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Board Rejects Motel's Bid for Landmark Designation

August 20, 1987|JUDY PASTERNAK | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission on Wednesday rejected a request to designate the city-owned Sunspot motel a historic monument. The decision allows the city to remodel the 1938 building and paves the way for a project designed to halt a landslide in the canyon behind the motel.

A graduate student in architectural history had sought landmark status for the Sunspot because of its Streamline Moderne style and perfect fit against the walls of Potrero Canyon, across Pacific Coast Highway from Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades.

The Sunspot, which opened as Carl's Sea Air, was designed by two prominent architects of the day, Burton Alexander Schutt and A. Quincy Jones. It was one of the first motels to offer a full range of services--from restaurant to gas station to garage--for Americans beginning their love affair with the car and the open road.

Opposition to the request for landmark status came from the city Department of Parks and Recreation, which owns the motel, and City Councilman Marvin Braude, whose 11th District includes the Palisades. Both were concerned that a historic designation could delay or even doom the ambitious Potrero Canyon project, which is coming to fruition after 20 years of planning.

"Unfortunately, this motel is right in the path of the development," parks department planning officer Alonzo Carmichael told the heritage commission. The department plans to demolish the garages on the first floor of the motel's east wing to build a road for construction equipment into the canyon. The second floor would be relocated, the west wing remodeled and the restaurant reopened.

The heritage commission's unanimous decision against landmark status produced a predictable reaction from Braude aide Claire Rogger. "The word is pleased ," she said. "Now the project can go ahead."

Commissioners did not bring up the canyon project in their discussion, focusing instead on alterations to the building since the 1930s. "It has gone through a lot of changes over the years," said commission President Amarjit S. Marwah " . . . It's not of the quality that you should have in a historic-status building."

"The city is going to keep part of it," added Vice President Velma Marsh Taylor.

But Bradley Weidmaier, the UC Santa Barbara master's degree candidate who championed the Sunspot, said the east wing has been relatively unaltered over the years.

He told commissioners he hoped that the motel could be saved without sacrificing the canyon project. "The building is obviously not a first-rate landmark, but it is important in illustrating the evolution of the motel," he said. "A quality architect (Schutt) designed it and a protege (Jones) important in the history of California architecture assisted him."

A letter from Alan Hess, author of "Googie: Fifties Coffee Shop Architecture," also urged commissioners to grant the Sunspot historic status. "It is sometimes difficult to judge the importance of such recent popular architecture," he wrote. "But the attempt must be made if some of the buildings which illuminate the city's history in this period and enrich its streets today are to remain intact." The Los Angeles Conservancy, a preservationist group, also endorsed the designation.

Weidmaier said he plans to contact prominent architects, historians and preservationists in an attempt to save the building. He said he hopes to meet with the architect overseeing the remodeling of the motel and seek some compromise, though he added, "Now there's no reason to try to accommodate."

Once the east wing is changed, he said, "there's not going to be interest in designating it a landmark."

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