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Building owner says Dutton's stays

Billionaire says he would build a retail complex that includes the Brentwood shop in lieu of luxury condos.

July 06, 2007|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

Billionaire Charles T. Munger said Thursday that he has scrapped plans to build 60 luxury condos on San Vicente Boulevard in favor of erecting a two-story retail complex that would retain Dutton's Brentwood Books in a new and improved space.

"I was wrong," Munger said of his plans, made public in January, to build high-end residential units as part of a mixed-use development at the property just east of Bundy Drive. The idea sparked an uprising among residents and longtime fans of Dutton's, who feared the store's demise.

Munger, 83, said the neighborhood's staunch opposition to the project and concern for Dutton's prompted his change of heart.

"Bookstores are fragile," he said. "Jostle them slightly and they never reopen. The best thing is to make sure it never closes."

He said he plans to charge Dutton's "a very low rate" to help ensure its survival. The bookstore's new quarters would be built first, Munger said, with the rest of the project going up "in little segments" around it -- a method that he said would cost significantly more money.

Doug Dutton, the silver-haired owner of the bookshop, called Munger's new scheme a "blow for literature" that was "wonderful for the store" and "wonderful for the neighborhood."

The current building, home to Dutton's since 1984, is organized around a central courtyard that has been a popular neighborhood gathering spot and the setting for hundreds of book signings by the likes of Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood, Tom Wolfe and Carolyn See.

With its multi-room layout, ripped carpet and overflowing shelves, Dutton's is considered by many to be a city institution and one of the nation's great idiosyncratic bookstores.

A founder of the Los Angeles law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson, Munger partnered in 1978 with Warren E. Buffett to run Berkshire Hathaway Inc., a holding company. He had owned the San Vicente property with his brother-in-law, David Barry, but bought him out several months ago.

Munger said he plans to enter into a partnership with Jim Rosenfield, the lessee who has refurbished and reinvigorated the Brentwood Country Mart on 26th Street near San Vicente. Munger said they plan ample parking, including valet parking underground, and community-serving businesses such as a barbershop and hair salon. He envisions three open-air plazas with an abundance of greenery.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Brentwood, said that it was still early in the process and that Munger should continue to get input from residents and other San Vicente Boulevard merchants.

"It's a moving and evolving project," he said. "We'll see how it comes together."

Still unclear is what would happen to the effort of Diane Caughey, daughter of the late Milton Caughey, the building's architect, to have the structure declared a historic-cultural monument.

The Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission voted in May to follow a staff recommendation that the building warranted further investigation as a well-preserved example of mid-20th century California modern architecture.

Caughey contended that Munger was hoping his new plan would prompt her and her supporters to cancel a Thursday hearing before the commission. "If we did that," she said, "it would abort the whole process, and Munger would hold all the cards."

martha.groves@latimes.com

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