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Council backs historic status for just two L.A. Times buildings, clearing way for redevelopment

Council backs historic status for just two L.A. Times buildings, clearing way for redevelopment
A proposal calls for two apartment towers of 37 and 53 stories containing more than 1,100 apartments. (Department of City Planning /)

The Los Angeles City Council granted historic-cultural monument status to two former Los Angeles Times buildings in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday — rejecting a bid by preservationists to include a third structure standing in the path of a proposed real estate development.

The unanimous decision removed a potential hurdle to developer Onni Group’s plan to redevelop the block near City Hall formerly known as Times Mirror Square with high-rise apartment towers over stores and restaurants.

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Two Art Deco-style buildings completed in the 1930s and 1940s, which included the paper’s newsroom, were designated historic-cultural monuments, which grants them some protections from demolition, but they are not currently considered endangered.

Onni, a Vancouver, Canada, real estate company, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Los Angeles County in recent years through acquisitions and development, mostly in downtown L.A. Among its holdings are high-rise apartment towers and historic office buildings.

Onni bought the former Times properties — five interconnected structures bounded by Broadway and 1st, 2nd and Spring streets — for $105 million in September 2016, according to CoStar. Last summer The Times moved to El Segundo, where it occupies a building owned by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the paper’s new owner.

Onni's proposal calls for retaining the oldest of the structures, the two Art Deco buildings on the east side of the block along Spring Street that include the Globe Lobby tourist attraction. Their upper-floor offices would be refurbished and rented to tenants, with the ground floors converted to restaurants, shops and a grocery store.

The three structures on the western half — a parking garage, former printing plant and a 1973 office building designed by William Pereira — would be demolished to make way for two apartment towers of 37 and 53 stories containing more than 1,100 apartments, a swimming pool and ground-floor shops. The proposal is under review by city staff.

Last July, preservationists led by cultural historian Richard Schave applied for monument status for the two Art Deco buildings and the Pereira building, which served for decades as the headquarters of Times Mirror Co.

They said the buildings were significant examples of 20th century architecture and historic as the longtime home of The Times and the national publishing empire built by the Chandler family.

The 1973 William Pereira design addition to the Times building on the corner of 1st and Broadway would be demolished for new residential high-rises.
The 1973 William Pereira design addition to the Times building on the corner of 1st and Broadway would be demolished for new residential high-rises. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Members of the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission recommended that all three building be granted monument status, but last week the council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee voted to remove the Pereira building from consideration in a prelude to Wednesday’s decision.

Pereira was a mid-20th century architect responsible for the designs of such landmarks as the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, CBS Television City in the Fairfax district and the futuristic Theme Building in the heart of Los Angeles International Airport. His Times Mirror Building, by contrast, is a fortress-like building of dark stone and heavily tinted glass.

Chandler family scion Harry Chandler said in July that its lack of flamboyance was intentional because Pereira and the Chandlers didn’t want it to overshadow the iconic 1935 building next door designed by Gordon Kaufmann where a large illuminated clock tells the time and the newspaper's name is spelled out in tall neon-lit letters

Members of the council committee last week said that the Pereira building should give way to new construction after hearing representatives of ironworkers, electricians and other unions speak against monument status for the structure.

“We are excited to move forward with our application to restore the historic L.A. Times buildings and integrate it into a new mixed-use development” near a forthcoming city park and subway station, Onni Chief of Staff Duncan Wlodarczak said in a statement.

“The Times buildings have a longstanding history in L.A., and we are looking forward to continuing work on our application, and working with city staff, council, the community, and our consultant team of AC Martin and Brenda Levin & Associates to ensure the historic fabric is handled with the utmost care,” he said.

Schave said he was surprised by last week’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee decision because applications typically simply receive an up or down vote.

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“The unprecedented amputation by PLUM of the historic-cultural monument application for Times Mirror Square has really shocked everyone on our team and in the preservation world,” he said.

Don Spivack, a former administrator of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency and supporter of the campaign, said that “several” people believe Pereria’s “architecture is significant and represents a particular period in American architecture and others don’t see it. That’s kind of the rift in the design field.”

Spivack said he wasn’t surprised that the Pereira building didn’t get monument status.

“Los Angeles tends to be somewhat conservative in its interpretation of culture and history,” he said. “It’s probably not unusual for the city to take a stance not to endorse something controversial.”

The two new proposed apartment towers.
The two new proposed apartment towers. (Department of City Planning)
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