Planners Urge Approval of Sweeping Wilshire Complex

Times Staff Writer

City planners have recommended approval of the Wilshire Courtyard, a sprawling office complex that is expected to spur revitalization of the Miracle Mile. However, they warned that increased traffic problems may limit further development along the Wilshire Corridor.

Little opposition is expected when zone changes required for the project, which has the backing of Councilman John Ferraro, come up for consideration by the Planning Commission on Jan. 21.

Such approval normally would not be necessary, because much of the eight-acre site is zoned for high-rise construction.

However, approval by the commission and, later, by the City Council, will be required to realize developer Jerome H. Snyder's concept of two lower, wider buildings extending into what is now a residential zone at the back of the property.

Plans call for the buildings to range from three to six stories, with setback offices, roof gardens, bronze-colored windows and facings of carmine granite from Finland.

"I want it to be a landmark--horizontal, faced in granite," Snyder said Wednesday after the city planners' recommendation this week. "It's an ego trip, I'm the first to admit. I want people to say it's Snyder's building."

Beyond that, he said, the sprawling space will allow large companies to maintain entire offices on one floor.

California Federal Savings & Loan, partner in the project with J. H. Snyder Co., has leased one of the two towers in a 20-year, $300-million deal.

Snyder said a similar marketing approach has proved successful at a previous project, a $30-million remodeling of the old Prudential Insurance building across the street from the Wilshire Courtyard site.

Now called Museum Square, the building has attracted a number of large tenants, including insurance companies and advertising agencies, Snyder said. "I just didn't want to be another kid on the block bumping heads with five other high-rises," he said.

If all goes well, Snyder expects to break ground in February, with completion of the 980,000-square-foot, $150-million project expected within two years.

Workmen have sunk hundreds of holes on the site to determine if mastodon bones or other fossils will be disturbed.

None has been found, Snyder said, but plans have been made for any ancient deposits found during excavation of the underground parking garages to be removed and examined by scientists from the county's Natural History Museum.

"There could be mammoths, mastodons, saber-tooth tigers, giant sloths or even human remains, which would be very exciting," said George Jefferson, assistant curator. He said scientists are satisfied with the provisions for safeguarding any discoveries.

Despite their initial concerns about traffic and noise, neighborhood residents are also satisfied, according to Lynn Cohen, president of the Miracle Mile Residential Assn.

"You can't really be against development," she said. "You have to make sure it's development that's consistent with the area and enriches the quality of life in the area. I think this developer has done the most possible to satisfy the conditions we laid out for him."

She said residents were especially pleased with the prospect of a two-block-wide park at the south of the property, to be maintained by the developer and serve as a buffer between the office complex and the neighborhood of single-family homes.

Additionally, parking at the building has been increased, and cars leaving the complex will be directed onto Wilshire Boulevard instead of residential streets.

A spokesman for Ferraro said the councilman was "very pleased that everybody worked together to solve their differences. We didn't have to come in and solve a fight."

Other enthusiasts include the Los Angeles Conservancy, a historical preservation organization that is working to maintain the unique flavor of the Miracle Mile, which stretches between La Brea and Fairfax avenues.

While the contemporary design of the Wilshire Courtyard does not ape the art deco features of the 1920s buildings nearby, its scale and location are compatible with them, said Ruth Ann Lehrer, executive director of the conservancy.

"The worst case would be a huge, monolithic block of high-rises," she said. "This building has terraces, it's low-scale and it's beautifully designed."

While city planners agree that the Miracle Mile, once a flourishing commercial area, is on its way back to revitalization, they are concerned that new development will exacerbate traffic congestion.

"I think it's on the way. Of course, it's going to be a big problem if we don't get better transportation," said Art Crouch, chief examiner for the Planning Commission.

He said the major problem is the intensive zoning all along Wilshire Boulevard.

Without federal funding for Metro Rail, he said, "it's likely very substantial measures may be taken for a moratorium or reduction of the intensity of development."

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