Renters Being Evicted from New Hollywood Skyscraper over Developer Misdeeds

Friday, March 20, 2015
5939 Sunset Boulevard (photo: Google maps)

Back in October, court watchers wondered how Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant’s decision to invalidate the permits for an already partially occupied Hollywood high-rise—built by developers who tore down the remains of a cherished 1924 building at the site—and its implied eviction of tenants, might translate in the real world, where that sort of thing doesn’t happen.

On Thursday, it happened.

The Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety notified CIM Group that the tenants in its 22-story apartment building (there are estimates of 40) at Sunset Boulevard and Gordon Street must vacate by April 19, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Nothing was ever disclosed by the landlord to the tenants,” Robert P. Silverstein, a lawyer representing a neighborhood association, told the Beverly Press last November. “They rushed to move tenants in. They basically used these innocent tenants as cannon fodder to try to interfere with the trial court entering judgment on CIM.”

The site, at 5939 Sunset, was originally home to the “last word” in automobile showroom design, built to sell Cleveland’s Peerless motor cars. “Visitors to the Spanish-style Peerless Showroom would arrive by way of a patio entrance framed by six massive columns,” according to the blog Paradise Leased. “Passing through the heavily carved Spanish doors, visitors would then enter a soaring two-story space anchored by a handsome fireplace. Heavy beamed ceilings soared overhead while the shiny Peerless cars reflected in the gleaming tile floors.”

The luxury vehicles were pacesetters in the early years of the 20th century, but by 1924 the company was already being infiltrated by Cadillac. It was gone two years after the Depression hit in 1929, but the building lived on.

5939 Sunset became the “Tango Game” parlor for a short while until the authorities shut it down. It had a brief existence as the Hollywood Auditorium, home to the one-time-only annual Hollywood food show with guest celebrities Carol Lombard, Cesar Romero and Pat O’Brien. But in 1934, the building was transformed into the KNX radio station. KNX moved a few blocks away four years later and theater impresario Max Reinhardt turned it into his workshop. The KMPC radio station took over in 1944 and stayed until 1968, when Gene Autry moved it across the street.

A nasty fire in 1970 did a lot of damage, but the building was repaired and reborn as the Old Spaghetti Factory in 1976.

The condition of the building was admittedly precarious when developers announced plans to tear it down and join the city’s effort to increase density in Hollywood by building tall residential and commercial structures. But negotiations with preservationists resulted in an agreement with the owners before CIM to refurbish the building and build the high-rise behind it.

CIM agreed to those conditions when it took up the project, but it was determined that the building couldn’t withstand restoration. Subsequent negotiations with lawyers for the La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Association, which opposed the high-density movement, resulted in a 2011 deal to preserve the building’s façade in exchange for parking variances that saved the developer millions of dollars.

The developer tore it down anyway with a demolition permit from the city and proceeded to build their high-rise, even as the judge made it clear they acted at their “own peril.” The developers fabricated a replica of the old building’s façade.

La Mirada sued to halt construction, but a judge said they should go argue with City Hall. They did. And in February 2014, the city Central Area Planning Commission ruled they were right, the demolition permit shouldn’t have been issued, but the building permits were valid and the project could continue.

Judge Chalfant disagreed with that. He invalidated the permits and told the developer to get a new environmental review. On Thursday, the city said tenants can’t stay in a building that lacks proper permits. An appeal might keep the tenants in their homes for at least awhile.

–Ken Broder


 To Learn More:

 L.A. Orders Tenants to Vacate Troubled Hollywood Building (by David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times)

How a Ragtag Coalition Stops Skyscrapers in Hollywood (by Jill Stewart and David Futch, LA Weekly)

Appeal Filed in Court Ruling on Sunset and Gordon Project (by Matt Sanderson, Beverly Press)

The Façade Is Gone, but the Legal Fight Continues (by Aaron Blevins, Beverly Press)

R.I.P. Old Old Spaghetti Factory Building 1924-2012 (by Steve Vaught, Paradise Leased)

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