Planning Commission holds off on hearing Hotel Laguna exterior plans as project heads to Heritage Committee

By SARA HALL

The Planning Commission this week continued their discussion and action on proposed plans for changes to the exterior of the historic Hotel Laguna until the Heritage Committee reviews the project.

Commissioners voted 5-0 on Wednesday (Feb. 21) to continue the item until March 6. Commissioners questioned why the project was placed on the Planning Commission agenda at all if it hadn’t yet been heard by the Heritage Committee. Staff confirmed that it was simply a procedural oversight.

The continuance will allow the panel tasked with evaluating historic preservation issues to weigh in. The Heritage Committee is scheduled to hear the project on Monday.

The proposed exterior changes for the hotel, located at 425 S. Coast Highway, includes: Replacing exterior doors, windows and fire escapes throughout the exterior of the building (in the existing locations); modifying the paint and awning colors and restoring archway details around the street level café windows located at the northeast corner of the building.

In a letter to the Heritage Committee, Laura Oatman, a principal at Oatman Architects (the applicant for the project), noted that while the building qualifies as a “rehabilitation” under the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, that doesn’t preclude them from applying stricter design guidelines. It simply provides flexibility in the interpretation of the period of significance which is from 1930-1950 for this building, she noted.

“As architects with a great reverence for historic buildings, we have chosen more rigorous design standards, interpreting the most pertinent ‘period of significance’ for the Hotel Laguna to be in the early 1930s,” Oatman explained.

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Art by Oatman Architects/Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

A rendering of the proposed changes to the exterior of Hotel Laguna

Noting that they are requesting some minor modifications to allow for easier maintenance using newer materials, she detailed the improvements they are proposing for the exterior, which includes: new wall paint and trim; new windows; replaced fire escape stairs; restored awnings, cleaned up finishes on the roof and restored signage.

According to the historian’s assessment from Chattel, Inc., the historic preservation consulting firm for the project, President Robert Chattel wrote that “the proposed project would have a primary rehabilitation treatment with limited restoration to return the appearance of several exterior features closer to conditions during the identified period of significance based on historic documentation while also preparing the subject property for contemporary hotel use.”

All exterior elevations would be painted using classic light buff with a Morris room grey accent. Though the specific location of paint colors on the facade do not need to exactly match historic to be in conformance with the Secretary’s Standards, historic documentation including photographs and postcards are being used as inspiration for design, Chattel noted. All replacement windows at the second and third floor would have a bronze frame. Existing window and door frames at the first floor are proposed to remain, and be primed and painted a matching bronze color.

The assessment notes that the proposed colors are in line with Chattel’s recommendations and are reflected in historic documentation and paint color analysis. He also explained that bronze was chosen to achieve the desired contrast with the lighter stucco and due to the limited colors available from the window manufacturer.

“The proposed colors are compatible, do not detract from the historic character of the subject property, and continue to be found to be in conformance with the Secretary’s Standards,” Chattel wrote. “The proposed project would return much of the character of the building to its early period of significance while preparing it for contemporary hotel use.”

After reviewing historic documentation and photographs from the 1930s, Chattel found that most of the original windows and frames were previously replaced.

Plans call for all existing second- and third-floor guestroom windows to be removed and replaced with new windows similar in appearance to those shown in the early documents. Guestrooms at all elevations would have new paired Marvin Essential bronze-color fiberglass double hung windows separated by an integrated mullion. Windows would have a new trim and sill to match. Previously infilled windows would remain clad in stucco.

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Existing windows at the fire escapes at the north, south and west elevations would be replaced with a single-wide bronze fiberglass hung window. All deteriorated fire escape balconies and ladders are proposed to be removed and replaced similar to the existing equipment, but conforming with current code.

Chattel also explained that the new proposed windows would help return the historic appearance of the windows, but in a compatible material more suited to a coastal environment.

The project proposes to retain all existing doors at the primary east elevation (facing Coast Highway), including at the main entrance, row of four storefronts to the south and corner retail space to the north. Existing non-original placards and light fixtures at the pilasters flanking the main entrance would be removed. Plans also call for cleaning up, repairing and painting certain features.

New awnings are also proposed to be added back to the original locations on the east and north elevations based on historic documentation. The four retail storefronts at the south side of the east elevation and all the arched storefronts at the east and north elevation corner café would have new striped awnings in classic light buff and rustic red colors. At the main east elevation entrance to the hotel, a new entrance awning in a rustic red color would be installed.

Minimal additional work is proposed at the west elevation (facing the ocean) and south elevation (facing the parking lot). Existing louver vents would be removed and infilled. Existing windows and doors at the west and south elevations of the courtyard, or rose garden, would remain. At the south elevation of the courtyard, existing storefront window frames would be primed and painted bronze to match second and third floor windows. Existing awnings, kiosk and screen wall facing the adjacent parking lot would be removed.

The project was initially heard by the Planning Commission on Jan. 4, 2023.

At the time, a decision on exterior paint colors and upper floor windows for the hotel was delayed as commissioners unanimously agreed they wanted a more complete concept that more accurately represented a specific decade in the building’s “period of significance.”

After more than two hours of discussion, commissioners agreed that while the proposed paint colors were acceptable, they wanted to see more of an overall conceptual plan (with a more complete color scheme, including awnings) and – although the historic preservation consultant determined the period of significance to be a range between 1930-1950 – they wanted the project to focus on the style of the early 1930s, including that the windows appear more wood-like. They noted the importance to capture the spirit of that era. A notable point of concern was the window material selection.

They also asked the applicant to consider adding an architectural embellishment (as seen in early postcards) above the main entrance of the hotel.

Several commissioners agreed that the color options were fine and if it weren’t for the other issues, particularly the window material and not knowing the colors of the other project features, like awnings, they might have been able to approve it.

It’s hard to move forward when they don’t have those details, said Commissioner Jorg Dubin at the January 2023 meeting. Hotel Laguna is a significant “front row center” building in town and they need to see what it might look like before approving any plans.

A concept review of Hotel Laguna was presented to the Planning Commission on Dec. 1, 2021, and although there weren’t a lot of specific details for the commissioners to comment on at the time, they did discuss the importance of renovating the iconic hotel to align with its historic appearance. Commissioners suggested that the applicant provide historical research and documentation with any future formal applications.

The existing single-paned windows replaced the original wood-framed hung windows in the 1960s. The current windows consist mostly of tripartite mill finish (clear coat) aluminum-framed outward-opening casement windows with a center fixed panel flanked by two smaller casement windows.

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Laguna


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