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WESTLAKE : Old YWCA Home Is Reincarnated

When the Mary Andrews Clark Residence opened 83 years ago, its hallways were filled with the rustling of long skirts and youthful giggles.

As a home for single young women run by the YWCA, the five-story gray brick structure served as a sort of post-college dorm for young women leaving home for the first time to work in the white-collar offices of downtown Los Angeles’ then-developing business community.

Times have changed and so have the area’s demographics. It is still populated with many downtown laborers, but the majority of them are now blue-collar working poor, people who work in the central city’s garment factories, hotels and restaurants, or as janitors and security guards in office buildings.

Beginning in October, the 306 S. Loma Drive building--which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places--became a home to single, low-income workers after four years of meticulous restoration by the Los Angeles Community Design Center, nonprofit developers.

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The 76,600-square-foot building was recently rededicated in its new incarnation: 152 bachelor units for single people making less than $17,650 a year, with rooms priced between $220 and $308 a month, including utilities.

For Salomon Morales, a Salvadoran refugee who spent six years working as an airport maintenance worker while he learned English and put himself through school, the low rent means an opportunity to stay on his feet while he trains part time in his new career as a notary public. He received his license a few weeks ago.

“I need to save money because I’m just a trainee now,” he said. “If I eventually start earning more, who knows? But for now, I like it here, and I feel safe.” Because the landmark residence is in what has become a fairly rough neighborhood, security personnel are on duty 24 hours a day.

Each floor has a communal kitchen and lounge, and shower enclosures have been built into the hallways because most of the rooms have only half-baths.

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The YWCA closed down the Clark residence, which had continued housing young women from various countries over the years, when damage from the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake made it unsafe for occupancy. The YWCA sold it in 1990 for $3 million to the design center, which began its rehabilitation.

Construction crews had to take extra pains not to damage the landmark’s original materials. Pieces of woodwork, tiles and other construction elements were marked, removed for restoration, then puzzled back together.

“It was a real challenge,” said Doug Grant of the design center. “It was a lot of work, and it took some really creative people to make it happen.”

Crews were putting the finishing touches on the building when the Northridge earthquake struck in January, 1994, crumbling a fifth-floor balcony and cracking the plaster in several places. Had the reinforcement not been completed, Grant said, the building would probably have been lost.

The renovation of the Clark residence finally ended in September. Including restoration, seismic reinforcement and damage repair for both quakes, the total cost came to $16 million in public and private funds.

Now that the building is about half occupied by a mix of Latinos, African Americans, Asians and senior citizens, the Los Angeles Design Center is working to bring in social services.

A free literacy class held in Spanish by Centro Latino de Educacion Popular began last week. That center has borrowed more than 300 books in English and Spanish from the Los Angeles Central Library for an in-house library. Books in Korean and Tagalog may be added.

Grant is also working to start a senior citizen meals program this summer, as well as English, Spanish and other adult-education classes for residents and neighbors.

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Information: (213) 484-1329.


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