Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Photo Essay: It's Déjà Vu for Hollywood's Most Famous Imperiled Intersection

Paradise was already paved once. And they're trying to do it again.

Circa 1927 (Photo: Los Angeles Public Library Images)

At the intersection of Sunset and Crescent Heights, there once stood the 1913 estate formerly known as Hayvenhurst (named after real estate developer William H. Hay), later renamed the Garden of Alla for actress Alla Nazimova, and finally known as the Garden of Allah Hotel, the so-called "playground to the stars."

Photo: Julius Shulman, 1960 (© J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10))

That is, until banker Bart Lytton bought the place, and demolished the Old Hollywood estate in 1959 to build the flagship branch of his Lytton Savings & Loan in its place.

And now, somebody else is trying to tear down the former Lytton Savings building (subsequently Great Western Savings, now Chase Bank) for the next big thing: a mixed-use behemoth designed by architect Frank Gehry.

Is this intersection cursed, or what? Maybe it's divine retribution, or karma, or just a matter of what goes around comes around. But just as we're starting to learn to cherish the bank building with the zig-zag roof, it seems as though we're about to lose it.

This 1960 Kurt Meyer-designed structure with the accordion-style roof (just recently approved as a landmark) is an early example of the modern architecture that typified bank buildings in the post-WWII era.

But that doesn't mean it's safe. We've lost other Googie facades in recent years.

It doesn't feel very modern anymore. Well, not Frank Gehry modern, anyway.

It doesn't really tell the story of the "Sunset Strip," which it's located at the eastern edge of.

And Chase banks are so prevalent on a national level that maybe it's hard to imagine any Chase Bank being historic...

...except for the fact that many of today's Chase Bank locations in Southern California actually are architecturally, culturally, and historically significant sites (most of them former Home Savings and Loan branches) featuring murals and mosaics by Millard Sheets, sculptures, stained glass, and other public art.

I actually wasn't much interested in this Chase Bank—despite it being in my neighborhood—until I found out that there was some art glass by Roger Darricarrere inside.

Up to this point, I'd only seen his dalle-de-verre artwork in ecclesiastical settings.

But since some people treat money like religion and banks like their church, I guess it's fitting.

In this case, the "chunks" of colored glass are embedded in lots of concrete rather than lead...

...creating a three-dimensional wall mural that actually wraps around the rear of the main lobby, now tucked behind some cubicles.

Since it's not a window but more of a screen, it's artificially lit from the inside—but only part of it.

But with daylight streaming through the glass walls that face Sunset Boulevard, you can see the tell-tale marks of the glass having been hammered and cleaved...

...and, of course, the bubbles often found in the craftsman's faceted glass works.

The screen stands eight feet tall and 50 feet wide, which is pretty monumental for Darricarrere's first commercial commission. Up close, the concrete is reminiscent of the textile block designs of Frank Lloyd Wright (and, later, Lloyd Wright).

Above it, the folded plate roof design is reflected in the ceiling, each zig and zag illuminated more loyally than the pieces of glass in the screen.

I'd like to think that if the Sunset Strip Chase Bank does get approved for demolition, the faceted glass screen will be saved and relocated somewhere that people can still see it.

But when we've lost buildings containing a monumental Darricarrere glass work in the past, it ended up at public auction—and then on eBay.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Lighting the World, One Window at a Time
Photo Essay: The Monastic Life at St. Andrew's Abbey
Photo Essay: The Lighted Windows of La Cañada Congregational Church
Dear Los Angeles, from Frank Gehry

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