A months-long battle over whether the Dolly Varden Hotel will be demolished may have ended Thursday, after the Long Beach Planning Commission sided with a developer on their appeal to make way for a new eight-story housing development.

A developer is looking to knock the 93-year-old hotel down to make room for an eight-story, 141-unit apartment building with an underground parking garage. The residential project would also save the hotel’s historic rooftop sign and place it on top of the new building.

For months, questions over whether the three-story hotel and its sign should be preserved have prevented the project from moving forward.

The appeal was filed after the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission said in July that the project could move forward if the developer agreed to keep the first 12-15 feet of the existing building. But the project architect said that move would lead to the loss of units and parking, which would essentially kill the development.

“Overall, we were seeing it be about 39 units we’d lose for the project, which, again, makes the project not feasible,” said Ryan Caldera, a senior project manager with Studio 111, which designed the building.

A screenshot of a new rendering showing the Varden Hotel sign located farther south than the originally proposed placement of the historic sign. Photo courtesy of Studio 111

Commission chair Richard Lewis said he felt that the requirement to keep the first 15 feet of the building “felt like changing the rules midstream” on the developer; he then joined the rest of the body in supporting the appeal that will strip away that requirement.

The Planning Commission’s decision on the appeal is final, according to city officials.

The project had been stalled at the Cultural Heritage Commission because it needed to sign off on what would happen to the historic Dolly Varden sign atop the hotel, which was declared historic in 1995.

The hotel building, however, was never given the same designation, despite multiple assessments of its historic value; one presented to the Cultural Heritage Commission in June said the hotel was not historically significant.

The hotel survived the 1933 earthquake, and its neon sign boasting a “Bath in Every Room” has lit up Pacific Avenue for decades. Conservationists had pushed to preserve both, citing the Art Deco design and ties to important people in the city’s past.

The project requires demolition of the three-story hotel and removal of its historic rooftop sign, which will be refurbished and placed on the seventh-floor rooftop deck of the new residential building. Planning commissioners also approved the project’s entitlements Thursday night in a separate vote.

Before voting to approve the appeal Thursday, Commissioner Jane Templin suggested that a bronze plaque be placed outside the building’s lobby so passersby can learn about the sign’s historical significance.

Caldera and representatives from the development team did not oppose other conditions the Cultural Heritage Commission put on the project, such as moving the sign closer to Pacific Avenue so it’s more visible and reaching out to artists whose murals on the side of the Varden Hotel will be lost when the building is demolished.

Caldera also said Thursday that Tristan Eaton—the artist who painted the larger of the two murals on the Dolly Varden Hotel—is expected to create a new piece on the building’s northern side once construction is complete.

There are also plans to hang historic photos of the old hotel in the lobby of the residential building.

A new rendering of the proposed housing development that could replace the Dolly Varden Hotel with a space for a vertical mural at its northwest corner. Courtesy of Studio 111

The project should be the first to be completed under the city’s new micro-unit pilot program. Many of the rooms are “micro” units and all are smaller than typical Downtown floor plans, something that Caldera has said will provide a cheaper price point and potentially allow a new demographic to live in Downtown.

Sixteen of the units will be reserved for low-income households under the city’s inclusionary housing policy.


Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at jason@lbpost.com or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.