Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Pawn Shop Hearing Draws over 100

Rendering of the Pawn Shop, a 260-seat sports-themed bar and restaurant proposed at 5901 Melrose Avenue at the intersection of Melrose and Cahuenga Blvds. (image from Diego Torres-Palma)

A total of 117 people turned out for the online hearing last Thursday on the Conditional Use Beverage (CUB) permit ZA-2023-5732-CUB for the Pawn Shop, a 260-seat sports-themed bar and restaurant proposed at 5901 Melrose Avenue at the intersection of Melrose and Cahuenga Blvds to operate from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily. Associate Zoning Administrator Jack Chiang presided over the two-hour session originally scheduled for 30 minutes taking comments from more than 30 people including CD13 Land Use Deputy Ted Walker.

In the public testimony portion of the hearing, more people spoke in opposition (20) than in support (14) but even those opposed applauded developer Diego Torres-Palma’s design and commitment to restoring the art deco building and redevelopment of the site. The major sticking points for those opposed were the late hours of operation and lack of a clear parking and security plan. Several participants on the call expressed concern about excessive drinking and a possible increase in criminal activity.

After more than two hours (much of it detailed below), the hearing ended with Associate Zoning Administrator Jack Chiang saying before he could find in favor of the project, he needed more information from the applicant addressing his concerns about parking, noise, security, and the overall operation echoing many of the issues raised by those opposed to the project in the public comment period.

He added that he liked the design of the project and encouraged the developer to provide him with more detailed information so he could complete his review and “comfortably issue an approval.”

“I think it’s very good that this pawn shop and this vacant building will be redeveloped to something useful and then be used to provide eyes on the street,” said Chiang. “There are a lot of positive traits to the project but I think the project is not there yet; it’s 90 – 95 percent, but you’re missing that five percent to close the loop.”

Chiang thanked everyone who participated in the hearing and welcomed any additional comments to be submitted within 30 days from the June 6 hearing. He assured everyone the city’s decision would be “appropriate and fair” and all the conditions neighbors have asked for would be “robust and will be comprehensive and covers all aspects” of the project.

Chaing seemed to have given everyone something. The Hancock Park Homeowners Association sent out a video of Chiang’s closing comments in a message thanking residents for participating in the call.

“Huge thanks to all who took the time to submit a letter to the ZA Administrator in support of the HPHOA’s request for enforceable operating conditions be included CUB Conditional Use Beverage Permit,” wrote HPHOA president Cindy Chvatal-Keane and Mark Alpers who both spoke at the hearing. “Our requests are reasonable and help ensure our neighborhood’s safety and quality of life are protected while having a new business join the community.”

Sam Uretsky of Larchmont United, the largest group of connected neighbors in Larchmont, told the Buzz, “There was a terrific turnout by Hancock Park and Larchmont United neighbors opposing the Pawn Shop’s application for its CUB. Larchmont neighbors I’ve talked with unanimously agree that the Pawn Shop would do itself a big favor by adopting neighborhood requests for 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. hours of operation, a parking plan grounded in reality, and regular dialogue with the neighboring community. The Zoning Administrator pointed out that “adverse impact on the neighborhood” would be an important component in his consideration of whether to approve the CUB. Now it’s up to the Pawn Shop to recognize and accept what neighbors have been consistently saying. Hopefully, for its sake, it will.”

For his part developer, Diego Torres-Palma told the Buzz, “I was pleased with the hearing outcome and was encouraged that the zoning administrator stated that we are 90% there. I was also glad to hear Hancock Park Homeowners President Cindy Chvatal clarify that her concern is the hours, not the project itself. We will continue working with the city to finalize our application. I have heard the neighborhood concerns over the past few months, and I am meeting with security and valet companies to have that plan in place prior to opening. All of us involved with The Pawn Shop care deeply about our neighborhood. We look forward to restoring the building, creating jobs, and building a destination for our community to gather and to create memories with friends and family.”

Aerial view of the project (image from the presentation)

The Project – Click here to view the presentation.

“The project is proposed for an existing building that was originally constructed in 1930 and was most recently used as a pawn shop, hence the proposed restaurant name. The applicant acquired the building in early 2023 and intends to execute the renovation work and act as the restaurant operator long term,” said Gary Benjamin, Alchemy Planning and Land Use who presented the project on behalf of Torres-Palma. He said Torres-Palma lives in the area and fell in love with the building, seeing the potential to create a gathering place to watch live sporting events with elevated food and crafted cocktails.

Omgivning, the architecture group recognized for their historic preservation work on LA Proper Hotel downtown, Desmond’s Department store, and other award-winning projects, is leading the design. They plan to restore the building’s period details including ornate metal grates and columns. Interior work has revealed a bow truss ceiling and exposed brick walls.

Brick interior with bow truss ceiling.

“Deigo plans to install a wooden glass door front system along the Melrose and Cahuenga frontages, a tile base and bulkhead, and reuse the existing decorative grates and signage to create a much-improved facade that will connect to the history of the site,” said Benjamin. “As someone who has known Diego for a while, I think this is his most personal project yet, given his connection to the community,” said Benjamin. Several of the developer’s friends, also residents of Hancock Park, have investors and are now partners in the project.

The applicant had initially requested hours of 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily to allow for flexibility of operations but it was not the applicant’s intent to open at that time on a regular basis.

“We are now amending a request to reduce the requested hours to 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily but with the option to open at 6 a.m. no more than 32 times per year on special occasions such as the World Cup or similar events,” said Benjamin.

Project Discussion

According to Benjamin, the project has letters of support 61 local residents south of Melrose, as well as from 12 local businesses, including several on the same block as the project. The project is also supported by the Central Hollywood Neighborhood Council, which has jurisdiction over the site, the Hollywood Media District bid, Wagon Wheel School south of Melrose, and a letter of non-opposition from Hollywood LAPD with recommended hours of 9 a.m. to 2 a .m. daily.

As Benjamin concluded, Associate Zoning Administrator Jack Chaing asked Benjamin to clarify if the project would be more of a restaurant or have more of a bar ambiance.

Benjamin said it is intended to be a sports-themed restaurant that will have a focus on food and said they hoped it would become a brunch spot too.

Chiang questioned him about the configuration of seating in the private suites planned for the mezzanine level and confirmed each suite had transparent windows. He also asked what the applicant planned for security. Benjamin responded they would provide security as needed and referred to the letter of non-opposition from LAPD.

Next, Chiang asked if the applicant would provide valet parking. Benjamin replied the owner intends to have parking in the lot immediately to the north of the building that could be used for valet parking. However, he added the project may not be required to provide additional parking under AB 2097 and its location in a state enterprise zone. After some back and forth about what parking was required by statute, Chiang said he was more concerned about the practicality of the operation.

“Mr. Benjamin, what I’m more interested in getting is that the, perhaps the applicant is able to at least secure some sort of a, I’m not going to say that, you know, there’s some sort of lease agreement, but some sort of an intent to lease or secure parking at a certain location around this site,” said Chiang. Adding, even if parking is not required by the code, “it’s a good idea to have parking for this to be a successful project. I think that’s what the community is asking. And to me, as a decision maker, I also think that’s a very important component for a restaurant. I have not run into any sort of a destination restaurant or a successful restaurant that has absolutely no parking at all.”

Reluctant to promise a specific solution, Benjamin said valet parking should be available and the owner has been in touch with two other buildings nearby to secure additional parking.

“Okay,” said Chiang, ” I think it’s important for the audience for the applicants to show their cards at this point.”

Moving on to the issue of the hours, Chiang said “I just want to inform you that the community is not happy with the 2 a.m.” He suggested that after the public testimony, they might want to consider adjusting the hours.

Chiang said he had received 150 opposition letters including a petition with 42 signatures. He also received 54 letters of support including 14 from businesses including the Wilshire Country Club, Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, a preschool and one HOA, 5112 Melrose that represents 47 single-family homes, said Chiang. He said he also received a recommendation from the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council asking the applicant to return to answer additional questions. In addition, he said he had a letter of support from the Central Hollywood Neighborhood Council.

“If I check our ZIMAS (“Zoning Information and Map Access System” the City of LA’s online tool that provides detailed information about zoning, land use, and property data within the city) the jurisdiction of this property actually falls into the Greater Wilshire [Neighborhood Council], not the Central Hollywood Neighborhood Council,” said Chiang.

“So I’m going to disregard Central Hollywood Neighborhood Council’s recommendation,” said Chiang. He also misidentified the Councilmember for CD5 who had submitted a letter requesting reduced hours, calling her Heather Hutt. (CD5 is represented by Katy Yaroslavsky) And, said he also had a letter from the Hancock Park HOA “recommending approval with a few conditions.”

Benjamin corrected Chiang, saying the property was in CD13 represented by Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez and under the jurisdiction of the Central Hollywood Neighborhood Council.

“Okay, so that was my mistake, sorry,” said Chiang. “But anyway, I have the letter from the Hancock Park Homeowner Association, mainly they’re asking the restaurant [to] close at 11 p.m. to be consistent with other restaurants in the area.”

Chiang was willing to toss out the letter of support from the Central Hollywood Neighborhood Council when he thought it was out of their jurisdiction but he did not apply that same standard to the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council and called on GWNC President Conrad Starr to give the first public comment.

Public Comment

Starr said the project was outside the GWNC boundary but “many of our private residences and businesses indeed fall within 500 feet of the site.”

He thanked Chiang for requesting that the owner submit more details.

“We’ve heard a lot about the owners’ intentions regarding hours, valet, car parking, bike parking, music and waste storage,” said Starr. “The Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council voted on December 13th to oppose the project because the applicant was unable to address the land use committee’s concerns regarding hours of operations, security, public safety, traffic, parking, historic preservation, noise and CEQA compliance.”

Recently the committee voted again to recommend opposition at their last meeting and the matter will come before the board on June 12 and there may be another vote to add to the record that will be kept open for the next 30 days said Starr.

Speaking in opposition, Cindy Chvatal-Keane, President of Hancock Park HOA, and Mark Alpers, the association’s Land Use Committee chair both spoke saying the association supports approving the project with reduced hours, parking and security plans, and an agreement to meet annually with the HOA. Chvatal-Keane expressed frustration with Torres-Palma.

“So we all have to get along and we all have to be honest with one another. And we don’t feel that that is always apparent,” said Chvatal-Keane adding the HOA has requested a have a yearly meeting with the “owner to make sure that what happens in the community with the sports bar is compatible with the quality of life and safety in our neighborhood, because we are directly impacted all of our neighbors.”

Sam Uretsky of Larchmont United and Karen Gilman, Secretary of the Larchmont Village Neighborhood Association spoke against the project citing the late hours and lack of a firm parking plan.

Jane Usher, Windsor Square resident and member of the GWNC Land Use Committee who also served as the President of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission for three years told AZA Chaing, “There is no transparency to this application. The owner keeps refusing to meet and to commit to conditions or limitations, but as you know better than anyone in the hearing room, CUBs run with the land, and so there will be no constraints unless the conditions are clearly written into the project.”

“So Jack,” continued Usher, “you can’t make the findings that the project will perform our service that’s essential or beneficial. You can’t make the finding that the operations will be compatible with and won’t adversely affect and degrade adjacent properties in the surrounding neighborhood. But Jack, if you do choose to approve this project, which has so- many good attributes, positive attributes, robust conditions will be required and they will be on, they will be jacked up to you. We need hours, safety, parking, valet, limits on entertainment, all of the things you touched upon. I know you’ll hold the record open for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council follow-up letter. Thank you for your attention.”

“Thank you, Ms. Usher,” said Chiang, ” It’s good to hear from you.”

Speaking in support, Lilian Way resident Helen Eichenberg said “i live a block and a half from this proposed pawn shop and I am in huge support. I would love to be impacted by this sports bar. And this is why. Have any of you who are in opposition to this walked Melrose over in that area? It’s a really sad dilapidated area. This is a good thing. I will be happy to have it in my neighborhood. And I know some of my neighbors as well on Lillian Way who couldn’t make the call support it.”

Other residents gave similar statements of support.

“While I understand and respect the concerns of some of my neighbors, I do not share them. and I am an enthusiastic supporter of the pawn shop’s proposed use and urge the planning department to approve the application as it stands,” said Milan Ratkovich. “I’ve been a real estate developer for 20 years at a firm that is focused on historic preservation and that prides itself on creating developments that improve the quality of urban life. I believe the pawn shop has the potential to do just that. The previous pawn shop was historically a place that in addition to making payday loans sold secondhand jewelry, tools, knives, weapons, guns, and even assault rifles. I believe a high -end restaurant with great architecture and finishes and a chef -driven operator will be a great improvement and benefit to the area.”

Representatives from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Hollywood Media District BID spoke in favor of the project.

Ted Walker, Planning Deputy for CD 13 was among the last speakers. Walker said his office hosted a meeting with applicant and a group of neighbors to discuss the concerns and help answer any questions in early March.

“We very much appreciate both the applicant and community members’ willingness to meet each other halfway so that this new use would be of benefit to this area, especially as the proposed use and the concerned community members span two neighborhood councils and two Council Districts,” said Walker.

“This was not the first instance where the applicant has directly spoken with members of the community about this request. He has presented at the Hollywood Central Neighborhood Council, his neighborhood council, where he received a letter of support. He also presented at the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council Land Use Committee, whose boundary abuts the project,” said Walker.

“Based on the enthusiasm of both the applicant and neighbors to come to the table to find a solution, our office believes this process and your input will be able to craft a thoughtful compromise for this change of use, particularly in regards to hours of operation. Our office is not opposed to Mr. Torres-Palma’s business and Councilmember Soto-Martinez believes that a consensus can be reached that allows the operator to occasionally host patrons for international sporting events at non-standard hours while ensuring that the neighborhood is not unduly impacted by this use,” concluded Walker.

Additional comments may be submitted to AZA Chiang regarding ZA-2023-5732-CUB via Yasmin Diaz, Planning Assistant [email protected]; (818) 374-9908; 200 N. Spring St., Room 621 Los Angeles, CA 90012. Click here for details on the case.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Latest Articles

.printfriendly { padding: 0 0 60px 50px; }