If you walk on the sun-bleached tiles topping the vacant foundation at 1st Street and Broadway, you can imagine the sound of hard-heeled shoes clacking down a hallway, of papers being shuffled. Only the first floor remains--a barren reminder of the old state office building, as it was always called, that towered above this site for nearly 40 years until it was demolished in 1976 after sustaining irreparable damage in the Sylmar earthquake. No other prime lot in Los Angeles has lain undeveloped for so long, according to Chris Martin, Civic Center planning chairman for the Central City Assn., a business lobbying group that aims to revitalize Downtown.
"It's just a waste," said Martin, who attributes the vacancy to government inaction and the current malaise in the real estate market.
The most recent plan was to build a 600,000-square-foot, two-towered office complex on the parcel, which is jointly owned by the state, county and city. But the proposal fell through last year; according to developer Raffi Cohen, he could not find enough private-sector tenants. Cohen now says he hopes a government tenant will step forward. The county, though, appears to have lost patience with the developer and is about to terminate Cohen's lease, according to Les Detweiler, a management analyst for the Chief Administrator's Office.
In the meantime, workers have hidden the homeless encampments and head-high weeds behind gray plywood walls. The only dashes of color are the black "POST NO BILL" signs stenciled on each panel. Councilwoman Rita Walters, who heads the Civic Center Planning Authority, says that efforts by Cohen to spruce up the property have only made it uglier. Last year, for example, a tractor demolished the front stairs, all that remained of the building, and left them in a pile like a fallen deck of gigantic cards. "It's in terrible condition," Walters says. "I'd like to see a green space there." Or maybe a gray space. The county, which oversees the property, is now talking about rolling out a parking lot on the site.
In all likelihood, though, the lot will remain the Cal Ripken Jr. of civic eyesores.