ERIC PREVEN’S NOTEBOOK - If John Steinbeck the author of The Grapes of Wrath were alive and you told him that the modern-day Tom Joads are Studio City residents being fucked over by New York and Chicago philanthropists who are giving so much to so many, he’d pull up a chair and listen.
“I'm right here to tell you, mister: There ain't nobody gonna push me off my land! My grandpa took up this land 70 years ago! My pa was born here. We was all born on it! And some of us was killed on it! And some of us died on it. That's what makes it our'n. Being born on it... ...and working on it... ...and dying. Dying on it! And not no piece of paper with writing on it.”
Millionaires getting screwed by billionaires, a classic American Saga.
I'm a longtime Studio City resident who has always double-checked the fine print before I lend my support or opposition to any of our local philanthropists and their endless good works.
Philanthropy is critical to our system, but the people have to keep an eye on the ball… and them greedy philanthropists, they didn’t get to be philanthropists by dealing everyone a fair hand.
They play to win, like all of the big-time winners from the Ducks, Kings, Angels, Dodgers, Chargers, Rams Clippers, Lakers Galaxy, LAFC, Angel City FC etc. who contribute to the Los Angeles Sports Industrial Complex.
And yes, the UCLA Bruins and USC Trojans too, who screwed the Pac 12, and YES, the vaunted 2023 champions of the CIF Basketball the Harvard-Westlake Wolverines, too. Proud of you.
Disclosure: I am a Michigan Wolverine and quite annoyed with UCLA and USC for their craven abnegation and willingness to go for money. Why couldn’t one of their goddamned philanthropists cover any gap they may have had? Now, the whole PAC 12 division is in jeopardy.
Still, thank you to all of the Givers who do take the time to think about the impacts created by the enormous resources they push out into the community… with and without bulldozers.
And thank you for the diligent work being done here, in Studio City, as the residents find themselves surrounded by well-intentioned philanthropists.
Philanthropists, who intend to go big or go home ... with their bulldozers.
A Smaller Appetite:
Every morning I would drive down Ventura Boulevard from Carpenter Avenue to The Sportsmen’s Lodge in my bathing suit.
This was back when there was water and a path to homeownership, so I had moved off of Arch Drive at Vineland and Ventura into a small house in the hills above Carpenter Avenue school.
Each and every day, I would drive to the Sportsmen's lodge wearing my bathing suit, slip in the side entrance and take a short swim. Rather than fussing around about changing clothes, I would just hop in the car, drive 300 feet to Belwood Bakery, and still dripping gather the blueberry bran muffin, warm ham and cheese croissant, pain au chocolat, almond croissants…
There was an African American plant engineer who worked at the Lodge after a career driving a bus. He was about 55 years old, and the man was fit as a fiddle and ran marathons. To me, he looked like a movie star.
We would always smile and wave, and one day he came up to the side of the pool, after checking the chemicals or something and motioned me over. .
"You know, Mr. Preven, you are an excellent swimmer.”
I thanked him.
“But you know, diet is half the struggle.”
Doh. I smiled and registered his note.
I thought, he must know something, I thought.
The following week, we were devastated to learn that the building engineer had died of a sudden heart attack.
RIP. You only live once, so I urge you to have a ham and cheese croissant!
Lemberg, get in here!
Of course, there are going to be legal fights when you have a land use disagreement. But when you are dealing with the legacy of a Russian-speaking immigrant jew who arrived in 1917 and who reportedly told his grandson at one point, that he went on to make more money in three days than he'd made in the last nine months, there might be some wiggle room.
That man was Samuel Lemberg and his philosophy, recalled by John Usdan, his loving and respectful grandson, who made a killing buying up Hells Kitchen in New York at the right time and currently runs Midwood the company that has been circling the Sportsmen’s hotel with a plan to knock it down and put up a giant... bait and switch.
Lemberg apparently told Usdan that he, "always told my customers the negative aspects of what they are looking at... if I told them all of the bad things, and they still wanted it, then they were a good buyer.”
The grandson explained his grandfather "...wanted to gain their trust... and he felt that telling them about all the good things would not accomplish that."
Hmmm, the Midwood sales presentation for the Sportsmen’s project sounded pretty darn upbeat on July 27th when it sailed through yet another Planning Commission meeting. There are still more approvals needed...
...and there was plenty of negativity in the room coming from what appeared to be smart local residents and business owners who feel that they were sold a remodel of the midcentury hotel, but instead are getting a giant residential structure that is bigger than the largest IKEA in America. “It's like being told you were getting a little red wagon and then it turns out you are getting a big red firetruck.”
We only have room for the wagon.
The indigenous people that includes the many new businesses that are up and running at the luxury mall, Unite Here Local 11 want the hotel to come back.
The cool people, think it could be the coolest hotel in the Valley. Nobody is excited about a massive underground parking structure with an 'open space' grant to the public consisting of the space between apartment buildings. This is very shady.
Mr. Usdan, who runs Midwood should consider what his grandfather would do, reach out, and look into the hotel plan. The first tip is free.
He seems smart and kind of familiar. Not like an imperious offshore billionaire from a cartoon about evil developers. He went to Wesleyan and told one story about his grandfather, contemplating a move to Manhattan from Brooklyn, despite his wife cautioning him that in Brooklyn, "you are a big fish in a small pond, in Manhattan, you'll be a small fish in a big pond.”
The grandfather moved to Manhattan anyway and the grandson decided, "I don't want to manage buildings. I want to learn how to invest.”
He began to look “for ways to acquire development rights and make a return, so that if I ever acquired the organization or expertise..."
Introducing the Sportsmen’s Lodge Bait and Switch.
Caution: These waters are deep. Even fully approved projects that come to the adorable little town by the Zev Greenway can end up dead in the water. Ask Richard Weintraub, a buddy of Eric Garcetti’s who called the people of Studio City the most annoying people in the world. tk.
Pritzker, Get in here!
The Pritzker family certainly gets some credit for delivering President Barack O'Bama to the White House and has had an enormous impact on our nation's most corrupted cities, Chicago and Los Angeles, through their ambitious philanthropy.
And now the rumor is that Anthony Pritzker is going to provide over $100 million dollars to bulldoze the indigenous tree-loving people right off our last remaining golf and tennis in Studio City.
He’s a billionaire board member who serves on the Board of Trustees at LACMA, The Hammer Museum and Harvard Westlake School. He also serves on the Board of Governors for Heal The Bay and the Board of Directors of Foster Care Counts (his wife's not-for-profit).
And … if you think he’s crazy to go into Studio City with a bulldozer, don't cry for Pritzker, in 2020 UCLA Psychology received $30 million from the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation to support a major renovation of the Psychology Tower on the UCLA campus.
Some say we could use a psychology tower in Studio City, but what we don’t need is another stadium or arena in our wide open space. We have a team of environmentalists... who have explained ... but what do you know...
The Pritzker Family Foundation has given many financial gifts to UCLA over the years, including $15 million to the university's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.
And they also award $100,000, annually to a scientist, entrepreneur, engineer, activist or artist—under the age of 40—who stands poised to make a game-changing difference.
The winner will be able to keep the prize or have the prize sent to the non-profit or for-profit business of their choice. Funds for the award are made possible as part of a $20 million gift to UCLA from the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation.
What about Governor Pritzker of Illinois, not to be confused with his sister, Penny, the former Secretary of Commerce?
Penny made a $100 million gift in support of the Department of Economics at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard. Her gift will help create a new home for the department and bolster its global impact by enabling faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates to pursue dynamic new approaches to teaching, research, and collaboration within the department and across the university.
One wonders, will the Department of Economics be opened to the public?
Studio City is getting a giant athletic complex dba the River Park in one of our last open spaces and we don't want it, and it is not really going to be open to the public. And, if we are brutally honest, we wouldn’t mind keeping the classy and iconic mid-century modern hotel intact.
As for Governor Pritzker, he said Illinois had the “highest-ever hotel revenue numbers. More tourism means millions of new visitors exploring all the amazing things that our state and city have to offer – supporting small businesses and local economies along the way.”
Maybe Mayor Karen Bass will link arms with the Pritzkers and #SaveStudioCity. Time will tell.
Or, one wonders if John Usdan might agree to sell or manage the Sportsmen’s Hotel, if it were renovated and operated by Hyatt!
A Legacy of Getting It Wrong!
Jay Pritzker, who started the Hyatt hotel chain, was a soft-spoken man who detested conspicuous consumption and who feared the effect of too much wealth on individuals and on society. Although he lived well, the man did not live luxuriously. He reportedly never had bodyguards, nor did his son Robert, who always flew coach.
A person who knew Jay and commented in a Vanity Fair profile said, “Once, I heard Jay on the speakerphone with a guy who was screaming at him, You asshole. You destroyed me.' And Jay said—very quietly—I'm sorry you feel that way.’”
He founded the Pritzker Architecture Prize with his wife, Cindy. The prize takes its name from the Pritzker family, whose international business interests are headquartered in Chicago.
Their name is synonymous with Hyatt Hotels located throughout the world. The Pritzkers have long been known for their support of educational, scientific, medical, and cultural activities.
And coming soon... high school athletics.
Many of the procedures and rewards of the Pritzker Prize are modeled after the Nobel Prize. Laureates of the Pritzker Architecture Prize receive a $100,000 grant, a formal citation certificate, and a bronze medallion.
The very first Pritzker Prize went to Philip Johnson in 1979. The Glass house architect.
Disclosure: I live in an RM Schindler-designed house (1945). There is a famous story about Philip Johnson, who curated the seminal exhibition ‘Modern Architecture: International Exhibit of 1932. The exhibition was intended to introduce the Modern Movement in America, and included work by such stars, as Le Corbusier, Mies, Gropius, Oud, and several Americans.
Schindler was famously not included by Johnson. Left off the speaker list.
Schindler's accomplishments however speak for themselves.
As for Johnson, who passed away in 2005, it was recently revealed that he (2016) had nazi sympathies.
The Biggest is Biggest:
Not sure about Anthony Pritzker, one of several heirs to the Hyatt Hotel fortune. This particular Pritzker quietly acquired some land through an LLC in the early 2000s and eventually brought forward the… The Pritzker Estate, an enormous mansion that was built between 2005 and 2011 in the exclusive Beverly Crest neighborhood.
The gargantuan home has been dubbed the "Grand Hyatt Bel Air" by disapproving neighbors, in reference to its extraordinary size.
Pritzker got a nasty fight from the LA Conservancy, as well, but eventually prevailed and got r done.
The main house at 1261 Angelo Drive features 49,300 square feet (4,580 m2) of living space and at least 5,110 square feet (475 m2) in additional structures. Ancillary buildings include a guest house of 3,335 square feet (309.8 m2), a pool house of 525 square feet (48.8 m2), and living quarters of 1,250 square feet (116 m2) for the caretakers and full-time professional staff. The home has two underground levels including a game room, a two-lane bowling alley, an entertainment foyer with a bar, and his and hers offices. The two levels above ground include a library, a fitness room, a gymnasium with an attached locker room, a spa, a beauty salon, and a restaurant-sized kitchen.
The property features geothermal heating and cooling, energy-efficient lighting, climate control, and roof-mounted solar panels.
The house has a plaza-sized central courtyard, a subterranean parking structure for sixty vehicles and a tennis court.
The property hosted a political party for Mitt Romney in 2012 and a Cirque de Soleil performance in 2014.
Impressive: This explains the enormous appetite of Harvard Westlake as they ravage our local community. Two truths to remember, “Bigger is not always better…” and “The client is not always right.”
RM Schindler the architect of the Gold House in Studio City writes to a client, George Gold, who commissioned the project and ran into financial difficulties. Throughout their rather hostile exchange, we learn about the features Schindler included in the house:
“I am dumbfounded at the aspect of a lawyer trying to use the old excuse that he signed a contract with me without knowing or understanding its content. You are just not telling the truth when you say that the contract form used contains "fine printing", or if you imply that we did not fully discuss my fees and general contractors' profits before starting to build on a subdivided contract basis. Such blind procedure would have been as fantastic as the action of a man who wants to build, as you say, a simple dwelling for a family of three people, and insists on multiplying a long list of usually solitary features by having:
2 main entrances and halls
2 main stairways
2 dressing rooms
double washbowl arrangements
separate toilet stalls
3 paved patios
double false nailing of hardwood floors
an extra port of a third car
2nd layer of finish on wood surfaces
double insulation on walls and ceilings
connections for swimming pool
mahogany finish on wainscotting
to a total of 2,550 sq ft instead of a reasonable 1,500; and winds up by asserting that his income does not provide an extra dollar a month to pay some of the costs incurred. How could such a limited income ever have provided for the type of household implied in the building? Or, if the income changed, why should he not augment it by renting out some of the surplus rooms and in this way get the necessary funds to pay the bill for his extravagance?
I am not pressing for immediate settlement and am willing to accept any reasonable time payments, but I am not willing at this time to renegotiate my contract. And although your arguments have somewhat shaken my belief in your good faith, I hope that you will be able to propose a way of bringing our enterprise to a successful completion.
Schindler's point was that the 2,500-square-foot house was not as reasonable as a 1,500-square-foot house. There's something to meditate on.
(Eric Preven is a longtime community activist and is a contributor to CityWatch. The opinions of Mr. Preven are not necessarily those of CityWatchLA.com.)