Coming Soon to a Courtroom Near You: The Academy Museum

Coming Soon to a Courtroom Near You:

The Academy Museum

A message from James O’Sullivan, MMRA President

On May 6, the City’s Planning Department recommendations on the Academy Museum project were released.  As expected, the department declared that everything is fine with the project and you – the community groups and Neighborhood Council – have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. The traffic created by the project is fine. The inadequate parking is fine. The digital sign district is fine… Everything is just fine!

Of course, it is the Planning Department that’s wrong and they’ve now guaranteed that one more case will join the courthouse queue, attempting to force the City to obey its own rules.

A few weeks ago, I felt a bit of hope – guarded, of course – after a meeting with members of the Academy Museum team, including Managing Director Bill Kramer and attorney Bill Delvac. I told them there was support in the community for the museum but not for the attached 1000-seat special event center [illustration below]. I made the argument that people have been waiting many years for a motion picture museum and it was within reach if they could abandon the event center. There would still be traffic and parking issues with the 5,000 visitors a day, but I believed we could find a solution and I made several suggestions to get the ball rolling.

Since its inception in 1983 the Miracle Mile Residential Association has been making good deals that work for the neighborhood and developer alike. We have always practiced the art of compromise. Kramer and Delvac said they would get back to me, but they never did. That’s too bad because there was a deal to be made by people of good faith. Now there is only the legal route.

I hope that everyone reading this who had concerns about the impacts of the Academy Museum on our communities understands that the City really doesn’t care what you think. Our elected officials loudly profess to value you at election time, but otherwise they do whatever they want – and then dare you to stop them.

There are good people who work at City Hall – but their reasonable voices are drowned out by the “go along to get along” mantra of the Wizards of Spring Street. When Los Angeles residents raise their voices to object to a project they are politely thanked for their comments and the project is routinely blessed with the magic words that sweeps all of our objections under the rug, “No significant impact.”

That is what the Academy purchased with the million dollars they spent lobbying City Hall: the City’s Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

The Planning Department’s recommendations are cause for celebration for all those supporting the Academy Museum and its special events center – but that feeling will be fleeting. Sooner or later they will be on the other side of the argument and they won’t know what hit them. Every neighborhood in this city is prey to overdevelopment, traffic intrusion, and infrastructure on the brink of collapse. The boosters of the Academy Museum will find themselves in our shoes one day, battling some gargantuan project that will dramatically impact their own neighborhoods.

They too will learn what “no significant impact” means. It is not a merely a technical phrase for grading a particular aspect of a project, it is also an apt description for the effect that the concerns of the residents have on City Hall.

The courtroom is now the only forum where the residents of Los Angeles are having a significant impact. The City has lost case after case: the 2012 Hollywood Community Plan Update was rescindedconstruction was halted on a Target Store at Sunset and Westernthe CIM Group high rise on Sunset had its occupancy certificate revoked and its tenants evicted; and recently a judge ordered a re-do of the Environmental Impact Report for the Millennium skyscrapers surrounding Capitol Records.

So, don’t be surprised when you see the Academy Museum project on that roster, too.

For additional information:

Los Angeles Department of City Planning: Academy Museum Recommendation Report

Park La Brea News/Beverly Press, 4/16/15: Mid-City West Nixes Museum’s Sphere

First Academy Museum Public Hearing Held


First Academy Museum Public Hearing Held

MMRA Protests Digital Sign District, Special Events Center,
and Lack of Parking

On March 16, 2015 the first public hearing on the proposed Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and special events center was held at City Hall. Hearing Officer Luciralia Ibarra took public testimony on the many zone changes, variances, and special approvals the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is seeking. The new museum and events venue will transform the former May Co. at the northeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.

The Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] supports readapting the May Co. building for use as a motion picture museum. However, we strongly oppose the Academy’s request for the creation of a digital sign district, which circumvents the hard-won guidelines of the Miracle Mile Community Design Overlay District and will convert the historic landmark into an electronic billboard. We also oppose the demolition of one-third of the historic building to make room for an adjoining 1,000-seat theater that will be heavily promoted for celebrity premieres, screenings, and large events.

Architectural critics have described the project as “a special events center masquerading as a museum.” The array of variances, zoning changes, and conditional use permits requested by the Academy lends credence to this charge: How many museums require catering facilities to host private affairs for 1,350 people? Or rooftop terraces seating 800 people? Or their very own digital sign district?

Some museum experts predict that the new museum will attract a million or more visitors per year – yet the Academy is unwilling to build any new off-street parking for the project. They maintain that the adjacent Los Angeles County Museum of Art has ample parking to spare. Residents of the Miracle Mile find this ludicrous. Visitors to LACMA frequently park on nearby residential streets when LACMA’s underground garage and/or Spaulding Avenue parking lot are full (or just to avoid paying for parking). The idea that a million new visitors to the Academy Museum will not create parking intrusions into the Miracle Mile defies common sense.

MMRA President James O’Sullivan submitted detailed written arguments against granting the approvals and zoning changes. He attended the hearing with MMRA Vice Presidents Alice Cassidy and Ken Hixon, who voiced their opposition to the project as proposed. Cassidy questioned the public benefit of a special events center intended principally to host private events.

Carthay Circle Homeowners Association and Beverly Wilshire Homes also had representatives at the hearing to express their opposition to the project.

[Top image courtesy of A.M.P.A.S.]

For additional information:

City of Los Angeles, Depart of City Planning: Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts, and Science Museum Notice of Public Hearing

Miracle Mile Residential Association: Position Statement Prepared by James O’Sullivan for Academy Museum Zoning Administrator Hearing, March 16, 2015

Transcript: Zoning Administrator Hearing on Academy Museum Project, March 16, 2015

Betrayal in the Council District 4 Race • One Person’s Opinion

Betrayal in the Council District 4 Race
One Person’s Opinion

by James O’Sullivan, MMRA President

In the Western classic, One Eyed Jacks (1961), starring Marlon Brando and Karl Malden, one line really jumped off the screen and has stuck with me over the years. Early in the movie Malden’s character betrays Brando’s character, resulting in hard time in a Mexican prison for Brando and riches for Malden. Five years later, Brando escapes and goes after Malden – who has used his wealth to become sheriff of Monterey California. In the twists and turns that follow, a violent confrontation takes place between Brando and Malden. Malden uses his position as sheriff to frame Brando and have him locked up. Knowing that Brando’s character will be hanged in two days, Malden has one last private talk with him and attempts to excuse his earlier betrayal, to which Brando replies: “You may be a one-eyed jack around here, but I’ve seen the other side of your face.”

To me this line encapsulates the age-old story of betrayal.

In real life betrayal is rarely that clear cut or dramatic, but sometimes it’s close. What follows is my reflection as the author of the Transparency Pledge signed by 12 of the Council District 4 candidates.

On Monday, March 16th, a whole bunch of us trooped down to City Hall for a hearing on the Academy Museum and event center project (at the former May Co. at Fairfax and Wilshire). This project has caused great concern in the community and we were there to make sure our voices were heard.

To the great dismay of members of the Miracle Mile Residential Association (MMRA) who were in attendance, Carolyn Ramsay arrived and promptly set about expounding on how wonderful the project would be and completely cut the legs out from under all the neighbors who had just testified.

It was like we had not been there, that we were invisible. Among other things, she stated that “the Miracle Mile went from kind of a – there were tumbleweeds blowing down Wilshire 20 years ago. There was nothing happening. And now it has really blossomed.”

Yes, she said tumbleweeds – you can’t make this stuff up.

She also said she was happy to see that the Academy was working so closely with the neighborhood. Now, maybe she meant the business types or film buffs from all over L.A. who showed up to testify in favor of the museum, because she could not have been talking about those of us who live within a few blocks of the project.

She closed her statement with how it is important that the Academy listen carefully to the community and that they’ve done this so far. Again, I’m not sure what “community” she is talking about.

Carolyn’s cheerleading for the Academy Museum and event center was just after the Vice Presidents of the MMRA and I had described our fears about traffic, neighborhood intrusion, parking issues, the sign district, and other infrastructure problems. Representatives of Carthay Circle Homeowners and Beverly Wilshire Homes also had voiced similar concerns. Words like fearfulstrikes fear, and terrified peppered the testimony from those living closest to the project.

Yet, Carolyn didn’t offer the slightest acknowledgement of the community’s concerns as she gushed over the Academy Museum and event center. It was clear that she had given no consideration to the residents most impacted by this project. Her blind endorsement of the project could only be explained in one of several ways: Either she is oblivious to the issues voiced by the community or she will support big development no matter what the consequences to the neighborhood.

I have known Carolyn for a long time and never in my wildest imagination did I suspect she would so completely turn her back on the community. I had just witnessed another side of Carolyn Ramsay.

Given that Carolyn is presenting herself as a champion for our neighborhoods and as the candidate who will work for the community and hold City Hall accountable, I found her assessment of the Academy Museum and event center project beyond flawed.

But this was one of the reasons why I developed the Candidate Transparency Pledge. I wanted a document that spelled out how they would go about making decision on land use matters and more. I wanted to be able to hold their feet to the fire and in my opinion, as its author, Carolyn had just violated the pledge. She signed a document saying– among other things – that she would base her decisions on policies as outlined in the General Plan and require that the City officially document and demonstrate that there is sufficient infrastructure to support new development.

We all know what is happening with infrastructure in this City. Some of it is visible like crumbling streets, buckled sidewalks, and untrimmed trees – while some things like cracked water and sewer pipes, as well as aging power systems are not.

New development requires all kinds of infrastructure to support its use. Some issues like our water supply scream from the headlines every day and we know we have to make do with less, not more. So the pledge was to ensure that new development not overburden the infrastructure for the residents and businesses in the neighborhoods.

Maybe Carolyn believes that because she hasn’t been elected yet that the pledge doesn’t count. Well, in my world you either protect neighborhoods because it is the right thing to do or you do not.

If Carolyn could be so cavalier about a project with such serious impacts to the neighborhood how could we ever trust her to advocate for us on anything? I have concluded that I, for one, can’t. Carolyn can get all the endorsements in the world saying she is a protector of neighborhoods, but actions speak much louder than words. Unfortunately, her action at the hearing demonstrated that she is all about “business as usual.”

On the way back from the hearing, I was asked why I thought she did it – why she showed up to speak about a project that has the potential to be catastrophic to the neighborhoods surrounding it? I could only answer that I believed it was a command performance, one she felt she could not ignore. What a shame.

The Miracle Mile is not the only neighborhood with huge projects on the drawing board. Sherman Oaks has the Sunkist building expansion; Hollywood has 8150 Sunset Blvd.; Windsor Square/Hancock Park has the CIM Group Park Mile Specific Plan project; and those are just a few off the top of my head. All require sufficient infrastructure including public safety and mitigation against traffic intrusion into their neighborhoods.

All of us need and deserve more than business as usual!

For additional information:

Council District 4 Candidate Transparency Pledge

MMRA Submits Comments on Academy Museum DEIR

MMRA Submits Comments
on Academy Museum DEIR

 

The Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] has submitted its comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report [DEIR] for the proposed Academy Museum at the former May Company site. The nearly 7,000-page DEIR was released on August 28, 2014. The 45-day commentary period closed on October 14, 2014.

The DEIR highlights the scale of the Academy Museum project:

  • The creation of a “Sign District” allowing for the historic May Company building to serve as a background for super-graphics and digital signs.
  • Demolition of the 1946 northern addition of the May Company building to allow for the construction of the 1000-seat “Sphere” theater with a 10,000 square foot enclosed view deck. In total, the overall project will house three theaters with a combined seating capacity of 1,350 persons.
  • A ground level “Piazza” beneath the “Sphere” theatre providing access to the northern entrance to the Academy Museum. The “Piazza” would host outdoor events and screenings with up to 2,500 attendees.
  • Banquet and conference space with a capacity for 1,200 persons, including a “ Tearoom” rooftop terrace with a capacity of 800 persons that will also be utilized for outdoor film screenings.
  • A Museum Café with seating for 150 persons and a 5,000 square foot Museum Store.
  • A projection of 860,000 visitors per year with no new on-site parking.
  • Movies premieres, concerts, and other special events.

The DEIR is a very lengthy and complex legal and technical document that is difficult to concisely summarize. (For an in-depth view, follow the links below to see the MMRA’s comments to the DEIR and our independent traffic expert’s assessment.) The MMRA objections to the project center on traffic congestion, traffic and parking intrusions, infrastructure, public services, and the overall impact of locating a major special events center in a heavily congested and densely populated residential area.

Here’s the backstory.  In the mid-2000s the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences [AMPAS] began aggressively acquiring parcels in Hollywood as a future location for a museum. Working with the now defunct Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, which wielded its power of eminent domain, AMPAS secured a full city block south of Sunset Boulevard on Vine Street. Including other parcels, as well as their holdings at the adjacent Pickford Center of Motion Picture Study, AMPAS assembled approximately 8 acres.

Then, with the stock market crash in 2008 and ensuing recession, AMPAS’s fundraising campaign for the Hollywood museum site derailed. They were left holding a large parcel that was suddenly worth much less than they had paid.

Three years later the dream of an Academy museum was revived. In 2011 AMPAS signed a long-term lease to take over the former May Company from Museum Associates, which operates the Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA].

This preamble about AMPAS’s thwarted plan to locate a museum in Hollywood is relevant because it spotlights what is so obviously wrong with their plan to locate the Academy Museum in the Miracle Mile: They are trying to fit all of their grand plans for an 8-acre project in Hollywood into a mere 2.2 acres at the May Company site.  It is not an easy fit.

AMPAS has had to resort to slight-of-hand in the DEIR to create the illusion that an Academy Museum is compatible with the Miracle Mile – so that they can preserve their objective to be a major tourist attraction and special events center. But the only way they can do that is to minimize its true impact on the community.

A 2008 Traffic Study for the proposed Hollywood museum location projected 7,800 visitors per day. The DEIR for the May Company location projects only 5,000 – for a total of 860,000 visitors per year. Museum experts not connected to AMPAS predict that the project will easily draw at least 1 million visitors annually, if not match or exceed LACMA’s current annual attendance of 1.2 million visitors.

Why does AMPAS claim that the Miracle Mile location will attract 2,800 fewer visitors per day than the former location in Hollywood? Answer: To justify the lack of any new on-site parking. In Hollywood AMPAS was going to build a 5-story parking facility with 850 spaces; at the May Company site they propose none.

But even with this miraculous reduction in the number of visitors, AMPAS still needs to conjure hundreds of visitors arriving on foot, bicycle, or wandering over from LACMA, to cram down their numbers to meet city-mandated parking requirements.

The DEIR tortures visitor projections and parking discounts so that it will support its most important finding: That there is already adequate parking at LACMA’s underground Pritzker garage and Spaulding surface lot for the Academy Museum to share parking with LACMA.

This defies reality. The residents in areas adjacent to LACMA have endured the parking and traffic intrusions of LACMA visitors for decades. Everyone knows that LACMA doesn’t have enough parking. The “Full” sign is up almost every weekend at the Pritzker garage and Spaulding Lot. But according to the DEIR, LACMA has hundreds of existing parking spaces to spare.

In truth, the Academy Museum is as much a major special events center as it is a museum, with 87,000 square-feet devoted to theaters, events space, cafes, and a store and 84,000 square-feet for exhibitions areas, collections, and exhibit support.

As stated in the DEIR, the primary purpose and objective of the project is “…providing film screening and premieres in a state-of-the-art theater competitive with venues in size and amenities.”  Translation: The museum hopes to steal some of the audience, and wrestle some of the revenue, from such popular film premier venues as the Chinese Theater, the El Captain, and the Cinerama Dome. The list of additional events, besides film premieres, includes Academy member and public film screenings, traveling shows, concerts, performances, cultural programming, spoken word productions, classes, video and press events, and film festivals. Each of these will attract anywhere from 100 to 1,325 attendees.

These “special events” are intended to “Provide for revenue-generating events that support sustainable Museum operations….” Not surprisingly, AMPAS places no limit on the number of special events per year nor does the DEIR indicate the maximum number of special events that the project could potentially accommodate on an annual basis. That could top 300 per year – especially given their desire for revenue.

From the blare of rooftop movie screenings to the glare of digital signs that violate the Miracle Mile Community Design Overlay, to the onslaught of traffic and nightly events, the MMRA has concluded that the Academy Museum doesn’t fit the Miracle Mile. With all due respect, it should go back to where it came from: Hollywood. That’s where it was originally supposed to be. And that’s where tourists expect to find it.

For additional information:

Academy Museum Draft Environmental Impact Report

Miracle Mile Residential Association – Comments on the Academy Museum DEIR

Tom Brohard and Associates – MMRA Commissioned Traffic Focused Review of the Academy Museum DEIR

Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight – Comments on the Academy Museum DEIR

Carthay Circle Neighborhood Association – Comments on the Academy Museum DEIR

Los Angeles Times [Feb. 28, 2014]: Some Feel Cheated by Change in Film Academy’s Hollywood Museum Plans

LACMA: The Sky’s the Limit • Commentary by Greg Goldin


[Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.]

 

LACMA: The Sky’s the Limit

Commentary by Greg Goldin

[Editor’s note: Last month, LACMA Director Michael Govan announced a proposal to build what he hopes will be a Frank Gehry designed skyscraper on Wilshire, across from the museum’s campus. This project would serve as a sort of exclamation point to LACMA’s plan to bridge Wilshire with a new museum designed by the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.]

It may be another decade or so before the Purple Line extension is complete, and riders emerge from the subway stop at Orange Grove and Wilshire, but the oncoming train is already changing the landscape at the west end of the Miracle Mile. If the money can be found, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will inflate a glass kidney bean off the backside of the former May Co. building and LACMA’s oil-slick-inspired $650 million-and-counting blob will ooze its way out of Hancock Park to bridge Wilshire and occupy their Spaulding parking lot. Just added to complete the troika of architectural razzle-dazzle could be the city’s tallest skyscraper, rising above the Wilshire/Orange Grove subway portal.

The hotel and condominium tower, presumably designed by Frank Gehry, would also have LACMA galleries, with a new architecture and design museum, as well as Gehry’s own archives. LACMA head Michael Govan told the Los Angeles Times, “I’m jealous that New York has a Gehry tower [left] and we don’t. My dream is some beautiful piece of architecture with an architecture and design museum at the base, which would add to Museum Row.”  Never mind that much of Museum Row is being decimated in no small part owing to LACMA’s maneuvering the subway portal onto the very block where buildings housing the A+D Architecture and Design museum and two other private art galleries must now be demolished to make way for subway construction.

LACMA owns approximately one-quarter of the 350-foot frontage on the south side of Wilshire between Orange Grove and Ogden, and hopes to forge a development deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority [Metro], Millennium Partners, and landowner Alan Sieroty before the subway construction site is reconfigured as yet another relentlessly dull Transit Oriented Development.

The LACMA chieftain’s instincts may be right – nobody wants another badly-designed building above another badly-designed subway portal – but Govan’s not taking any chances by trying to sell architecture solely on its own merits. Instead, he put a politically correct spin on the proposal. Once Metro opens the block for development, he said, “We know that density is the key to urban living and to the maximization of mass transit — and key to the environment. And so for all the right reasons, this is the right place” for a high-rise.

Thus, Govan shrewdly positions his “dream” as a civic virtue. No one believes this more than LACMA itself, which, like the Museum of Modern Art in New York, would become a major real estate developer. The reassuring urban planning rhetoric is meant to neutralize any opposition by making naysayers into nabobs opposed to leveraging a multi-billion investment in public transportation.

While no one doubts that some kind of building will rise once Metro pulls its construction trailers and tunnel boring machinery off the site, LACMA’s ambition is as naked as it is vainglorious. A Frank Gehry skyscraper, looming directly across the street from LACMA’s main galleries, would be, like Trajan’s Column in Rome [right], a triumphal commemoration of the museum’s self-conceived importance not just in the surrounding neighborhood or city – but in the global marketplace of art.

By adding Gehry to the list of Pritzker Prize winning names on the museum’s all-star roster (Renzo Piano and Peter Zumthor being the other two), the museum will have clothed itself in the raiment of “great buildings.”  Who, indeed, will ever again question the eminent stature of a cultural institution that once made the mistake of building an unfashionably dated and decidedly Hollywood version of the Kennedy Center and dared to call it a landmark destination.

The William Pereira designed LACMA campus, circa 1965.

This, indeed, is an essay into the ways in which the rich and powerful need to express the glories of so much accumulated money and power. Culture is the playground of the moneyed classes – whose wallets, and egos, are the ripe targets of the monument builders. What better way to supply a secular crown than with a building, by a world-renown architect, which bears your name?Nothing new, actually, is happening here with this proposed skyscraper.  From infancy LACMA has regarded itself as not only separate, but also above the status it retains as a publicly funded and owned art institution.  Embossed in the public record is the dirty secret that when the County Museum of Art spun itself off from its parent, the Natural History Museum, the new museum’s board of trustees first aim was to leave Exposition Park for the greener (as in, the color of money) environs of the Miracle Mile, then quaintly situated on the Westside – which nowadays, along with the money, has moved much further west.

When County Supervisor John Anson Ford offered the newly separated art museum a downtown plot of land – speculation is that the site was atop Bunker Hill, where the Catholic Cathedral now sits – LACMA’s board rejected the plan. “[I]t was recognized…that the location…would not attract the enthusiasm of potential donors from the west side.”

This quote, from the board minutes of January 21, 1958, was the sort of blunt comment made by civic leaders before the present era of milquetoast public relations statements. The museum’s leaders could not fathom leaving Exposition Park – and its surrounding black ghetto – only to be thrust into a downtown neighborhood populated by the city’s poor and elderly and black and Native American citizens. Westside money was hardly going to flow toward a location redolent of the city’s intractable underclass.

And, so, the museum spent several years lobbying G. Allan Hancock [right], the wealthy oilman who’d given the county the park that bears his name and contains the La Brea Tar Pits. Repeatedly, they tried to convince him to cede a piece of the 23 acres for their art museum, although it had been Hancock’s express wish to build a “fossil museum” dedicated to displaying the park’s unique Ice Age finds. In 1959, Hancock finally relented, agreeing to give the art museum 7 acres, and no more. The moment the plans for the new museum were unveiled – the William Pereira designed complex that is now destined to be demolished – LACMA began its long effort to aggrandize pieces of the park.

Time and again, LACMA sought to nibble away at the park that Hancock deemed should be permanently set aside for public enjoyment and scientific exploration. In the late-1960s, an attempt by the museum to expand further into Hancock Park met with a global protest. From Kenya, Louis Leakey, the world’s most famous paleoanthropologist and archaeologist, urged the museum to halt its plan, saying that no one would consider building atop a site where the first evidence of mankind was discovered, so why would they build atop the largest outcropping of Ice Age life anywhere on the face of the Earth? That effort flopped, but 20 years later the Bruce Goff designed Pavilion for Japanese Art was completed, taking another bite out of the park.

By then memories had faded, along with the county assurances that Hancock’s final wishes would never be violated. But LACMA never stopped eyeing the park. The first iteration of Zumthor’s modern design for a new museum covered – literally – several of the tar pits themselves. Only when the Natural History Museum, which administers Hancock Park, strenuously objected did LACMA retreat and come up with this latest version spanning Wilshire Boulevard.

In a sense, all of this is prologue, evidence that from the moment LACMA left Exposition Park to the present, an arrogant self-regard has been the chief characteristic of the museum’s stance. Now, in projecting its skyward dreams in the form of a Gehry tower, LACMA demonstrates all of its inherited insouciance, that blithe unconcern that comes with believing your own message and knowing that when you’ve got the money and the power to back it up the sky’s the limit – or maybe not. Actually, there are no height limits along Wilshire Boulevard in the Miracle Mile.

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Greg Goldin is the coauthor of Never Built Los Angeles and a curator at the A+D Museum. From 1999 to 2012, he was the architecture critic at Los Angeles Magazine. He is a longtime resident of the Miracle Mile and was featured in the MMRA Channel’s YouTube presentation: The Miracle Mile in Three Tenses: Past, Present, and Future.”

For additional information:Los Angeles Times:
LACMA, Metro Discussing New Museum Tower on Wilshire Blvd.

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