adaptive reuse of Lytton Savings would be infeasible. 

The project is now in the final stages of environmental review and is slated for the City Planning Commission’s agenda on July 28. Many thanks to those of you who have attended previous hearings and/or written to the City in support of preserving this important building.

Lytton Savings roof
One of the building's most notable features is its distinctive folded-plate roof. Photo by Hunter Kerhart. 
Saving Savings and Loans

With its dramatic, folded-plate concrete roof and glass-walled banking floor, the Lytton Savings Building was a striking departure from traditional bank design when it opened in 1960. As financial institutions nationwide recognized the need for progressive banking methods after World War II, architects responded by radically reinventing the bank’s form. 

Lytton Savings exemplified these national postwar banking trends through its Modern architectural design, transparency, and integrated art. It is one of Los Angeles’ earliest remaining examples of this transformative shift in bank design. 

The interior features a monumental, 8-by-50-foot screen of dalle de verre (faceted glass) and concrete. The work was the first commercial commission for acclaimed artist-craftsman Roger Darricarrere. He later designed the monumental skylight for the Columbia Savings Building (Irving Shapiro, 1965) at Wilshire Boulevard and La Brea Avenue. 

Roger Darricarrere
8-by-50-foot screen by Roger Darricarrere in the building's lobby. Photo by Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy.

Despite an intensive preservation effort, the Columbia Savings Building was demolished in 2010 after, among other hurdles, elected officials claimed they “just didn’t get” the architecture. Columbia Savings was replaced by the massive Wilshire La Brea mixed-use project—though, like Lytton Savings, it too could have been integrated into the new development.

Notably, the Lytton Savings Building stands on the former site of the Garden of Allah. The storied Hollywood inn surrounded by villas was purchased by Lytton Savings in 1959 and razed to make way for the firm’s new home office. While this history does not negate Lytton Savings’ significance, it highlights one of the challenges in saving more recent landmarks with complicated pasts.  

The Family, Lytton Savings
Integrated art at the former Lytton Savings. "The Family" by David Green, commissioned by Lytton Savings. Photo by Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy.
How You Can Help 

We need your help in sending a strong message to the City and the developer that needlessly demolishing the Lytton Savings Building is unacceptable. It is a perfectly good—and historically significant—building that can and should continue serving the community as part of the new project. 

Please take a moment to email Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu—especially if you live in his Council District (4)—and urge him to press for a preservation-based solution.

David Ryu: cd4.issues@lacity.org and councilmember.ryu@lacity.org

Please also email William Lamborn in the Department of City Planning: william.lamborn@lacity.org  

To help us track progress on this issue, please copy afine@laconservancy.org on your emails. Thank you!

Learn more about this issue and the history of this building