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Cultural Heritage Commission supports monument status for former L.A. Times buildings

Cultural Heritage Commission supports monument status for former L.A. Times buildings
The Times Mirror Building at the former Times Mirror Square. The building was erected in 1973 and designed by William Pereira, who also designed the famous Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport and other notable structures. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission on Thursday recommended that the city grant historic cultural monument status to a downtown office complex formerly occupied by the Los Angeles Times.

Preservationists applied for monument status for the three main buildings last July. If their application is approved by the City Council, it could become harder for owner Onni Group to redevelop the former Times Mirror Square with a high-rise residential and retail complex.

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Supporters of the designation led by Los Angeles preservationist Richard Schave told the commission that The Times buildings were noteworthy examples of three architectural styles and represented the newspaper’s cultural and political effect on the city.

Commissioners found unanimously that the buildings meet two of the required criteria for historic cultural monument status: They are associated with important figures in Los Angeles history and are architecturally significant.

Following the recommendation of the city Office of Historic Resources, commissioners agreed that the property bounded by 1st Street, Spring Street, Broadway and 2nd Street is associated with the prominent Chandler family, which "played a significant role in the evolution of the Los Angeles Times from a local publication to a newspaper of national acclaim, and were influential in real estate development in Los Angeles."

The buildings also represent notable works by influential architects Gordon Kaufmann, Rowland Crawford and William Pereira, commissioners agreed.

In making the finding, the commission rejected Onni’s position that the most modern of the three buildings did not warrant a historic designation.

Pereira designed the 1973 office addition called the Times Mirror Building, which was called “not architecturally significant” by Teresa Grimes, a consultant representing Onni.

Grimes, an architectural historian at GPA Consulting, said the building is not an important example of Pereira’s work and that there is doubt about the extent of his personal involvement in the design process performed by his firm.

“The identity of the designer is a little unclear,” she said.

Pereira’s daughter, Monica, spoke on behalf of the designation, saying that Times publisher Norman Chandler and his wife, Dorothy “Buff” Chandler, were close friends of her parents — and that when it came to the Times Mirror Building, “Norman and Buff never would have let anybody but Dad oversee it.”

Onni, a Canadian real estate developer in Vancouver, announced in late 2016 its intention to redevelop the block with a high-rise residential and retail complex that requires the demolition of the Pereira building.

The proposal calls for retaining the oldest of the structures — the two Art Deco-style buildings that were constructed on the east side of the block along Spring Street and that included The Times' newsroom.

But the three structures on the western half — a parking garage, former printing plant and the Pereira office building — would make way for two apartment towers of 37 and 53 stories containing more than 1,100 luxury apartments and ground-floor shops.

Yuval Bar-Zemer, a developer who converted another Pereira building on the edge of downtown to apartments, told the commission that razing the Pereira building and leaving the others would still deprive the city of a structure that is important architecturally and culturally.

“If you’re telling the story of the L.A. Times, you cannot pick and choose an era,” said Bar-Zemer, who is not associated with the Onni project.

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In making its decision, the commission decided to include the building in the monument application forwarded to the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee, which will consider the application at a future meeting.

If the former Times buildings are declared monuments, the Cultural Heritage Commission can block demolition for as long as six months with a majority vote of its members. The City Council can extend the ban for another six months.

Delays would give the city and developer time to consider alternate uses for the buildings or find a way to retain historical elements such as the facade.

“We are reviewing the recommendation from the commission and are encouraged by the overall strong support for our proposed project. We look forward to continuing to work with the city and the downtown L.A. community to bring this project to fruition,” Mark Spector, Onni’s vice president of development in California, said in a statement after the vote.

The Times moved its offices this summer to El Segundo, where it is headquartered in a building owned by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, who bought the newspaper in June.

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