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Saving Lytton Savings, a mid-century modern masterpiece

by John Rabe | Off-Ramp®

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An early photo of Lytton Savings on Sunset and Crescent Heights in Hollywood. Photograph by Julius Shulman © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles

"You look at this building and see what people saw as the future of Los Angeles in the 1950s."

-- Linda Dishman, LA Conservancy

A building that represents a vision of Los Angeles is being threatened by the wrecking ball.

It's the 1960 Lytton Savings building, on Sunset Blvd at Crescent Heights ... as LA Magazine's Chris Nichols puts it, at the Gateway to the Sunset Strip: "For more than 50 years, this zigzag roofed, glass-walled wonder has been here. It was a cultural center, an art museum before LACMA, a gallery, a theater, and the home of the eccentric Bart Lytton, who created this really unusual place to save money."

"One of the reasons that Lytton Savings is so significant," says Linda Dishman, head of the LA Conservancy, "is because it tells the story of Los Angeles in two ways. One is the architecture. It's Mid-Century Modern; everyone loves the zigzag roof. And second is tells the story of the development of Southern California post-war, because these savings and loans funded all the residential homes throughout this town and the Valley."

Lytton Savings, at it appears today
Lytton Savings, at it appears today Hunter Kerhart/Courtesy Los Angeles Conservancy

The 8150 Sunset Boulevard Project threatens Lytton Savings. It'd be a two-towered, mixed-use development. Dishman says at first the developers wanted to incorporate the old building into the new. But then Frank Gehry's architecture firm got involved, and that idea hit the dirt.

The building got some help when the LA City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to give Lytton Savings Historic-Cultural Monument status, which was championed by the Friends of Lytton Savings. And while that's an important accomplishment, delaying demolition, Dishman says, for up to one year, the Conservancy has also taken the city to court for its support of the 8150 Sunset Boulevard Project:

While Lytton Savings is significant in and of itself, the litigation is about more than the building. We need to hold government accountable for following the law ... The environmental impact report acknowledged Lytton Savings as a qualified historical resource. The EIR identified two feasible preservation alternatives allowing Lytton Savings to be incorporated into the project. Under CEQA, a project must avoid significant impacts such as the demolition of a historical resource if the fundamental project objectives can be met without demolition. Nonetheless, the Los Angeles City Council approved the project that, as designed by architect Frank Gehry, calls for the needless demolition of Lytton Savings. -- LA Conservancy

Listen to the audio to hear what cool electronic devices were in the office of Bart Lytton, whose story has a sad ending:

Lytton incorporated artwork throughout his buildings and became a cultural leader, helping lead the effort to build a Hollywood Museum and working to save Irving Gill’s Dodge house in West Hollywood. He showcased emerging artists and filmmakers at his Lytton Center for the Visual Arts, including female artists who were shunned by many other galleries at the time. Lytton spent just over a decade in banking before his empire collapsed and he suffered a heart attack at age 56. -- Chris Nichols, LA Magazine

Original caption for this 1965 photo: "Dig That Money - In a most appropriate gesture, one of the first men to turn a shovel of dirt on the site of the new Lytton Savings and Loan Association yesterday at ground-breaking ceremonies in Canoga Park was Bart Lytton, left, board chairman of the association. Helping Lytton were Francis Lederer, center, honorary mayor of Canoga Park, and Warren M. Dorn, Los Angeles County Supervisor."
Original caption for this 1965 photo: "Dig That Money - In a most appropriate gesture, one of the first men to turn a shovel of dirt on the site of the new Lytton Savings and Loan Association yesterday at ground-breaking ceremonies in Canoga Park was Bart Lytton, left, board chairman of the association. Helping Lytton were Francis Lederer, center, honorary mayor of Canoga Park, and Warren M. Dorn, Los Angeles County Supervisor." LA Public Library/
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