New billboards across the street from the Beverly Center depict a smiling waiter in a striped apron, bearing a scale model of an imposing 11-story building on a silver platter.
"Ma Maison, the hotel," the billboard announces. "Opening Spring, 1987."
But some nearby residents are not smiling about the prospect of living across the street from the renowned French restaurant and hotel of the same name. Project designers, however, are confident that the neighbors will learn to love it.
For one thing, said architect Olivier Vidal, "We are going to hide the Beverly Center for them, which is a very good thing."
The hotel will offer elegant bars, a flower shop, a patisserie and other amenities on the ground floor of a limestone-faced, copper-roofed structure designed to resemble one on a Paris street, he said.
The 311-room, glass-walled hotel will be as tall as the Beverly Center, but set off from the street by large trees. Vidal said the latest plans also call for retention of the Tail o' the Pup, a 39-year-old hot dog stand shaped like a giant wiener in a bun.
"It takes people a while to realize what a quality hotel can do for them," he said.
But West Hollywood residents are concerned about traffic congestion and noise from the site, which is only a few feet across the city line in Los Angeles--an accident of urban geography that puts it beyond the zoning powers of West Hollywood's new city government.
"I'm one of the people right at the beginning of the street who will be impacted by shadow, light and the circulation of air, plus a certain amount of noise and disturbance from the 24-hour operation," said Ethel Shapiro, who is active in West Hollywood West, a resident's association.
She said the hotel's three-story underground garage may force the water table to rise and suggested that an environmental impact review would be in order.
'I Think It's Dangerous'
West Hollywood Councilman Alan Viterbi agreed, saying, "Frankly, I think it's dangerous to go underground this way."
According to architect Yassi E. Gabbay, however, the 35-foot-deep garage would be specially engineered "like a washtub" to avoid disturbing the water table, which lies just 10 feet below the surface.
An environmental review is not called for because the hotel and restaurant will not require a change of zoning, Los Angeles officials said.
But the West Hollywood City Council has instructed its attorney to "pursue whatever legal options are available," Viterbi said.
"In the city of Los Angeles it's a commercial neighborhood, but for us it's a residential neighborhood," he said. "It abuts one of our last areas of single-family houses, so it's that much more important to us."
But Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky said there is little or no chance of blocking the project.
"We've never been able to stop a developer through that kind of legal action," he said, noting that the site, like much of Beverly Boulevard west of La Cienega Boulevard, is zoned for even more development than envisioned by developers of the Ma Maison project.
The restaurant now occupies an old house and patio on Melrose Avenue, where owner-manager Patrick Terrail welcomes a well-heeled clientele for lunch and dinner under a pink-and-green awning.
Terrail said it was "a little premature" to disclose details of the new establishment, which is being developed by the Gordon Co., builders of the Beverly Center.
But plans show that his new restaurant will occupy a separate structure at the west end of the hotel, which will have larger banquet room of its own at the other end. Terrail may take over supervision of the hotel restaurant, although that has yet to be decided.
"The hotel terrace will extend to the Tail o' the Pup," Vidal said. "We think it will be fun. We've done enough city planning to know that these little things add to the value of the whole."
The hot dog stand will be outfitted with a new kitchen and its patrons will be free to use the terrace, he said.
His comments came as something of a surprise to Eddie Blake, operator of the hot dog stand. Blake said he knew that the architects were thinking of building around his establishment but that he had been told by a lawyer for the Gordon Co. to vacate the property by Nov. 1.
"What it all comes down to is, it's all up in limbo," Blake said. Showing off an album with clippings of articles from as far away as Japan, Blake said that if developer Sheldon Gordon keeps him on, "that would be a feather in his cap."
Gordon was out of town and unavailable for comment, his office said.
Despite its propinquity to a single-family neighborhood in West Hollywood, the Los Angeles City Council decided years ago that mid-rise development would be allowed in the area around the Cedars-Sinai Hospital complex, Yaroslavsky said.
He said the proposed hotel and restaurant would have less of an impact on traffic than the office tower that was originally proposed for the site.
In any case, he said, "it was our judgment, and I think it was a darn good judgment, to save our battles for an area which has not been developed to high-rise or to mid-rise.' '
According to Ginny Kruger, Yaroslavsky's planning aide, the shadow of the proposed hotel poses more of a problem than its impact on traffic. Studies have shown that virtually no shadow would be cast on the residential streets in West Hollywood, she said. But the hotel would block the sun from the playground of the nearby Sephardic Hebrew Academy for much of the school day during winter months.
"It's a cloud hanging over our head, literally," said Rabbi Baruch Kupfer, executive director of the school. He said the new building, with its shadows, noise and traffic, will have "an environmental impact on the school, which makes the whole thing very unpleasant."
But Gabbay said the school's proposed new building at the southeast end of its property would cast a shadow of its own, "so we don't feel guilty about that any more." Kupfer said that was an unfair comparison, since the classroom building will only be two stories high.
Ground breaking for the $26-million hotel project is set for January, Gabbay said. The hotel will be operated by Sofitel, a French chain.