1960s Chase Bank Building on Sunset Strip Nominated for Landmark Status

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A Los Angeles man has nominated the Chase bank building on the eastern edge of the Sunset Strip for landmark status. If awarded, the historic designation coulddisrupt plans to demolish the building and erect in its place a huge, Frank Gehry-designed retail and residential complex.

“This is a building worthy of saving,” Steve Luftman, who filed the nomination, told Curbed. “I give it credit for my love and appreciation of architecture. I opened my first savings account there when I was five-years-old.”

The bank building at 8150 Sunset Boulevard didn’t house a Chase back then. At that time, it was Lytton Savings and Loan, and though its architecture might seem insignificant to some today, “it was a striking departure from traditional bank design when it opened in 1960,” says the Los Angeles Conservancy on its website. The conservancy says Lytton Savings is one of the “earliest remaining examples” of the “transformative shift” in postwar-era bank design.

“Not everything built in this era in terms of bank architecture is worthy or stands out,” the conservancy’s director of advocacy, Adrian Scott Fine, told Curbed. “This one is unique because of association with Lytton, and it’s distinctive architecture with its playful zigzag folded plate roof.”

Scott Fine and Luftman want the bank building incorporated into the proposed Gehry project, which is being developed by Townscape Partners.

“It’s not good planning to constantly be throwing away good architecture for what could be perceived at the time as better,” said Scott Fine.

(Ironically, that’s what Lytton himself did. His razed the Garden of Allah, a collection of villas and bungalows that housed F. Scott Fitzgerald, Orson Welles, and Ernest Hemingway to erect his bank).

Now, in addition to the bank building, the 2.5-acre site on Sunset Boulevard, between Havenhurst Drive and Crescent Heights, also holds a strip mall and parking lot. Townscape wants to raze all of that to construct five “interrelated and complementary structures” ranging in height from three to 15 stories, with 249 residential units, a grocery store, restaurant, retail, and new bank. There’d also be public space and a public plaza, plus 849 parking spaces.

Gehry is set to present his plans to the Los Angeles Planning Commission tomorrow (Thursday, July 28).

A spokesman for Townscape Partners said the bank building has been “extensively modified” since it opened, is out-dated, and has “limited street-front engagement along Sunset Boulevard.”

“It does not have the flexibility to adapt to a new usage, so keeping it would impose limitations on Frank Gehry’s terrific design but with no public or architectural benefit,” spokesman Sascha Freudenheim said.

But an Environmental Impact Report does include an alternative design that would incorporate and restore the bank. That design would have more residential units and less commercial space.

Buildings designated as landmarks are harder to demolish. In November, Luftman succeeded in nominating the Beverly Grove apartment building where he lives as a landmark.

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