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Compromise Reached Over Use of Neon Sign : Hollywood: The Church of Scientology agrees to put a 23-by-8-foot sign on a pole next to the Chateau Elysee hotel to quell neighbors' protests.

April 08, 1990|JOSH MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Church of Scientology has reached a compromise with some of its neighbors over a large neon sign it wants to install on its landmark Chateau Elysee hotel in Hollywood.

As a result, the 23-by-8-foot identification sign probably will be placed on a pole next to the hotel instead of on the roof of the 62-year-old building, as the church had been trying to do for at least three months.

That original proposal had prompted opposition from some city officials and neighbors, who said such a big, bright sign would create a "visual blight" and deface one of Hollywood's most distinguished buildings.

The Hollywood-based church uses the castle-like structure as a "celebrity center," a facility to house celebrities and church members from around the world when they visit Scientology headquarters. The sign, designed to read "Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International" would be visible from the Hollywood Freeway and other nearby streets.

The church agreed to the compromise at a hearing Wednesday before the city's Cultural Heritage Commission, after commission members said they would not approve the rooftop sign because of the building's status as a historic and cultural monument. The massive hotel at the corner of Franklin Avenue and Tamarind Street was built in 1928 to resemble an 18th-Century French castle. In its heyday it served as a home to such celebrities as Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart and Ginger Rogers.

During the hearing at City Hall, Dr. Amarjit Marwah, commission president, noted that the church had been told at an earlier hearing to find a compromise. After a church planning executive, Kirk Steele, said the church still favored the original rooftop sign, Marwah expressed his disapproval. He said he favored an artist's rendition showing the sign on a pole just behind the hotel, on the roof of an adjacent underground garage.

"This looks like a workable solution that would go through (the city approval process) very well," Marwah said. After Steele and a lawyer for the church balked, saying they would have to go back to the same city planners who had already given the sign their conditional approval, Marwah said: "I think the pole sign is the only one which seems feasible. I want to settle this today."

"The commission wants to make sure the historic fabric of the building is kept intact," Marwah told the church officials. "Your message will still be there, it just won't be such a loud message."

Rodney Punt, assistant general manager for the Cultural Heritage Commission, referred to the original sign as "McDonald's-like" because of its height, color and prominence on the building. The compromise, he said, "serves the purpose, but it's not so glaring."

The church officials finally agreed. The sign needs the approval of city planners, transportation engineers and building and safety officials, but Marwah said he would write to each department and urge them to support the compromise.

Shirley Young, president of the Church of Scientology's Los Angeles chapter, said: "It's a pleasure to bring this to a compromise that makes everybody happy."

Roe Estes, zoning chairman of the Hollywood Hills Improvement Assn., which claims more than 200 members, was one of two people at the hearing who opposed the sign. "We would be happiest with no sign whatsoever," Estes said afterward. "But I'm delighted they are not destroying the integrity of the chateau-esque building."

Other residents, as well as the 520-member Hollywoodland Homeowners Assn., also opposed the rooftop sign. But more than a dozen other neighbors wrote city officials in support of the church, saying it has spent millions to renovate the hotel and that they don't mind the sign.

The Scientology Church bought the hotel about 17 years ago, after it had been turned into a convalescent home and had fallen into disrepair.

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