Transformation in store for L.A.'s historic core

A high-rise would replace a taco shop and a parking lot at 4th and Hill streets in historic downtown L.A.

A developer plans to build a 33-story apartment tower in a historic neighborhood in downtown Los Angeles, adding its $200-million project to a handful of planned high-rises poised to alter the city's skyline.

The project, proposed by Chicago-based Equity Residential, would replace a taco shop and a surface parking lot at 4th and Hill streets in historic downtown, just below Bunker Hill. It underscores the city center's resurgence as an attractive place to live and the revitalization of a historic stretch once beset by drugs and crime.

Equity Residential isn't the only developer with sky-high ambitions in downtown's historic center, anchored by Broadway, Main and Spring streets. Prominent local developer Izek Shomof hopes to break ground at the end of 2015 on a 34-story apartment and retail project at 4th and Broadway. A 40-story high-rise is also planned next to the Spring Arcade Building, as is a 38-story condo tower at 6th and Main.

If ultimately built, they will provide a substantial change to an area dominated by mid-rise buildings from the early 1900s.

"To see these high-rises come on the boards, it's really remarkable," said Kate Bartolo, a land-use consultant who is working on the 38-story tower. "You never would have guessed that 10 years ago this sort of thing would be happening."

Equity Residential hopes to break ground on its 405-foot high-rise next year, a tower more than double the height of most buildings in historic downtown.

Adjoining the 33-story tower will be a eight-story building, which would be about the height of nearby historic structures. It would jut off the tower and stand above a subway entrance on Hill Street near Grand Central Market.

On the roof of the eight-story structure, residents will enjoy an outdoor deck with a pool, dog park, barbecues and spaces for yoga, said Dustin Smith, vice president of development with Equity Residential. Equity's complex will also include a fitness center and club room.

In all, the project will include 428 apartments. Market rents are expected to range from $2,100 to $4,600 for studio, one- and two-bedroom units, Smith said. There will also be 108 units reserved for low- and middle-income households.

The project aims to transform the area around the subway entrance, which often becomes a gathering place for homeless people.

With the smaller building as an overhang, there will be retail and possibly outdoor dining next to the subway's entrance, said the project's lead architect, Winston Chang of TCA Architects.

Public transportation is becoming more popular for Angelenos, Chang said. "We really wanted to take that on and embrace that."

Historic downtown was once the city's premier business address.

But in the second half of the 20th century, many businesses decamped for the suburbs or newer digs on Bunker Hill.

The area became defined by drugs and hollowed-out buildings. Downtown boosters took to calling it the "hole in the doughnut." But over the last 15 years, there's been an explosion of luxury lofts, upscale restaurants and trendy shops. Grand Central Market has recently seen an influx of new hip eateries and expanded hours.

"The historic core ... has become one of our hottest neighborhoods," said Carol Schatz, president and chief executive of the Downtown Center Business Improvement District. "That hole has been filled in."

The new high-rises would further remake the area, as well as a corner of the downtown skyline filled with smaller, older buildings, she said.

Architects for the planned towers can also take advantage of new design guidelines. Last year, Los Angeles nixed a decades-old requirement that tall buildings include an emergency helicopter landing pad on their roofs, a rule responsible for the city's flat-topped skyline.

The Equity Residential tower will have a sky lounge for residents and a light feature that would illuminate the top of the tower.

"We wanted to mark this intersection," Chang said. "We wanted it to glow."

andrew.khouri@latimes.com

Twitter: @khouriandrew

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