Four historic Sunset Boulevard buildings are in line to get massive makeovers as developers continue seeking profits from Hollywood's residential real estate boom and its shortage of office space.
However, preservationists concerned about the possible loss of Hollywood's historic fabric vow to challenge the developers in court if they try to raze the landmarks.
The latest proposal is a residential development on the site of the Nickelodeon Theater, a venue dating to the Great Depression that has hosted fare from Ziegfeld Follies-style dancing girls to 1960s rock concerts to children's television shows.
Also in the pipeline are overhauls of the Columbia Square broadcast center, the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant and, as previously reported, the Hollywood Palladium.
The projects are part of a rush among developers to renovate several older buildings and transform many of the district's parking lots into condominiums, apartments and shops.
More than 1,000 new housing units are under construction or have been completed in the last three years, and an additional 4,500 units are anticipated. Some of the largest projects are planned near the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, where more than $1.2 billion of development has been proposed.
"Hollywood is one of few places in L.A. that can elegantly accommodate growth," said Tom Cody, a principal at home builder Gerding/Edlen Development Co., which plans to build condominiums at one Sunset Boulevard site.
On the preservationists' watch list is the Nickelodeon building at 6230 Sunset Blvd. It is being acquired by Palo Alto housing developer Essex Property Trust for about $25 million, according to real estate sources with knowledge of the transaction, who asked not to be identified because the deal hasn't closed.
Essex is a publicly traded real estate investment trust that builds and operates apartments on the West Coast. A company representative declined to comment, but observers expect the company to develop condominiums and shops.
The seller is Sunset-Gower Studios, which acquired the building in 1983 and improved it into a modern facility that has been used for filming several television shows in front of live audiences, including "Star Search" and the short-lived "Chevy Chase Show."
Sunset-Gower Chief Executive Robert Papazian also declined to discuss the pending sale.
Children's entertainment broadcaster Nickelodeon confirmed that it must leave when its 10-year lease expires in April to clear the way for new construction. Spokeswoman Marianne Romano said Nickelodeon shot there frequently, recording such series as "Kenan & Kel" and "The Amanda Show."
Its colorful history and original Art Deco design by noted Los Angeles architect Gordon Kaufman make it a building worth keeping, said Robert Nudelman of Hollywood Heritage, a preservation group.
"All these nightclubs are coming to Hollywood now and this is one of the originals," Nudelman said, vowing a court fight against any plan to demolish it. "It's not one of those buildings where you just save the facade."
The Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency is also interested in keeping the building intact as a studio or dinner theater, said Helmi Hisserich, the agency's regional administrator. She expects Essex to propose a mixed-use project that includes housing, but she also would like to see offices available for rent added there and at other developments.
Hollywood has an office shortage, according to real estate brokers. Indeed, a six-story office tower set to start construction next month on the Sunset-Gower Studios lot has already been entirely leased by Technicolor.
"That is the first new office building in Hollywood since 1984," said broker Carl Muhlstein of Cushman & Wakefield, who represented the studio in the deal. "There is a lot of pent-up demand."
The planned redevelopment of the Columbia Square broadcasting complex, built in 1937 at Sunset and Gower Street, should include condos, offices and entertainment uses, Hisserich said. The site has been the home of television stations KCBS-TV Channel 2 and KCAL-TV Channel 9 and radio station KNX-AM (1070).
Selling the property is Los Angeles real estate investor Ralph Horowitz, who made news last month by evicting farmers from 14 acres of land he owns in South Los Angeles. Horowitz didn't return calls requesting comment.
Las Vegas-based Molasky Pacific is buying the site, said Randall Reel, who heads the developer's Santa Monica office. He declined to comment further, but a real estate source who knows about the deal valued it at $66 million.
Another historic building in play is the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant at 5939 Sunset Blvd., which dates to 1924 and has been a Hudson-Essex car dealership, acting school and broadcast studio for radio station KMPC-AM (710).
Portland, Ore.-based Gerding/Edlen has the property in escrow and plans to build about 300 condominiums in a $150-million project that would be completed in 2009, principal Cody said.
The developers plan to retain the historic facade and wood-beamed ceiling in their condo development but not additions from a 1976 makeover. Cody said he believed that the site could hold a residential high-rise and that he hoped to build more in the area.
As previously reported, Combined Properties Inc. of Beverly Hills is buying the 66-year-old Hollywood Palladium on Sunset with the intention of developing its large parking lot -- possibly with residences, stores and a hotel.
Ramsey-Shilling real estate broker John Tronson said Hollywood could take on as many as 10,000 new housing units, about twice as many as have been discussed by developers.
He worries, however, that the condo market could stall quickly if the Los Angeles housing market suddenly softens.
"My biggest concern is some sort of market adjustment that scares off developers of these large projects," Tronson said.
Hisserich of the redevelopment agency says Hollywood's transformation to a dense urban neighborhood is still inevitable.
"If even half of what is proposed actually happens, it's a new world," she said.