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Gehry Building Delights Some, Gives Others Heartburn

At the first public meeting on the project, residents react to a 244-foot tall tower designed by Frank Gehry. It's proposed on Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard.

Residents said they feel "lucky," "delighted" and "thrilled" to have famed architect Frank Gehry designing a new building in Santa Monica, but not all are sold on his plans.

Gehry, the Santa Monica resident who designed the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, has drawn up plans commissioned by Worthe Real Estate Group for a 244-foot tall hotel and condo tower on Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard.

"I'm delighted that one of our own residents is designing the building," said Amy Aukstikalnis, a member of Northeast Neighbors. But, she said, the height is giving her neighbors heartburn.

At a community meeting Thursday night to get public feedback on the proposed project, property owner and developer Jeffrey Worthe tried to assure the approximately 50 people in attendance he would heed their concerns. He promised it would be the first of many such meetings.

"If the community doesn't want this, it's not going to happen," Worthe said in response to residents upset over the building's proposed height.

Some said they did not believe Worthe. Resident Ellen Hannan said other unwanted new development has been shoved down their throats.

If built to 244 feet, the Gehry tower would be one of the tallest buildings in Santa Monica. Two other mixed-use hotel high-rises are proposed on Ocean Avenue, and residents said they fear the projects will worsen gridlock.

"I live next to Whole Foods, and that screwed my life up a bit," Gehry quipped in response.

Others said they are worried about the loss of ocean views.

"I have concerns about the increasing Manhattan-ization, Miami Beach happening on the ocean front," said resident Liz Bell. "I'm mainly concerned about the loss of ocean breezes, but that doesn't look like a problem here."

Like a couple of other speakers, Bell said she liked the skinniness of the building. It's proposed to take up about 12 percent of the 1.9-acre site.

"It's a very slender, delicate building," said resident Christian Schultz, a designer who has apparently worked with Gehry. "I'm excited to see what comes forth."

The height limit downtown is currently four stories, but the city is updating the requirement in a new Downtown Specific Plan. The plan, which is still in a draft phase, identifies seven "opportunity sites"—the Gehry building among them—that can exceed the codes if they offer a number of so-called community benefits, such as public artwork and parking, in exchange.

Gehry said his firm created about 30 models of the building using Worthe's requirements that it contain 125 hotel rooms, 22 condominiums, ground-floor shops and restaurants and public green space. The design plan submitted to the city incorporates a three-building museum and exhibition campus to the north.

Being able to keep the museum and open space while retaining 125 hotel rooms—the minimum number he said he needs to make the project profitible—are what's driving the height, Worthe said. With the museum, especially, the height is "essential," he said.

Aukstikalnis asked Gehry to show the different models to the public at future meetings. "It would be interesting to see some of the lower models you said you have explored," she said

"It's pretty difficult to do something special with [a lower] profile," Gehry said.  "I've been here since '72 no one has come to me to do a lower building that's architecturally significant."

The design is still a work in progress, Gehry said. "Believe me, it will get more sculptural and more nice as we go along."

j pena March 23, 2013 at 03:31 PM
This 22 foot building goes AGAINST the character of our city. No matter how many wavy angles they try to sell us it's another step towards the Miami-ization of our city. Just where do they plan to direct the traffic? There's only one freeway and already congested streets due to the new mall (none of us go there and none of us will go to Gehry's fancy spot either, it will be unaffordable).
Paul Rich March 23, 2013 at 06:53 PM
I'm empathetic to valid public concerns yet hopeful a compromise can be reached. My sense from the Worthe-Gehry collaboration is there was a sincere effort for their plan to blend in and harmonize with Santa Monica sensibilities in both the ergonomic and aesthetic sense. Believe me, I'm not gullible and can be just as dubious and cynical as the next guy. As far as developers go, it could be a lot worse and I don't want to scare Gehry away as the dream remains among myself and many others that he could be cajoled into redesigning the Santa Monica civic auditorium. Perhaps Mr. Worthe could apply his business acumen to THAT project after convincing us cars will be able to get from Lincoln Blvd. to Ocean Avenue during rush hour in less than 20 minutes when the hotel is done?
suzan green March 26, 2013 at 06:17 PM
...design PHASE - not "faze"
Greg Fry March 28, 2013 at 05:16 AM
Paul, you refer to this proposed development as a fait accompli, or at the very least as what you consider to be the best option in inexorable and unstoppable development alternatives. What of a much more sensible option: say "no" to ANY and ALL development proposals that would Manhattanize Santa Monica, and to insist that local government respect this will of its constituents or be ousted!

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