Frank Gehry says this 1960s structure has lost its reason for being, but it’s causing a stir on Sunset Boulevard
Nearly everyone, it seems, has an opinion about Lytton Savings, a midcentury modern building on Sunset Boulevard facing demolition.
Known for its white, zigzag roof, the 1960s bank is set to be torn down to make way for a Frank Gehry-designed mixed-use project, prompting questions about how, and whether, to protect the architecturally significant building.
A Los Angeles city councilman wants to save the bank by relocating it.
A preservation group wants Gehry to design his gleaming, new complex around the existing structure.
Gehry himself has no love for the bank. The decades-old building “has lost its raison d’etre,” or reason for being, the architect wrote in a letter to city leaders in October.
The future of Lytton Savings is unclear as developer Townscape Partners moves forward with a sweeping remake of the corner of Crescent Heights and Sunset boulevards.
The Los Angeles City Council last month backed Townscape’s plans for the Gehry-designed complex of five buildings, including two residential towers.
The council’s vote cleared the way for demolition of Lytton Savings, a notable example of postwar bank architecture in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Conservancy.
Currently occupied by a Chase bank branch, the building is an early work of architect Kurt Meyer, who designed the bank as the executive headquarters for Lytton Savings and Loan Assn.
A city report cites the bank’s “Googie and New Formalism stylistic influences” and notes its “glass walls, travertine cladding, concrete columns, and zigzag, folded plate roof.”
Today, the bank shares the corner with a mini-mall crowded with an El Pollo Loco, McDonald’s, foot-massage spa and other restaurants and stores.
Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu, who represents this section of Hollywood, supported the Gehry project instead of pushing to save the bank, disappointing the conservancy.
However, Ryu and the City Council declared the bank a historic-cultural monument last week. The move doesn’t save the building from demolition, but it delays destruction so the city can study preservation solutions.
Gehry indicated he’d leave the project if he was forced to incorporate the existing building into his design, Ryu spokesman Estevan Montemayor said, and the councilman wants the famed architect to design the complex.
But Ryu is committed to seeing the building relocated, Montemayor added.
Moving the two-story concrete building can be done, but likely will cost at least $1 million, said Melvyn Green, a Torrance-based structural engineer who specializes in relocating architecturally significant buildings.
“There just has to be a tough, determined person to do it,” Green said.
Adrian Scott Fine, director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy, said his group isn’t optimistic about the bank being relocated, because such outcomes are rare.
“We would always prefer a building stay where it is, and in this case, that’s infinitely possible,” Fine said.
The conservancy sued the city this month, alleging it failed to consider preserving Lytton Savings at its existing site. At least two other lawsuits have also been filed against the city over the Townscape project.
A press release from Townscape Partners describes the new Gehry complex as a collection of residences connected with restaurants, gardens and a central plaza.
Townscape Partners declined to be interviewed. But the development company intends to push ahead with Gehry’s design while it also conducts a feasibility study on moving the bank, said company spokesman Brian Lewis.
South Carthay resident Steven Luftman co-founded Friends of Lytton Savings, the group that nominated the building for its historic-cultural monument status.
Luftman, who grew up in Laurel Canyon, opened his first bank account at Lytton Savings when he was 5 and remembers seeing the bank’s high ceilings and zigzag roof.
He wants the bank incorporated into Gehry’s development.
“This is a building that had a big effect on me, on my appreciation for architecture,” said Luftman, who now works as a freelance art director.
Gehry’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. But in his letter dated Oct. 24 to the City Council, he said designing around the bank wouldn’t work.
He also seemed to suggest the council shouldn’t get sentimental about Lytton Savings.
“As a practicing architect for all of these years, I have encountered the wrecking ball on a few of my buildings,” Gehry wrote. “Each time, I was asked to protest, to fight the demolition of these buildings. I declined because it was clear to me that time had passed and the people behind the demolishing were interested in creating new buildings for a new generation of activities.”
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