Chase Bank / Lytton Savings
Update: On June 13, 2018, a decision by the Supreme Court of California to deny hearing a petition filed by the Los Angeles Conservancy effectively ends legal efforts to stop the needless demolition of the historic Lytton Savings building (now Chase Bank).
In May the Conservancy petitioned the Supreme Court to review the recent Court of Appeal’s decision. That decision overturned the 2017 Los Angeles County Superior Court ruling in favor of the Conservancy and blocked the City of L.A. from demolition.
We respectfully disagree with the Court of Appeal ruling, and believe this case goes to the foundation and intent of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and the need to fully consider and adopt preservation alternatives when feasible.
We were hopeful throughout the process, given the overwhelming evidence supporting our claim that development of the site could move forward without demolition of the historic building. The project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) acknowledged Lytton Savings as a qualified historical resource under CEQA. It identified two feasible preservation alternatives allowing Lytton Savings to be incorporated into the project. And at 20,000 square feet, the Lytton Savings building represents only a small portion of the 330,000-square-foot development planned for the site.
Thank you to all who supported us in this effort, and to the Friends of Lytton Savings and Councilmember David Ryu.
In March 2018, California's 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned the 2017 Los Angeles County Superior Court ruling which blocked the City of L.A. from demolishing the landmarked Lytton Savings building.
On April 25, 2017, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Amy Hogue ruled in favor of the Conservancy in our public interest lawsuit to stop the needless demolition of the historic Lytton Savings building (now Chase Bank). Now a designated Historic-Cultural Monument, the 1960 building at 8150 Sunset Boulevard was proposed for demolition as part of a new mixed-use development.
“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.
“We’ve worked with many architects and developers to successfully integrate historic places into new development, 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.”
The Court’s comprehensive ruling found that because the City’s approval of the Lytton Savings building’s demolition violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a state law that protects California’s built environment as it does the natural environment, the project approval must be set aside.
The environmental impact report (EIR) for the 8150 Sunset Boulevard project studied two alternatives that included the historic building and determined that they would feasibly accomplish the project. The City later claimed that the preservation alternatives were not feasible and approved the building’s demolition.
The Conservancy did not challenge the adequacy of the project EIR. Conservancy attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley explained the significance of the Court’s ruling as, “The City Council abused its discretion and violated state law by approving this demolition of a historic resource. The loss of Lytton Savings would be a significant environmental impact, and it is feasible to instead avoid demolition and move ahead with the project.”
At 20,000 square feet, the Lytton Savings building represents only a small portion of the 330,000-square-foot development planned for the site. “The City Council already amended the project once after certifying the EIR,” said Dishman. “It can now amend the project again to accommodate this historic building, which represents just six percent of the project’s total square footage.”
In 2014, developer Townscape Partners proposed redeveloping the southwest corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights Boulevards with 229 apartment units (with 26 affordable units, 12 workforce units) and over 65,000 square feet of commercial retail and restaurant uses. The original project would span two buildings ranging from two stories up to 178 feet in height, with 494 subterranean and semi-subterranean parking spaces.
The Conservancy met with the developer to explore options for developing the site that would integrate the historic Lytton Savings building. Discussions were promising, with the developer initially open to reusing the historic building as part of the new development. Yet discussions ended after a new design by architect Frank Gehry was unveiled in August 2015.
In September 2015, the City of Los Angeles published Recirculated Portions of the Draft Environmental Impact Report, which evaluated the new project alternative designed by Gehry ("Enhanced View Corridor and Additional Underground Parking Alternative"). The alternative does not include preservation of Lytton Savings.
The Conservancy submitted comments on the Recirculated Draft EIR in October 2015. The Final EIR was published in May 2016.
On July 28, 2016, the City Planning Commission (CPC) held a public hearing on the 8150 Sunset Project. Despite some opposition regarding the proposed loss of the Lytton Savings building, the Commission voted in full support for the proposed project. The City continued to ignore identified preservation alternatives that meet most project objectives. The preservation alternatives allow Lytton Savings to be integrated as part of the proposed project.
Despite the Environmental Impact Report analysis, City staff proposed contrary findings to support a determination that preservation alternatives are infeasible, yet they provided no substantial evidence supporting these claims. An applicant's preference to start from a clean slate and not integrate a historic building is not a relevant factor in determining the feasibility of the preservation alternatives.
The Conservancy submitted a letter from attorneys Chatten-Brown & Carstens outlining our concerns with the City's adherence to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process.
On September 15, 2016, the City's Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC) strongly supported a nomination by the Friends of Lytton Savings to list Lytton Savings as a Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM). To learn more, read the final staff report and recommendation. Councilmember David Ryu's office initially supported the nomination.
On October 25, 2016, after several hours of public testimony, the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee also voted in support of the proposed project. Rather than hear the pending nomination to designate Lytton Savings as a Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM), PLUM members decided to postpone any discussion about the landmark status, instead placing it on their November 22 meeting schedule.
The Conservancy, the Friends of Lytton Savings, and numerous supporters attended the PLUM Committee hearing, pressing PLUM members and City Councilmember David Ryu to consider alternatives.
On November 1, 2016, the Los Angeles City Council voted in unanimous support of the 8150 Sunset project, including the demolition of Lytton Savings.
On December 13, 2016, the City Council voted to approve the HCM nomination. The Conservancy thanks Councilmember David Ryu for his leadership and support of the HCM, and to the Friends of Lytton Savings for spearheading this effort!
Conservancy Files Suit Against the City of Los Angeles
On December 1, 2017, the Conservancy sued to force the City of Los Angeles’ compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in considering demolition of the historic Lytton Savings building (now Chase Bank) at 8150 Sunset Boulevard. A hearing occured on April 19, 2017.
The Conservancy contends that the City blatantly disregarded environmental law in its review of the 8150 Sunset Boulevard Project, a mixed-use development proposed for the southwest corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights Boulevards.
While Lytton Savings is significant in and of itself, the litigation is about more than the building. We need to hold government accountable for following the law. Otherwise, their actions set a dangerous precedent for future land-use decisions that will affect Angelenos for years to come.
The environmental impact report (EIR) acknowledged Lytton Savings as a qualified historical resource. The EIR identified two feasible preservation alternatives allowing Lytton Savings to be incorporated into the project. Under CEQA, a project must avoid significant impacts such as the demolition of a historical resource if the fundamental project objectives can be met without demolition.
Nonetheless, the Los Angeles City Council approved the project that, as designed by architect Frank Gehry, calls for the needless demolition of Lytton Savings.
While the City claimed that the EIR’s preservation alternatives were not feasible, its findings were contradicted in the EIR and were not supported by any substantial evidence.
Early in the process, the Conservancy met with the developer, Townscape Partners, who responded positively to the idea of integrating Lytton Savings as part of the new development. This promising collaboration came to a halt after a new design for the site by Gehry was unveiled in 2015. This new design was ultimately approved.
Completed in 1960, Lytton Savings exemplifies a transformative shift in bank design after World War II. As the EIR explains, the bank design “was strategically conceived as a modern multi-media showcase for Modern art, architecture, and interior design … related directly to its Sunset Boulevard context” with a “distinctive folded plate concrete roof.”
It was designed by the late Kurt W. Meyer, FAIA, a renowned architect devoted to public service and historic preservation. He served as chair of the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles, worked with financier Bart Lytton to try and preserve Irving Gill’s Dodge House (ultimately demolished) in West Hollywood, and served on the Conservancy's first advisory council.
Preservation Alternatives Consistently Ignored
The EIR included two viable preservation alternatives that meet nearly all of the project objectives. Why were they not discussed by the City, at the City Planning Commission, the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee, or City Council?
More importantly, why did the City choose to ignore a path forward that allows both preservation and the development to occur at the same time? This is not an either/or scenario. Preservation, housing, density, and growth can all take place on this site. Unfortunately, preservation is being overshadowed and left out, leading to the unnecessary demolition of the historic Lytton Savings building.
Break the Cycle of Demolition
For some, Lytton Savings itself is associated with a lost historic landmark, as it occupies the former site of the Garden of Allah. The storied Hollywood inn with surrounding villas was purchased by Lytton Savings in 1959 and razed in part to make way for the firm’s new home office and a proposed new office development that was never built. The current commercial strip development was not designed initially as part of Lytton Savings.
While the Garden of Allah was important, this layered history does not negate Lytton Center’s significance as a modern postwar bank, but it highlights one of the challenges in saving Modern and recent past resources with complicated pasts. Do we allow another historic place to be lost or rather do we break the cycle of demolition at this site?
Lytton Savings is a significant example of postwar-era bank design in Los Angeles and is one of the earliest that remain. We believe it is eligible for listing on the California Register of Historical Resources and as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM).
In our comments on the Recirculated Portions of the Draft Environmental Impact Report (RP-DEIR), we expressed our opposition to the demolition of an historic building that could otherwise be integrated and reused as part of the new development.
Given that the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) demonstrates that feasible preservation alternatives exist that would incorporate the historic Lytton Savings building into a similarly sized mixed-use development, approval of the project as proposed violated the substantive mandate of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
The City lacks compelling evidence to support a claim that rejects viable preservation alternatives. CEQA is clear, concluding, “a statement of overriding considerations must include specific finding, supported by substantial evidence, that “[t]here is no feasible way to lessen or avoid the significant effect...” The vague and unsupported claims in the City’s findings do not provide the necessary evidentiary support to reject the less impactful preservation alternatives.
Preservation alternatives would meet the majority of the project objectives. Preservation alternatives are not required by CEQA to meet all project objectives. However, in this case, the City’s EIR concludes Preservation Alternatives 5 and 6 would fully meet twelve of the fifteen project objectives and partially meet the remaining three objectives.
The 1960 Modernist Lytton Savings/Chase Bank is currently pending as a City of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM), with a unanimous recommendation by the City’s Cultural Heritage Commission. We do not take the loss of an eligible or designated local landmark lightly, especially when it is not justified in order to proceed with a proposed project.
The Conservancy strongly urged the City to reject the proposed project, which called for the unwarranted and needless demolition of the historic Lytton Savings/Chase Bank. Preservation alternatives have been identified and assessed for this project that are feasible and allow for a “win-win” outcome that would 1) avoid demolition; 2) fully meet the majority of the project objectives; and, most importantly, 3) result in a project that would not violate CEQA.
The Conservancy and the many community groups and individuals that have expressed serious concerns with the proposed project are calling for an alternative. We welcome the opportunity to work toward this goal.
Even though the legal battle has been lost, efforts to press for consideration and adoption of feasible preservation alternatives continues.
Lytton Savings is historic and is a designated HCM.
Two distinct preservation alternatives have been evaluated, but no substantial evidence or analysis has been provided by the City or applicant to demonstrate why adaptive reuse of Lytton Savings would be infeasible or inviable.
The preservation alternatives would meet the majority of the proposed project’s objectives, as well as reduce environmental impacts.
A win-win outcome that would retain the building is possible; it would allow a substantially similar project that would not violate the California Environmental Protection Act (CEQA) to move forward.