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LUXURY WRAPPED IN GRIDLOCK

Times Staff Writers

It’s the height of ritziness: Waldorf-Astoria meets 90210.

The storied New York hotel -- an Art Deco landmark that inspired Cole Porter songs and even a salad -- is lending its name to a Beverly Hills project that is stirring up nightmares among traffic-weary residents.

Property owner Beny Alagem and Hilton Hotels Corp. on Thursday unveiled a revised $500-million plan to add more cachet to the swank intersection at Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards, home to the Beverly Hilton and within a champagne flute’s throw of the posh Peninsula Hotel.

Some business boosters are salivating: “It is so Beverly Hills,” said Dan Walsh, chief executive of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce. “Waldorf-Astoria is iconic in nature. The whole concept is so correct for Beverly Hills.”

But residents are bemoaning the idea of dumping more traffic into the gridlocked area, and preservationists are fighting the probable demise of tiki hot spot Trader Vic’s.

The hotel and condominium project was initially announced last year without the Waldorf and still faces hurdles, even though developers announced concessions Thursday and pledged to add traffic lanes to ease congestion. The new plan probably will be voted on in the fall.

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“This so far exceeds the village aspect of what the people of Beverly Hills want,” said Robert Tanenbaum, president of the Beverly Hills North Homeowners Assn. and a former mayor. “We’re not looking to transport 49th Street and Park Avenue to Beverly Hills.”

Traffic on Wilshire, particularly after 1 p.m., is jammed, and more development is proposed or under construction in Century City and Beverly Hills, including 252 condominiums slated next door to the Beverly Hilton at the site of the shuttered Robinsons-May department store. The eight-story Montage Hotel -- sister of the resort in Laguna Beach -- is being built less than a mile away, and Casden Properties plans another Wilshire project nestled between Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York.

“How on Earth can you put in all this additional density and height ... and not wind up with one huge parking lot?” Tanenbaum said.

Kevin Hughes, president of the Cheviot Hills Homeowners Assn., said the notion of a splashy hotel and luxury residences had a “feeling of the city being fed and fed until it pushes itself away from the table.... Without any solution to the traffic issue, how in the world are we contemplating further development?”

Hilton executives and technology magnate Alagem, along with his company Oasis West Realty, envision the nine-acre property with two luxury condo buildings housing 90 residences that average about 3,500 square feet. The Waldorf-Astoria would have 120 rooms, 30 privately owned condos and a fine-dining restaurant. A free-standing three-story wing of 50 rooms and a convention center would be added to the Beverly Hilton, which has a glitzy ballroom used for events such as the Golden Globes.

Alagem said his staff had met with hundreds of residents and community leaders. As a result, he scrapped an original plan to build a condo-hotel (where rooms would be rented to guests when their owners are away) and replaced it with the Waldorf-Astoria.

The total number of condos in the hotel and two towers was reduced to 120 from 200. The revamped design calls for buildings to be set back farther onto the property, starting lower and building up to a maximum of 14 stories. More trees, fountains, sculpture gardens and public art would add to the landscaping and open space, he said.

The plan would add four traffic lanes: two on Santa Monica Boulevard, one on Wilshire Boulevard and one on Merv Griffin Way.

“I look forward to seeing the project, as I’m sure the community as a whole does,” Beverly Hills Mayor Stephen Webb said. Vince Bertoni, the city’s acting community development director, said staff would carefully consider traffic and how to mitigate it.

Webb said that adding a hotel in place of the condo-hotel would increase city revenue through taxes levied on hotel stays.

When Oasis West Realty bought the Beverly Hilton from Merv Griffin in December 2003, the hotel was generating about $2.3 million in bed-tax revenue for the city. In 2006, after a major renovation, it generated nearly $5 million. If the Waldorf-Astoria is approved, the combined annual bed-tax revenue is likely to jump to $9 million in its first years of operation, Oasis West President Ted Kahan said.

Some critics said city officials weren’t thinking far enough ahead.

“There is no overall vision going on right now, none,” said Monique Kagan, a member of the California Country Club Homes Assn. traffic committee. “There’s no politician showing any backbone on this.”

Councilman Jack Weiss, who represents Century City, said he saw “positive nuggets here in what is essentially a renaissance of the location where Beverly Hills intersects Century City.” In particular, he said, Los Angeles and Beverly Hills could work together to secure a subway stop for that location, should the “subway to the sea” move beyond a dream.

Weiss said that plans to widen Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards could alleviate bottlenecks afflicting commuters at that intersection, one of the busiest in the region.

For Beverly Hills-based Hilton Hotels Corp., the project highlights a move to capitalize on the Waldorf-Astoria name. The company bought the hotel in 1949 and last year announced the creation of the Waldorf-Astoria Collection, a compilation of Hilton’s most elite hotels. Over the next several years, it plans on sprinkling Waldorf-Astorias around the world, starting with Orlando, Fla. The company has said it is also looking at China.

“We are bringing two great legends with a lot of history together,” Alagem said.

In New York, the hotel commands average rates of about $700 a night, a Hilton spokeswoman said, although rooms are available in the mid-$300s.

Hilton executives said they didn’t yet know what they would charge for hotel rooms or condos in the proposed Beverly Hills project. Once the plan is approved, the hotel would take two years to build, a company spokeswoman said.

At least one piece of Los Angeles history would probably fall by the wayside. The adjacent Trader Vic’s, the Polynesian-themed restaurant famous for its mai tais, would be torn down and replaced with the Waldorf-Astoria.

“That ‘50s creation of tiki is a diminishing resource,” said Laurie Dishman, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy, which is lobbying to save the restaurant. “We really need to protect what we have.”

Although negotiations are continuing with Trader Vic’s to transplant some of the favorite “pupus” to the new restaurant’s menu, Alagem said, “obviously we have to move with time.”

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kimi.yoshino@latimes.com

martha.groves@latimes.com


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