LONG BEACH — Despite years of efforts to save one of the city's most historic buildings, the Planning Commission has approved demolition of the Pacific Coast Club to make way for a $40-million high-rise condominium complex.
Despite the action, the fortress-like, 61-year-old structure still has a faint chance of winning a last-minute reprieve.
The owner of the shuttered Ocean Boulevard landmark said he is giving preservationist groups until Oct. 28 to present ideas for a development that would retain portions of the existing building.
"I'm anxiously awaiting the completion of their work," said owner Robert R. Bellevue of Burlingame, Calif. "I really hope they can come up with some way of saving the club."
If those efforts fail, the Planning Commission's unanimous approval Thursday will give Bellevue the option of clearing the beach-bluff site for construction of a 16-story, 187-unit condominium tower. The decision opens the site for development unless an appeal is filed with the City Council and the state Coastal Commission.
City Planning Director Robert Paternoster called the vote an important decision that takes the long-delayed development of the site "one step closer."
Opened in the 1920s, the Coast Club was once a gathering place for the city's elite. Outside, it resembles a castle with towers and parapets. Inside its arched entranceway, the club featured high, oak-beamed ceilings, huge fireplaces and massive chandeliers in its main meeting and dining rooms.
Listed as a landmark by both the city and the U. S. Department of the Interior, the deteriorating building was closed in 1970 and found to be in such poor condition that inspectors condemned it three years ago.
The Planning Department staff recommended approval of the condominium project. The latest plans also appear to allay some concerns voiced by the City Council when it rejected Bellevue's initial proposal in May.
At that time, Bellevue wanted to build a $50-million hotel complex that would have saved some of the club's main rooms. Council members, backed by strong community opposition, voted 5 to 3 against it.
Council members complained that the 405,000-square-foot project was too large for the 1.55-acre site and that it would have infringed on the public beach and spoiled the ocean views of Villa Riviera residents next door.
The revised tower would block fewer views. It would be terraced down the slope of the bluff but would not extend onto the beach farther than the existing building.
The design would be traditional rather than modern, to blend with the architecture of the Villa Riviera, according to drawings presented by Bellevue.
Joy Melton, a Villa Riviera resident who was one of the leaders of a petition drive to stop the original proposal, said the new plan is an improvement.
"This is a new design," Melton said. "One thing I liked is that the architecture is similar to the Villa Riviera." She said the plan is "much more sensitive to the needs of the community."
The Planning Department report recommended that the new high-rise should be "strengthened by attractive architectural design and by high-quality building materials such as stone or granite" because of its prominent location.
While Bellevue endorsed the preservationists' effort, he said the city manager has already concluded that it would be difficult to save the club building without "substantial public assistance."
"Nothing I've heard is particularily encouraging," he said.
After the council vote, Bellevue said he was glad the project had been approved, but also saddened "because you think what could have been with the other proposal."
Leon Sugarman, a San Francisco-based architect hired by the preservationist coalition, said he expects to present preliminary findings this week on how portions of the club might be saved for use as a hotel, offices or housing.
"I think it's going to be very tough. It's a very interesting and nice building, but it's going to be hard to make the economics work," Sugarman said.
Although Renee Simon of the Coalition to Preserve Historic Long Beach expressed confidence that an economically viable use of the building can be found, she said: "If we can't develop any ideas, I don't know what can be done."