For Angelenos priced out of the hot market or for those just sold on renting, there's an alternative to high-density apartment life. Park La Brea, a midcentury rental complex spanning 167 prime acres in the Miracle Mile area of Los Angeles, has a center-of-everything feeling while offering some 10,000 residents breathing room in a park-like setting.
The original concept in 1939 called for garden apartments to take advantage of the sunny Southern California climate. But World War II intervened and construction was halted. Developer Metropolitan Life Co. added 18 13-story towers after the war to accommodate the influx of veterans and their families.
Park La Brea was a happening place in the '50s. Located roughly between 3rd and 6th streets and Cochran and Fairfax avenues, the apartments were within walking distance of the Farmers Market, the Art Deco-style May Co. department store and Wilshire Boulevard shopping.
The masonry construction was touted by the brick industry in 1951. Although it lacked outward charm, the thick walls provided insulation against heat and sound. Interiors were simple, but units were angled to enhance privacy and take advantage of offshore breezes and natural light.
Prime Property Capital Inc. took ownership in 1995 and made some radical changes. After 50 years of dull gray and beige exteriors, the 4,222-unit collection of garden apartments and towers got some color. The garden townhouses were painted ochre and the towers a bold mix of red, cream and green.
The lawns in the 26 courtyards shrank to make room for beds filled with drought-tolerant shrubs and flowers. Olive trees were replaced by palm and jacaranda trees.
The original inch-thick oak parquet floors were retained throughout, as were the one-inch porcelain tiles in the bathrooms. However, kitchens and bathrooms in some units have been updated, and all units are wired for high-speed Internet access. A 25-meter pool is one of a score of amenities available to tenants. Central heating and air-conditioning are the next big projects.
Instead of the typical 82 to 88 units per acre of many apartment complexes, Park La Brea has only 22 units per acre, according to General Manager Chris Scroggin. The narrow streets in the gated community are for residents only, minimizing traffic and noise. For a complex in the high-density Miracle Mile area, it is surprisingly serene.
Over the years, Park La Brea has gone in and out of style. The society pages of the early '50s were peppered with stories from Park La Brea. Residents have included movie stars such as Charlton Heston.
Patricia Morison, the original Kate in "Kiss Me Kate" on Broadway, gave up the mansions in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica Canyon to live in Park La Brea. She's been a resident for 44 years.
Today the median age for the area is 36, and the median household income, $53,000.
The development is enjoying renewed popularity and the sheen of hipness, thanks to the Grove and ambitious plans for LACMA.
Sabrina Lux, 30, has been a resident for seven years. The UCLA administrator moved to the Palisades briefly but missed being "in the heart of things." And she likes the security. "I'm a single woman who lives by herself," she said. "I can go jogging any time of night. It's very safe."
Good news, bad news
The gated community has guards at the entrances around the clock, and parking is free on streets owned and maintained by Park La Brea. But spots are limited, particularly around the towers.
Two cats are allowed per unit with landlord approval, but a ban on dogs is on a long list of rules and regulations.
"If dogs were allowed, this would be heaven," Lux said.
Morison agrees but says the atmosphere is not as uptight as it was when she first moved in. "It was more rigid and more sedate. We didn't have as many children," she recalled. "There was racial discrimination in the '60s. Now it's like a League of Nations. It's wonderful."
Corporate housing services are available for companies or individuals. Screenwriter Norman Steinberg, who has "Blazing Saddles" among his credits, needed a soft landing in a hurry. Park La Brea arranged for and furnished his apartment in two days.
Plus he can go on location for months without a care. "I just turn the key," he said.
The bottom line
Rents range from about $1,250 for some of the original one-bedroom, one-bath, 700-square-foot garden units to more than $2,400 for a renovated three-bedroom, two-bath 1,400-square-foot unit.
Three elementary schools serve the area. Carthay Center School scored 694 on the 2003 Academic Performance Index, on a scale of 1,000. Hancock Park School scored 865 and Wilshire Crest Elementary scored 664. John Burroughs Middle School scored 726. Scores were not available for Fairfax High School.
Sources: Claritas, Los Angeles Times Historical Archives, http://api.cde.ca.gov, Park La Brea Apartments Leasing and Administration.