Downtowns and Quests for Identity

Los Angeles is just now really defining one.

But for years, it really has had it in multiples.

They rooted and took form in Hollywood, Westwood, Century City, along Wilshire Boulevard, Ventura Boulevard and around the sprawling Los Angeles International Airport. Don’t forget Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive.

We are referring to the main business district of a city--its downtown.


Mass of New Buildings

Our downtown is growing at a pace to produce the equivalent of four more Century Cities within five years, creating a mass of new buildings stretching from the Hollywood Freeway and Bunker Hill southward to Olympic Boulevard, more than a mile, principally along Figueroa and Flower streets.

The most enjoyable way to see at least four of the other downtowns is from the Tower restaurant, perched atop the 32-story Transamerica Center at 1150 S. Olive St. In addition to seeing the born-again Downtown No. 1, on most days you can also see Hollywood, Century City, Wilshire Boulevard and planes landing and taking off at LAX.

Currently, there is another identity battle under way in neighboring Orange County. It’s still looking for its downtown.


Very appropriately, the first edition of a sprightly newsletter, “Martin Brower’s Orange County Report,” discusses that issue and cites the jockeying for position by major development firms to create the county’s real downtown.

County’s Growth Traced

Written and published by Brower, former director (for 12 years) of public relations for the Irvine Co., the four-page monthly publication “is geared for business, professional, institutional, governmental and other decision-makers throughout the nation who need to understand the nation’s sixth largest county.”

Brower’s inaugural issue traces Orange County’s growth, unmatched nationally over the post-World War II years, starting with a population of 200,000 in 1950 and booming into 2 million today as “orange groves and row crops” gave way to “office and hotel complexes, high-technology centers and even cultural meccas.”

“But with 26 small-to-medium cities and no single metropolis, Orange County is a most difficult area to comprehend and yet is an urban concentration that requires understanding because of the oft-repeated phrase, ‘Orange County is tomorrow,’ ” Brower says.

Freeway’s Role

With an explosion of construction of commercial properties within the county, it is the ultimate freeway-oriented urban area, he adds. “So the San Diego Freeway, Interstate 405, is taking on Orange County’s ‘downtown’ role, especially along the five-mile stretch in the cities of Costa Mesa and Irvine.”

That won’t even cause a blink among car-oriented Southern Californians, and no one in the East will be much surprised, either.


Brower writes:

“As land values along the San Diego Freeway leap upward, developers who have long owned the land, such as the Irvine Co. and the Segerstrom family; developers who have long understood the value of the land, such as the Koll Co.; and newcomers who smell the promise of the land, such as Birtcher Pacific . . . and Trammell Crow from Dallas, are elbowing each other for use of the land and the right to build.”

Absorption No Problem

He concludes his downtown report by citing an estimate that work now under way and in planning stages will result in more than 20 million square feet of new commercial space. “Can the millions of square feet of space and the thousands of hotel rooms be absorbed? Sure. This is a ‘downtown’ with all of downtown’s amazing synergism.”

The breezy newsletter also deals with the county’s “movers and shakers,” and the continuing battle among the nation’s Big Eight accounting firms, all with major offices at prominent and “proper” addresses.

Brower’s Background

The newsletter is available by annual subscription ($135) and carries no advertising. Its offices are at 180 Newport Center Drive, Suite 180, Newport Beach, 92660.

Prior to working for the Irvine Co., Brower worked in public relations for the architectural firm of Welton Becket & Associates for 14 years, the last three as a vice president. The Corona del Mar resident is also a former editor of the Daily Bruin at UCLA.


His subscription list is confidential but he says it already is a virtual “Who’s Who” of business, civic and governmental figures. But if he doesn’t already have a subscription from one major developer, he’d better spell the firm’s name right. It’s one of those named above--and $135 is $135.