UPDATED, April 25, 2022, 7:14 a.m.: When André Balazs opened The Standard hotel in West Hollywood, residents were already familiar with the building. The property had been around for more than 30 years by then, first as a hotel, then as a retirement community.
Balazs brought it back as a hotel that defined a new sense of hip in the late 1990s, before the hotelier sold off stakes and began stepping away from the brand.
Now a couple of other hotel pioneers, also familiar with the hip boutique hotel scene, want to try their hands at reviving the 139-key modernist establishment at Sunset and Sweetzer.
And their biggest challenge might be some of the locals who have seen the property through its various phases and now want it to stay as is, even in the hands of a new owner.
The status quo has gotten a head start at the Standard hotel, which shut its doors during the pandemic, and is now being considered for historic preservation status by the City of West Hollywood. A vote set for next week will decide whether the old, three-story curved building will remain untouched or a new structure will rise on the Sunset Strip.
“It’s a nice example of Los Angeles’ modern architecture,” said Jaime Rummerfield, an interior designer who co-wrote the petition to landmark the building along with Steven Luftman, a historic conservation consultant. “To see that disappear would be a huge loss for the architecture community and the Sunset Strip.”
Hotel moguls Ian Schrager and Ed Scheetz are currently in a deal to buy the property and plan to re-open the hotel under a new brand, sources told TRD in March.
But the deal has not yet closed–and it’s unclear whether Scheetz and Schrager, who owns the Edition and Public hotel brands, count an ability to redevelop the property as essential to their plan.
Some more-than-casual observers consider changes to the existing building a prerequisite for any operator.
“In order to make the numbers work, a new owner would have to demolish it or substantially redevelop it,” Amar Lalvani, the executive chair and former CEO of Standard International, said.
Preserving the past
The property, located at 8300 Sunset Boulevard, was there before 1 Hotel, before The Mondrian, before the Andaz West Hollywood.
Built in 1962, the three-story structure, with its wave-shaped balconies shaped in an L around a pool, was designed by Herbery Kameon, a prominent Californian architect known for his mid-century modernist takes. It opened as the Thunderbird Hotel.
“It was one of 12 buildings in the 60s that was part of a wave to clean up the Strip,” Steven Luftman said. “It was the earliest and one of the few and that’s why it qualifies [for historic preservation status.]”
In the 1970s, the building became a retirement community, named the Golden Crest Hotel.
“[West Hollywood] was very much a retirement neighborhood then,” Kim Cooper, a historic preservationist and the founder of L.A. tour company and blog Esotouric, said. “Buses were great, the delis were great.”
Then came Andre Balazs. In 1999, the hotelier signed a deal to open the property as the first Standard Hotel, with financial help from Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz. The building had some competition — in the 1980s, the art deco Sunset Tower building at 8358 Sunset Boulevard opened as a luxury hotel called The St. James Club.
The Standard offered guests something different — a cheaper, less luxurious alternative, but still worthy of visits from Sex and The City’s fashion icon Carrie Bradshaw.
“It was the original boutique hotel,” Vanity Fair wrote last year. “You could eat adequate diner food 24 hours a day; you could float on a pink tube in the tiny pool…It was perfect at being comfortably mediocre.”
“It’s an old, quirky building,” Lalvani said. “When [The Standard] took it on, we preserved it and just did the interiors.”
Andre Balazs sold off ownership in Standard International and The Standard Hollywood between 2013 and 2017, when he eventually stepped down as CEO and Lalvani took the helm. Balazs kept a 20 percent stake in the business.
Throughout the changes, the property’s owner has remained the same: the Rittersbacher family. Randy Garitty, based in Oregon, now controls the property through a limited liability company called Rittersbacher Sunset.
In 2021, during the pandemic, The Standard shut its doors, after the leaseholder on the property, Ferrado Group, and Rittersbacher Sunset raised rents on the property.
“It didn’t make sense anymore,” Lalvani said. “It was impossible.”
Concurrently, Rummerfield started working on nominating the building for historic preservation status with the city, forming a group called Save Iconic Architecture.
“The property seemed vulnerable, it looked like it was given up on,” Rummerfield said. “It looked like it was going up for sale.”
Rittersbacher Sunset put the hotel up for sale in October and then secured a deal with Schrager and Scheetz.
The building’s fate
Lalvani said Standard considered making a bid for the property, but the asking price the firm was given was impossible to work with–– levels the numbers could not justify.”
It’s unclear how much Schrager and Scheetz have agreed to pay for the property.
“With a property of that size, you can only make so much profit,” Lalvani said. “To make more of a profit, you have to make it more luxury or build something with residences.”
Demolishing the property and building it up from scratch would be Schrager’s easiest option to make a profit.
Giving historic status on the building would add degrees of difficulty to a redevelopment. Any new owner would have to jump through more regulatory hoops to renovate the property. While historic preservation doesn’t limit what the property could be used for, new projects would have to go through more environmental reviews and a lengthier entitlement process.
That doesn’t mean a developer can’t go through with it. Plenty of historic, landmarked buildings have been torn down, but they have to go through a thorough environmental impact review before that can happen.
Any developer working with a landmark has to be sensitive to the original architecture, Luftman and Rummerfield said.
“Historic preservation doesn’t limit use,” he said, adding neither he nor any other historic conservationist is trying to say what the property should be. But, such a designation would limit physical changes.
“It’s adaptive reuse,” Rummerfield said. “You probably need a much taller, high-rise building, to make dollars work but you can incorporate that.”
Lalvani, as a hotel operator, sees a historic preservation designation as limiting.
“It would limit what they can do with the property,” he said.
SInce Schrager and Scheetz have yet to close their deal, they could still walk away if the City of West Hollywood complicates their plans with a historic preservation designation.
That would open the opportunity for The Standard to come back to the table.
“We love it, we would love to come back and make it a Standard,” Lalvani said. “The furniture is all still there.”