Going, going, gone: another gem from LA’s commercial modern heyday: the Friars Club in Beverly Hills. LA Conservancy, which has lead the charge to preserve 1960s Modern architecture, sent the following release:
Demolition is under way at the 1961 Friars Club building at 9900 Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills, signifying the continued erosion of Greater L.A.’s legacy of 1960s architecture and underscoring the need for stronger local preservation protections.
“Unfortunately, many people don’t yet understand why a building like this is worth saving,” said Adrian Scott Fine, director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy. “This is an important building by an important architect, and it will very soon be lost to us forever. We need to recognize and protect significant designs from our recent past now, so that they’re not all gone by the time they’re universally accepted.”
According to the City of Beverly Hills Community Development Department, the owner is demolishing the building with no imminent plans for a replacement project. The city’s review power over the Friars Club property extends only to a new project that would replace the building, not to the demolition of the building itself.
The City of Beverly Hills is one of many in Los Angeles County that has no protections for its historic resources. Although interest in preservation in the city has increased in recent years, it continues to lose significant historic resources, including the 1951 Shusett residence designed by legendary architect John Lautner (demolished in September 2010).
The Friars Club building was included in a 2006 survey of commercial structures in Beverly Hills. The survey identified the building as being eligible for listing in the California Register of Historical Resources for its association with the Friars Club, as well as its architectural significance as “a good intact example of the work of a master architect, Sidney Eisenshtat.”
Sidney Eisenshtat (1914-2005) was a prominent Los Angeles-based architect whose notable designs included schools, community centers, bank buildings, and synagogues. He was internationally recognized for his development of synagogue architecture; some of his innovative designs include Temple Emmanuel in Beverly Hills and Sinai Temple in Westwood.
Eisenshtat’s designs were often characterized by dramatically oversized interior rooms and exterior walls typically made of thin-slab concrete or brick. The Friars Club building is no exception, with an innovative modernist design that was — and perhaps still is — ahead of its time. The structure became the new home of the New York Friars Club annex established by Milton Berle in 1947. It closed its doors in 2008, after last operating as Club 9900.
The Los Angeles area has lost a number of important structures from the 1960s, from luxury homes and commercial buildings to public libraries and one of the region’s last single-screen drive-in theatres. The Los Angeles Conservancy’s 2009-2010 initiative, The Sixties Turn 50, highlighted the region’s rich 1960s heritage and the need to preserve our most important examples before it’s too late.
The loss of the Friars Club building also underscores the need for stronger preservation laws at the local level. Los Angeles County encompasses eighty-eight cities plus the unincorporated county government. In preparing its 2008 Countywide Preservation Report Card, the Conservancy found that more than a third of these jurisdictions have no preservation protections for their historic resources. The Conservancy offers technical assistance to local governments who wish to strengthen their preservation policies.
The Los Angeles Conservancy is a nonprofit membership organization that works through education and advocacy to recognize, preserve, and revitalize the historic architectural and cultural resources of Los Angeles County. What began as a volunteer group in 1978 now has more than 6,000 members, making the Conservancy the largest local organization of its kind in the U.S. For more information, visit laconservancy.org.
Photo of Friars Club building c. 2006 courtesy of ICF International