HOLLYWOOD / ORANGE A LEMON
New Development Threatens Chinese Theater, Historic District
A new project proposed by developers Steve Ullman and Larry Worchell would set a dangerous precedent for the Hollywood Historic District. Their project, dubbed "Hollywood/Orange," is located next to the landmark Chinese Theater on its west side at Hollywood Boulevard and Orange Drive.
The building is a 2- story green glass box with an arched roof, that can be exposed or covered via a retractable tent-like structure. When open, this roof area can serve as an open air party area, complete with stage. The buildings two main floors would be retail, housing Fredericks of Hollywood and a souvenir/gift shop (though we are assured that this will be a unique, first-class gift shop).
The design, by architect Michael Rotondi, is very modern and might be an asset somewhere else. But, the building is nothing more than a giant signpost. Off-site advertising signage will cover the second floor of the building along about one-third of the Hollywood Boulevard frontage, all along Orange Drive, and along about _ of the back of the building (facing the hills). This signage would be mounted on the glass, similar to the way advertising is used to cover buses, hence, not free-standing (as with a billboard), thereby allowing the developers to avoid offsite sign restrictions, which would never allow this much signage.
In addition, a 20'x40' video billboard will be located facing east as part of a "courtyard" that will serve as an entryway. Directly across from this is a billboard which abuts the Chinese Theaters west wall, which will also remain. The aforementioned courtyard is therefore not a "public space," but rather an opportunity to increase advertising revenues.
When questioned about the type of ads the video screen would show (West Hollywood screens specialize in "personals" and wrestling promos). Steve Ullman attempted to reassure the Hollywood Heritage Board, at an April 27 presentation, that he would exercise taste in approving all ads. The following day, a large picture of Angelyne clad in a bikini appeared on Mr. Ullmans billboard adjacent to the Chinese Theater. Ullmans attorney, Jack Rubens, received a call the next day from a reporter about his clients assurances of tasteful ads, and the billboard was removed the following day. The billboards starlet returned to her position in mid-June.
How is this possible? How can such a non-conforming structure be erected in the Historic District next to the most famous theater in the world? First, the Hollywood Redevelopment Plan mandated that urban design guidelines be prepared for the District and that the City Council approve them by May 8, 1988. Plans were finally prepared by summer 1992, approved by the CRA, then submitted to the City Council. Councilmember Woo, and then Councilmember Goldberg have since sat on these design guidelines in violation of the Hollywood Redevelopment Plan (1986).
Both have had numerous excuses as to the delay and no attempts have been made
by them to "correct" the guidelines. But the CRA Board stated that
their approval gave authority to the guidelines for any project requiring discretionary
action, such as the Hollywood/Orange project. Both the CRA and Councilmember
Goldberg claim that this project is "exceptional" and therefore, exempt
from the guidelines. They also admit that the project does
not meet those guidelines.
The CRA must uphold any and all legal standards and codes affecting this project as mandated by their own guidelines as well as the Federal regulations protecting the National Register Historic District. (Federal regulations for an "adverse impact" to a Historic District are "destruction or alteration of the properties [i.e. ChineseTheater, Roosevelt Hotel] surrounding environments; introduction of visual, audible, or atmospheric elements that are out of character with the property or alter its settings." Code 36, Federal Regulations [CFR] Section 799.) If such a design precedent can be set next to buildings as significant as the Chinese Theater and, across the street from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, it would set a dangerous precedent which would affect the enforcement of legal design standards on any other project in the Historic District.
Another test is coming up with the CIM Group, who bought the 1929 Don Lee Cadillac Building just to the west of the site, across Orange Drive. CIM proposes to add a third floor, faced in modern glass, and cover the structures rooftop area with offsite advertising signage (billboards, etc.). Such a redesign would probably remove the building from the Historic District.
Along with the already noncomforming Hollywood Galaxy to the immediate west, these three large projects would now alter the western flank of the District, isolating the Security Trust Building. A strong argument could be made to end the District at the Chinese Theater, thus eliminating two blocks of the District. Similar developer pressure could (would) be used elsewhere in the District to provide a cumulative impact on the Districts integrity, thereby breaking it apart, and thus ending the Districts Federal compliance.
Five Historic District buildings were demolished on the east end of the District for Metro Rail or earthquake "reasons," including the Brown Derby by its owner, the same Steve Ullman (with a special Saturday issued demo permit).
Several other District buildings sit vacant or in need of major repair/restoration. How will these buildings fare if the CRA guidelines are gone and Federal codes are ignored? How do we continue to encourage the good developers (Disney, Gilmore, etc.) to be involved here if they know guidelines are only selectively enforced and their efforts (and expense) may be for naught if the surrounding properties are pillaged?
Therefore, for both its immediate impact and the long-term protection of the Historic District, Hollywood Heritage, as the author of the Historic District, will closely watch the actions of the CRA regarding the Hollywood/Orange project as proposed.