Project May Put Blighted Area on a Brighter Path

Times Staff Writer

Downtown’s residential expansion is expected to march deeper into historic Los Angeles this fall with construction of a $140-million apartment and retail complex on a Main Street block long considered to be part of skid row.

Developer Medallion Inc. plans to build 370 rental units in two 11-story buildings on top of stores facing Main and Los Angeles streets between 3rd and 4th streets. The apartments are expected to rent for $2 to $2.50 a square foot, in line with other new downtown units, or $1,500 to $1,900 a month for an average 770-square-foot unit.

The apartments are among the 11,000 units proposed or approved for construction downtown, according to the Downtown Center Business Improvement District. Since 1999, nearly 4,000 apartments and condominiums have been added to the market; an additional 4,500 are under construction. There are about 7,000 market-rate apartments and condos downtown, an increase of 53% since 1998, district staffers say.

New development at the Medallion location will fill in a key piece of the urban landscape, said City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who calls it “one of the gateways to downtown.”


Medallion bought the property less than a year ago with the intention of building retail space to serve wholesalers branching out of the nearby toy and garment districts, company President Saeed Farkhondehpour said. But city officials wanted more residential units in the area, he said, so his project is now 70% apartments.

“We want to resurrect Main Street,” said city staffer Greg Fischer, who is also a historian.

Consequently, Medallion’s ground-floor space on Main will be devoted to shops and restaurants. On Los Angeles Street, Farkhondehpour plans to rent the first level to toy and garment companies that have wholesale and retail operations. There also will be eight-story and four-story parking structures and some underground parking.

The property is across 4th from the Old Bank District, a 230-unit complex in three former office buildings that were built around the turn of the last century and converted to housing in 2000.


The design of the L-shaped Medallion building at 4th and Main will make a stylistic nod to the Old Bank District’s San Fernando Building, completed in 1906, said architect Alex Ward. His Omaha-based firm, Leo A Daly, is designing the Medallion complex with M2A, a Los Angeles architecture firm.

The Medallion building at 3rd and Main will have a more contemporary design in what Ward calls “sleek materials,” including glass, metal and precast concrete.

“We want to re-create a more traditional urban experience -- what you find in all great cities,” he said.

The intersection of 4th and Main was once the site of the Westminster Hotel, one of the city’s finest. The Victorian-era establishment, built in the 1880s, played host to Presidents William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. It was razed decades ago.

Main Street also was one of the city’s most exclusive residential addresses after the Civil War. Among the homeowners was Cameron E. Thom, mayor from 1882 to 1884, who had a large house and yard that took up a third of the block at 3rd and Main, historian Fischer said.

The area eventually grew disreputable and has long been plagued by homelessness and drug abuse.

However, a boom in residential construction in the last four years, led by developer Tom Gilmore’s Old Bank District apartments, has altered the fabric of the historic downtown area. And in April, the Midnight Mission moved from 4th and Los Angeles to 6th and San Pedro streets.

With the mission relocated, development on his property became viable, said Farkhondehpour, adding, “We feel like downtown is definitely changing.”


The developer and his partner, Morad Neman, own almost a third of the commercial space in downtown’s toy district, Farkhondehpour said. They own more than 1.2 million square feet in that area and the nearby garment district and manage their properties through Investment Consultant Inc.

The new complex will be his and Neman’s first residential project, Farkhondehpour said.

Gilmore, who is building condos nearby in the former Hotel El Dorado on Spring Street between 4th and 5th, said the Medallion project would further improve the neighborhood.

“There’s nothing worse than walking along a whole block of parking lot,” he said.

“A sensitive development that incorporates uses that the neighborhood needs is nothing but good.”