Urban Hotel Group wins appeal to redevelop Art Deco hotel in Long Beach

Urban Hotel Group has won a fight over whether it could bulldoze an Art Deco hotel topped by a landmark “Bath in Every Room” neon sign in Long Beach and replace it with 141 apartments

The Long Beach-based investment firm led by Charles Knowlton and Larry Black won its appeal to allow it to demolish the 94-year-old Dolly Varden Hotel at 335 Pacific Avenue, the Long Beach Post reported.

The Long Beach Planning Commission sided with the developer in the appeal filed after the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission said it must save the first 12 to 15 feet of the three-story hotel.

The project architect, Studio 111, had argued the change would lead to the loss of 39 units and parking, which would kill the development.

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.” He joined the commission in supporting the appeal to strip that requirement.

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

Plans call for an eight-story building with 141 studio and one-bedroom apartments, ranging from 380 to 770 square feet, with ground-level and underground parking for an unspecified number of cars

It would include a courtyard on the third floor, a rooftop deck and several recreation rooms, according to Urbanize Los Angeles.

Nearly 80 percent of the apartments would be micro-units, or small apartments approved by the Long Beach City Council last year for smaller infill sites. Sixteen units will be set aside as affordable for low-income households.

The hotel survived the 1933 earthquake, and its rooftop neon sign boasting a “Bath in Every Room” has lit up Pacific Avenue for decades, according to the Post. Conservationists had pushed to preserve both, citing the Art Deco design and ties to historic figures.

Knowlton and Black, through their Urban Hotel Group, bought the 35-room Dolly Varden Hotel in  2007 for an undisclosed sum, revamped it, then restored the red-and-blue sign in 2014. The sign, designated a historic landmark in 1995, will be preserved atop the new development.

While the Dolly Varden sign was deemed historic, the building wasn’t. A report by a city consultant found the hotel founder Leland Dolley, and the Art Deco building itself, did not play a central role in Long Beach history and didn’t qualify to be saved from redevelopment.

Ryan Caldera, a senior project manager with Studio 111, said that Tristan Eaton, the artist who painted the larger of the two murals on the Dolly Varden Hotel, is expected to create a new mural on the building’s northern side once construction is complete.

— Dana Bartholomew

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