OCEAN AVE — Famed architect Frank Gehry said Monday he realizes there are issues with his luxury hotel proposal for the corner of Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard that aren’t “trivial” and need to be considered seriously.
“I’ve lived in this town for a long time and want to do something special,” Gehry said during a meeting of the Architectural Review Board.
He called his design “porous and open.”
Gehry and his staff gave a preliminary review of the proposed hotel at 101 Santa Monica Blvd. to the board members, all of whom voiced support for the project. The 22-story luxury hotel, referred to as the “Ocean Avenue Project,” includes 125 hotel rooms and 22 condominiums as well as two stories of ground-floor restaurants and retail.
Developers have also planned a 36,000-square-foot art museum immediately north of the site that will incorporate two landmarked structures and a new museum building, also designed by Gehry. A three-floor, 460-space subterranean parking garage will fit underneath.
Gehry said the proposal tries to make a “sculptural relationship with the other buildings surrounding it.” He said the retail floor is not ready for prime time just yet.
M. David Paul Associates and the Worthe Real Estate Group have been planning the development for the past six years.
Development is a significant concern for many residents and city officials, who are in the process of setting guidelines for development in Downtown and near Bergamot Station. There are those who feel buildings should be restricted in height and scale to maintain Santa Monica’s character and preserve ocean views and sea breezes. Balancing that with the need to remain a vibrant city is the challenge for city planners.
Many of the buildings in Downtown fall within the two- to five-story range. That prompted designers to set the hotel’s main tower, which hits 244 feet, back from the street edge and create a two-story building at the base to prevent the ever-dreaded canyon feel and avoid problems with shadows.
Architects chose to go with a white material to play off of other prominent Santa Monica buildings, and attempted to marry an art deco feel with Gehry’s distinctive style. The finished product looks like the tall building is rippling in a stiff ocean breeze, like a sail.
Tensho Takemori, partner at Gehry Partners LLP, presented the board members with renderings of what the proposed hotel would look like. He also introduced the concept of an open-air atrium in relation to the museum campus to the board members.
Bob Bronstein, project manager with Worthe Real Estate Group, said Tuesday what the atrium would look like is still under development.
“The only thing we shared last night, in terms of change to the museum campus, was the introduction of an open-air atrium, which provided some communication to the lower floor where the exhibition space would be accessed,” Bronstein said. He added the design for the hotel proposal was “evolving.”
Board member Kevin Michael Daly, who endorsed the proposal, said he questioned the 135-foot height standard that’s being considered for the Downtown Specific Plan, which will dictate how land is used for decades. He said he thought it was a poorly considered height. He gave examples of cities like Vancouver, Canada that use height and carefully design buildings to enrich not only the structures themselves, but the areas around them.
“By any sort of conventional standards, this isn’t a tall building,” Daly said.
Board member Margaret Griffin said she wanted to go on the record to allow the building to go above the 135-foot height standard. She said it was a precedent setting project in the city.
“I think if this project was limited to 135 feet, you would lose the kind of lightness and openness at the base that you currently get, which is one of its greatest assets,” Griffin said. “A height limit would really do a disservice to the attributes we are being shown here tonight.”
Board Chair Lynn Robb said the fear of height doesn’t always correspond to the knowledge of the gains that can be made when intelligently utilizing height. She said if someone else with less imagination was utilizing the site, the proposed structure would just look massive.
“I want to see more Gehry-ness,” Robb said.