After receiving much press attention for our campaign (our petition signatures are at 1500!) we’ve finally managed to elicit some responses that try to explain what’s going on. Below will be those pieces, our thoughts and what this means:
On March 26th a poster on the Vintage LA facebook posted on a thread about the destuction of Pickfair Studios this claimed email from John D’Amico, a West Hollywood City Council Member:
I just received this email from John D’Amico:
The planned development at the LOT, approved long before I joined the city council, will selectively remove a few of the older non-historic buildings to update the lot and its functionality. The older historic buildings will be renovated and put back into use as part of the development agreement. The LA TIMES story was a little loose with the facts.
This project had an historic resources review and an EIR that contemplated the effect this development might have on the existing buildings. As I said this was approved before I was elected and now they are acting on their development agreement.
I hear that CIM will be responding to the article with a few corrections and some additional information about their plans…
No one from West Hollywood or CIM has contacted us so while this seems reliable we can’t say for sure it came from Mr. D’Amico. Our source, when shown this purported email replied, ‘It’s BS.’
Hollywood Heritage meanwhile has sent out this email on the matter:
“From Richard Adkins, President Hollywood Heritage re Pickford-Fairbanks Studio
The Latest on The Lot demo/construction –
Some buildings are being demolished, but not the whole site. The main historic buildings will be preserved. This was a preservation battle about 5-6 years ago, and the L.A. Conservancy worked hard with the owner to limit demolition. Yes, there will be a tall glass office tower. But the main buildings will still be standing. The Environmental Impact Report was certified some time ago, making it legal for the removal of buildings and the beginning of new construction.”
Finally, in the most clarifying piece, the Los Angeles Conservancy launched this page: http://www.laconservancy.org/issues/issues_thelot.php
Plans have long been under way to renovate the historic West Hollywood studio now known as the lot.
The site’s new owner, CIM Group, is nearing the first phase of construction in a development plan that has been approved since 2007. CIM must start construction by early 2013 in order to keep its entitlements.
The Conservancy, Hollywood Heritage, and some concerned citizens fought this plan back in 2007, but the West Hollywood City Council approved it nonetheless.
Read the Conservancy’s comments on the supplemental environmental impact report (PDF)
The first phase of construction entails the demolition of two buildings on Formosa Avenue, the Pickford Building and the Fairbanks Gym/Editorial Building. A historic survey identified the Pickford building as a “non-contributor” to the National Register-eligible historic district on the site; the Fairbanks building was identified as a “secondary contributor.”
This issue is complex and dates back more than twenty years, to when the site operated as Warner Hollywood Studios. The studio property extended east of Formosa Avenue into what is now the shopping complex anchored by Target.
In 1991, Warner Bros. proposed an expansion plan for Warner Hollywood Studios that included tearing down the historic Formosa Café (1925) on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Formosa Avenue.
Concerned citizens formed the Friends of the Formosa and launched a successful grassroots preservation effort. In 1993, following the preparation of an environmental impact report (EIR), the City of West Hollywood approved a compromise that saved the Formosa Café but allowed the demolition of five historic buildings on the main studio site.
Construction under this plan had still not started in 1999, when Warner Bros. sold the property—with its entitlements (development approvals)—to BA Studios. The next year, the City of West Hollywood launched eminent domain proceedings to acquire the 1.26-acre parcel east of Formosa Avenue (site of the Formosa Café), which was still part of the studio property.
BA Studios took legal action against the City that led to a settlement agreement. BA Studios agreed to sell the parcel to the City in exchange for the right to essentially transfer the density from the parcel to the main studio campus.
The revised development plan was outlined in a 2003 supplement to the original environmental impact report. The 1993 plan included a 145-foot-tall office tower. Based on newer market studies of what potential tenants preferred, the 2003 plan abandoned the tower in favor of “campus-style, low-rise, flexible office space.”
Although the new plan preserved several buildings slated for demolition in the 1993 plan, it called for the demolition of the Santa Monica West Building and partial demolition of the Formosa Building (not the Café). Built in 1919, Santa Monica West is one of only three buildings that date from the studio’s original development.
As mitigation for the loss of these two buildings, the SEIR proposed retaining their facades. Keeping only the façade of a historic building is not preservation.
In 2007, the Conservancy, along with Hollywood Heritage, urged the City of West Hollywood to require more preservation alternatives that would reduce the impact of the development on the studio’s historic resources— specifically in regard to the two buildings along Santa Monica Boulevard.
The Conservancy also urged officials to provide incentives to the owner to encourage more preservation of historic buildings on studio property. Several residents also expressed concern over the project’s scale, its impacts on the historic studio buildings, and the lack of review by the historic preservation commission.
The City of West Hollywood approved the new plan in May 2007 despite these objections.
So what does this all mean?
Despite the three letters above the ‘landmark’ status is still questionable and we have not received any confirmation it is an actual landmark. Per the Conservancy and Hollywood Heritage permission has been given via petitioning West Hollywood City Council for CIM to tear down Mary’s office and Doug’s gym. They can do this free and clear.
But they also have no further permission to tear anything else down. However if the landmark status is so precarious, they could technically legally tear down whatever they wanted. A big fear is that many developers ignore landmark status, knock down and ask questions later.
Another fear we are having is we are hearing its more than these buildings, which could give credence to the belief above.
According to our source the destruction of whatever they are taking down has been moved up to the end of next week (right before Mary Pickford’s birthday no less).
West Hollywood City Council has given no regards to the complaints before and they seem to be giving none now. Our demand remain unchanged with all this information and we are planning some action in the next few days.
Previous, still relevant, update On March 23rd an anonymous source posted on My Historic LA that there were secret plans to raze all historic buildings on what has been called the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio aka Pickfair Studio, Goldwyn Studio and lastly The Lot. Our group immediately created this website as we found the plans credible. The studio was property of Warner Brothers until 1999 when they sold it to a group that had a company called Skye Partners manage it. From 1999 to 2007 Skye Partners tried on several occasions to raze the historic buildings and put up ‘glass cube structures’ (you read more about this in the previous post below).
As we waited for confirmation the source promised an LA Times article which appeared in print Monday the 26th here (for those over the viewing limit we suggest using an IP blocker or clearing cookies to read.) Apparently, very quietly CIM Group, owners of places like Hollywood and Highland purchased the studio with all previous agreements ending at the end of March 2012. If nothing is done the plan to destroy the buildings ‘begins in a few weeks’ mostly to accommodate the TV show True Blood.
CIM’s plans are as told to us by the source, that they will raze all historic buildings and put up glass cube buildings. CIM refused to comment to the LA Times, but CIM is also the notorious company that wanted to tear down Graumman’s Chinese Theatre and build a ‘replica movie theatre’ attached to their mall.
As of now, the only thing we can do is fight. There is no legal protection to the studio and unless some drastic measures are taken CIM will destroy one more piece of our history.
What We Want (updated)
On our own search we tried to verify if the Pickfair Studios was indeed a historical landmark as Hollywood Heritage believed (and they are very knowledgeable). We were unable to find any proof of Pickfair Studios being a historic legal landmark other than a peculiar sign listed on one side of the studio. The LA Times got further noting that though the studio has a plaque, it was ‘pending’ official status, i.e. its nothing as of right now, CIM can tear it down and have no repercussions.
West Hollywood is noted for its poor treatment of legal historic landmarks, so this sure as heck won’t make much a difference to them. Many people misunderstand what a historical landmark even means: essentially, nothing. It creates a lot of red tape and procedure an owner must follow before renovations or demolitions, but many owners rarely follow it, or tear down first and claim ignorance later. Even in blatant cases of such action they rarely face any penalties what so ever other than a hole in our cultural heart.
What we want is this: we call on the city of West Hollywood to not make this another failed endeavor. We call on them to intervene immediately and protect this historic landmark, now and forever. We call on CIM to not embarrass itself and destroy another piece of Hollywood history in the name of ‘progress’. We call on CIM to either of their own volition keep and restore these historic buildings to their former glory, or to sell to an owner who will. We call on each and every person who can make their voice heard to do so.