A once-notorious intersection at the foot of Laurel Canyon in Hollywood is being targeted for a striking new development with high-rise apartments, street-level shops and an underground grocery store.
At the southwest corner of Sunset Boulevard at Crescent Heights Boulevard, developers say they want to scrap a low-slung shopping center and replace it with a modern mixed-use complex fit for a vital urban intersection.
"Our project will stand as a modern gateway to Hollywood and the Sunset Strip," said developer Tyler Siegel of Townscape Partners in Beverly Hills, who still must face a neighborhood wary of expansion.
In the 1930s and '40s, the corner was home to movie star playpen the Garden of Allah Hotel & Villas. By the 1960s, a younger generation was flocking to the teen nightclub Pandora's Box there — until city fathers shut it down to discourage young people from congregating on Sunset.
Longtime residents may recall it was the flash point of a series of confrontations at the time between police and young people in what became known as the Sunset Strips curfew riots.
A demonstration there in 1966 included celebrities Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Sonny and Cher that turned into a confrontation with police. The dust-up inspired musician Stephen Stills to write "For What It's Worth," released two months later by Stills' band Buffalo Springfield.
Today the corner is home to a McDonald's restaurant, a Chase bank branch, a storage facility and an assortment of small businesses in a mall called Sunset Plaza that was built in 2000.
Just outside the eastern entrance to the Sunset Strip, the property is busy but underutilized, Siegel said, making it ripe for development. It is on par, he said, with what is going on in West Hollywood, where hotels, apartments and stores are under construction or being planned.
Townscape proposes to build 249 apartments in a T-shaped building with connected nine-story and 16-story towers. The residential portion, which would include 28 units set aside for low-income tenants, would be set back from Sunset and Crescent Heights.
At street level would be shops and restaurants in front of a landscaped central plaza. Underground would be an upscale grocery store and 900 parking spaces.
The developers have yet to name the complex, which is now referred to by its address: 8150 Sunset. As designed by architecture firm Hart Howerton, the project would cost more than $200 million, Siegel said.
"The goal is to use forward-thinking urban design planning principles combined with timeless, modern architecture," he said.
One of those principles is that tall, thin buildings are better than wide, squat ones because thin buildings block less of the view from homes and businesses nearby.
Initially, the project has drawn a mixed reaction from Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents that stretch of Sunset Boulevard and the Hollywood Hills West neighborhood above it.
"I think its a little too high as proposed," LaBonge said of the project, which recently entered the city's real estate development approval process. Townscape should meet with the local neighborhood council, West Hollywood officials and others who stand to be affected by the development, he said.
A substantial new development may make sense, he added, because it could help the district become more self-contained and less dependent on cars.
"Everyone is concerned about traffic, but we are looking for complete cities, complete neighborhoods and density is the key," LaBonge said. He knows a lot of nearby residents have seen enough density to suit them, however.
"Many people who live in the hills do not want to see another bolt, nail or foot of concrete laid," he said.
The existing mall with its fast-food restaurants and bank already has a lot of visitors, and the new development wouldn't significantly affect automobile traffic on Sunset or Crescent Heights, Siegel said.
Residents of the complex would arrive and depart using Havenhurst Drive, which would see more traffic and might require changes such as the addition of a median or turning it into a cul de sac, he said.
If Townscape's proposal is approved, work would begin at the end of 2014 and be completed in 30 months, Siegel said.
"We believe our project is fitting of a site of such prominence," he said, referring to the Garden of Allah complex, which occupied the property until 1959.
It was founded by silent-move star Alla Nazimova, who turned an old Spanish-style mansion into a complex of rented villas popular with the Hollywood set and known for wild parties. Writers F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway were among its residents.
A later generation embraced Pandora's Box. It stood on a traffic island still at Sunset and Crescent Heights. Townscape hopes to eliminate the island and incorporate it in its development.
The club was the gathering point for the 1966 protest against a new 10 p.m. curfew and loitering law aimed at keeping young people off the streets.
After the police confrontation where Fonda and others were arrested, the City Council voted to condemn Pandora's Box, saying that it had to be demolished to realign the streets.
On Aug. 3, 1967, a wrecking ball turned Pandora's into rubble. "Hippies Pout, Politicians Cheer," The Times reported. Townscape intends to commemorate Pandora's Box as part of a small park on the site.
The Sunset Boulevard project is one of two in the works by the development firm, which was founded by Siegel and fellow managing partner John Irwin. Both are former executives of New York development giant Related Cos.
Last year Townscape bought 8150 Sunset and an office building at 8899 Beverly Blvd. in West Hollywood with financial partner Angelo, Gordon & Co., a New York investment firm.
Townscape plans to convert the nine-story Beverly Boulevard office tower completed in the 1960s into condominiums. The building was once the headquarters of talent agency ICM Partners.