The Varden Hotel in Downtown Long Beach could soon be demolished to make way for a new eight-story housing development, but its historic sign advertising a “bath in every room” would be saved and placed atop the project once it’s completed.
The Dolly Varden Hotel sign was designated as a historic landmark in 1995 and has lit up Downtown in red and blue neon lights since it was reinstalled on top of the boutique hotel in 2014.
It could go dark for a while as developers build out a proposed eight-story, 141-unit housing development, but there is a plan to incorporate it back into the finished project. Plans show a 28-month projected window to complete construction, with the sign being placed on top of the building at the 24-month mark.
While the Dolly Varden sign was designated as historic, the building was not. It will be demolished if the project moves forward, and the proposed housing project would take up that parcel as well as the parking lot north of the Varden Hotel. The project would include underground parking.
The Long Beach Cultural Heritage Commission is expected to approve a request Tuesday by Studio One Eleven to remove the sign and place it in storage until construction is complete.
Ryan Caldera, a senior project manager for Studio 111, which is representing The Agency, said that the project could be before the Planning Commission by August, but construction might be at least a year away.
Construction drawings and other environmental documents are still being completed, but Caldera said that the proposed housing project will take advantage of a new tool approved by the City Council in 2022 to entice developers to build: micro-apartments.
The units would make up about 78% of the 141 units and range from 380 square feet to about 440 square feet, Caldera said. There are some larger one-bedroom units that have a den that gives more of a “two-bedroom experience,” but even those would be on the smaller end when compared to more traditional units.
“It’s really based on ‘smaller unit, smaller price point,’” Caldera said. “And it will allow us to introduce residents that might not be able to currently afford a unit Downtown.”
Aside from being smaller, some of the units (11%) will be required to be affordable under the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance that the council adopted in November 2021.
Caldera said that the units won’t be just a bunch of cramped boxes that people will have to “crunch into” because the firm has given extra attention to the design of the inside of the apartments. They’ll include things like fold-out storage and other built-in nooks where things can be stowed.
Other things like fold-down tables and areas for small stackable washers and dryers could be included to help people who eventually move into the units be able to navigate living in the smaller space.
The Dolly Varden Hotel opened in 1929, and its sign boasted that its 35 rooms had a bath in every room, which was a luxury at the time when shared bathrooms were more common in hotels in the city.
While it’s in storage, the sign will be cared for according to a lengthy list of rules that cover things like how to protect the sign from fire and how to appropriately remove bird excrement. The sign is set to be reinstalled on the seventh-floor kitchen and deck that is part of the proposed project.
It would be oriented similarly to how it is now, with the sign remaining closest to Pacific Avenue where its blue and red neon lights can be prominently displayed.