The old Dolly Varden hotel building can be converted into 141 new apartment units, the Cultural Heritage Commission said Tuesday night, so long as the historic sign and the building’s facade are kept in place.
Requiring the developers to keep the facade and the first 15 feet of the building’s entrance was a last-minute tweak the commission made Tuesday as it took the “difficult” vote to approve the hotel’s demolition.
The housing project could keep the Dolly Varden sign displayed on the third floor of the new building instead of on the rooftop deck on the eighth floor of the new development.
The move to require the developer to keep the facade, though, could endanger the proposed project that was slated to bring 16 affordable units to Downtown and 125 micro-units that the developer believes would also add to the city’s lower-priced housing stock because of their smaller size.
“I do think, at that point, it becomes a very different study, and we’d need to go back to the drawing board rather than keep the existing design,” Ryan Caldera, a senior project manager at Studio 111, told the commission about the new requirement.
The commission’s vote is appealable to the city’s Planning Commission.
Tuesday’s vote came over the objections of some community members including Long Beach Heritage, who said that the building should be saved from demolition and preserved for future generations.
The 93-year-old hotel was built near the corner of Fourth Street and Pacific Avenue in 1929 and survived the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, leading some advocates to say that the building should have been granted the same historic status as the “Bath in Every Room” sign on its rooftop.
The hotel’s sign was declared historic in 1995, but the building never received that designation from the city.
The project has been held up for two months because commissioners asked for the city to reassess the historical value of the building itself and for the developer to work with the artists who painted popular murals on the side of the hotel to contribute new pieces to the proposed project.
However, a consultant’s report presented to the commission in June said that the building did not qualify as historic in part because its Art Deco design was “very modest” and “almost undiscernible” when compared to other examples in the city, and the hotel’s original owner, Leland F. Dolley, who died in 1935, did not substantially contribute to the city’s architectural history.
The Varden Hotel was the only hotel built by Dolley before his death.
“I’m a huge fan of development, but I also do firmly believe that the sign will be out of context if there is not a fragment of the building remaining,” said Commissioner Amy Bodek, who proposed keeping the facade as a condition of the approval.
Bodek was the commissioner that requested the reexamination of the building’s historic status.
Some minor changes had been made to the outside of the proposed housing development before Tuesdays’s meeting, like placing the Dolly Varden sign at the southeastern corner of the roof deck to help improve its visibility.
There were also changes to the facade of the building to give a nod to the city’s Art Deco history and the creation of space in the ground floor lobby to display photos of the existing hotel.
A new space for murals has also been added to the north side of the development where Tristan Eaton, who painted the larger of the two murals on the outside of the Dolly Varden in 2015, has expressed interest in painting a new piece, according to correspondences with the developer.
James Jean, the artist who painted the smaller mural on the Dolly Varden, no longer paints murals but told Studio 111, the firm that designed the building, he might be interested in contributing a bronze sculpture.
Still, advocates were upset with Tuesday’s vote.
Louise Ivers, a member of Long Beach Heritage who has pushed for the building’s preservation, said Tuesday that the city would be losing a historic resource if the building is demolished.
“We don’t need anymore photographs put in a lobby of something that was demolished,” Ivers said of the plan to display photos of the hotel in the ground-floor lobby of the new development.
Studio 111 provided additional renderings showing what moving the sign down to the third floor would look like after requests from the public to display it at its current height were made in previous meetings. Lowering the sign to that level would have resulted in a loss of 12 units, according to the renderings.
Out of the 141 units that are currently planned to be included in the project, 16 units will be affordable due to the city’s inclusionary housing policy that requires 11% of new project units to be set aside for lower-income households.
But Caldera told the Post earlier this year that most of the units will be more affordable than others because they are going to be smaller micro-units with spaces ranging from 380 square feet to 440 square feet.
“It’s really based on ‘smaller unit, smaller price point,” Caldera said in May. “And it will allow us to introduce residents that might not be able to currently afford a unit Downtown.”
Caldera said after the vote Tuesday that his firm would have to strategize with the developer to see what they would do next, but the conditions approved by the commission could limit the underground parking planned for the development or force an entire redesign.