Beverly Hills’ Brake-Light District

Times Staff Writer

The fabled Beverly Hills intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards is known for glitzy tone -- it’s home to Creative Artists Agency and the Beverly Hilton -- and glacial traffic.

It could soon get more of both. And residents fear the junction will end up a parking lot, albeit one with a battalion of valet parkers nearby.

Developers have proposed building more than 1,000 units of new housing, mostly condos and lofts, at or near the intersection.


The latest project was revealed Friday when the city released a builder’s long-awaited plan to replace the landmark Robinsons-May department store with a high-rise luxury development including 252 condos, to be designed by Richard Meier, the Getty Center architect.

The owners of the adjacent half-century-old Hilton, which just received an $80-million overhaul, are hoping to build a condo development on that property as well.

Those new residential units would be in addition to more than 600 high-rise condos and lofts planned for the core of Century City, just blocks away. Nearby, the controversial but ultimately voter-approved eight-story Montage resort hotel and condominiums are slated to break ground next year.

Meanwhile, construction is underway on a $50-million complex of 88 town house apartments and office space at Wilshire and Crescent Drive. And Beverly Hills is reviewing a plan by Casden Properties for a mixed-use development, including condos, on Wilshire between Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York.

For residents, all this development raises the specter of even more traffic at the Santa Monica-Wilshire intersection. It already handles 97,000 vehicles a day, making it one of the busiest crossings in the county.

“Those corners are severely impacted by traffic as it is,” said Victor Bardack, president of the Beverly Hills North Homeowners Assn. “Any time of day you’ll see streams of traffic lined up and down Wilshire and down Santa Monica. Just to get from Century City to people’s homes in Beverly Hills can take 30 to 45 minutes.”

The significance and development potential of the corner, long viewed as the gateway from West Los Angeles into Beverly Hills, are lost on no one.

“It’s certainly one of the last great parcels in our city,” said Linda Briskman, Beverly Hills mayor. “We need to make sure we very carefully entitle it so it’s compatible.”

The prospect of more high-rise construction at such a prominent spot has had Beverly Hills buzzing. Reports of towering high-rises -- one about 250 feet -- have swirled, prompting predictions that children at El Rodeo Elementary School across Wilshire would have to endure an artificially darkened playground and that the Bermuda grass on a few fairways at the neighboring Los Angeles Country Club would die from lack of sunlight.

Some of those concerns might be exaggerated, given the scaled-down proposal for the eight-acre Robinsons-May property that began circulating Friday. The plan calls for two 12-story, 144-foot buildings on the property’s western border and two four-story, 48-foot loft buildings on the eastern edge.

The 252 luxury condos would include 35 lofts and town homes. There would also be 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

New Pacific Realty Corp. of Beverly Hills, which owns the property, will hold an invitation-only reception Tuesday at the Museum of Television and Radio, where residents and other guests will meet Meier, who has recently designed multimillion-dollar condos in New York City.

The fancy reception underscores the upscale building boom that is occurring across the Westside.

Developers envision burgeoning high-rise residential communities amid the office towers of Century City and downtown Beverly Hills. They aim to attract not only wealthy entertainment industry types, lawyers and other professionals but also well-heeled retirees and empty-nesters who want to trade single-family homes for an easier lifestyle.

Backers argue that the new developments might actually alleviate traffic congestion because they would put residents closer to offices and shops.

But many residents are skeptical.

“There will eventually be a time when people will say, ‘Beverly Hills is wonderful, but I can’t fight the traffic,’ ” said Rose Norton, a former city planning commissioner. “I don’t know how the streets are going to handle it,” she said.

The area has long struggled with ever-increasing traffic. When planners conceived Century City in the 1960s, they anticipated that a freeway would run through Beverly Hills. But the freeway never materialized, sending traffic onto surface streets.

Beverly Hills recently endured a bruising battle over the Montage hotel, which foes derided as a dense behemoth that would create traffic congestion. In the end, however, voters solidly backed the project.

New battles could loom over proposed projects in Beverly Hills and environs. In Century City, Related Cos. plans a 39-story condo tower, while Century City Realty Co., a division of JMB Realty, has proposed erecting 483 condos in two 47-story towers and a 12-story loft building.

Oasis West Realty, the owner of the Beverly Hilton, has hired Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects to plan its condo component. The firm is perhaps best known for its renovation of and addition to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

The hotel industry, particularly in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., is experiencing a boom in combining residential units with hotel rooms. The expectation is that residents will take advantage of hotel amenities, such as room service, spas and concierge services.

Some residents like Norton question how enticing the new developments will be if the roads are always clogged.

“We may be killing the goose that laid the golden egg,” she said.



Planned developments

Residential developments at or near the intersection of Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards would add to several high-rise residential, office and hotel projects in the area.

Proposed condominium developments on sites of Robinsons-May and Beverly Hilton.

Mixed-use development planned by Casden Properties.

Proposed eight-story Montage resort hotel.

Town houses, apartments and offices under construction.

Proposed twin 47-story condominium towers and a 12-story loft building.

Proposed 39-story condominium tower.


Some busy intersections (vehicles per day)

Highland Ave. and Franklin Ave., Los Angeles: 122,000

Wilshire Blvd. and Veteran Ave., Los Angeles: 114,000

Sherman Way and Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles: 99,000

Victory Blvd. and Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles: 97,000

Wilshire Blvd. and Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills: 97,000

Sources: Los Angeles Department of Transportation, Beverly Hills Transportation Department, Times reports