Los Angeles apartment owners race to add luxury amenities

Tenants enjoy custom-designed cabanas and one of two pools at the Circa complex on Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
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Competition for tenants who can pay top rents has grown so fierce that landlords are loading up their new buildings with goodies unheard of in years past when a swimming pool and laundry room were considered ample enticements for renters.

In a new downtown Los Angeles apartment complex, residents could be found on a recent hot Friday afternoon washing their pooches in a dog park that offers separate runs for large and small breeds. It’s just one of the tenant amenities on a sprawling 2-acre deck that unfolds like a garden courtyard eight stories above Figueroa Street at the towering Circa complex.

Music from hidden Bose speakers changes with locations and intended moods, from classical to pop to dance music as tenants move on flagstone walkways among heated gazebos, gas Viking-brand barbecue stations with tables for group get-togethers, a lap pool for working out and a round pool flanked by well-appointed blue cabanas where casually clad tenants watch television while poking at their digital devices.


“It’s pretty sweet,” acknowledged tenant Kevin Frampton, who was standing in the pool with a can of beer, reminiscing about watching the British Open golf tournament while lounging in one of the haute huts.

The custom-designed wood-and-canvas cabanas, which will soon have refrigerators, “are each worth the price of a car,” landlord Scott Dobbins said, “but they are a marquee for the project.”

Dobbins oversaw construction of the $500-million Circa complex, where twin 35-story towers provide residents with views of the downtown skyline and sometimes as far as Catalina Island. Circa’s massive block-long video display across from Staples Center can turn night into day on Figueroa Street with its bright, pulsing Nike commercials.

“You almost can’t build a project without a dog park now.”

— Scott Dobbins, landlord

Evan Farmer, a Circa resident, washes his dog Gunner in the dog park, one of the complex’s many tenant perks.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

To help fill its 648 apartments, Dobbins’ Hankey Investment Co. and its partners splurged on communal spaces such as a wine-tasting bar and a quiet library where shelves are filled with books arranged by the color of their covers. There are yoga and spin cycling classes for residents.


As is growing more common in high-end residential buildings, the gym is lavishly appointed with the latest equipment and occupies its own glassed-in building on the plaza instead of being tucked in a windowless corner. Every day an attendant puts fresh washcloths scented with eucalyptus oil in a cold refrigerator for people who want to mop their brows while exercising.

About a third of the tenants have dogs, Dobbins said, so it’s important to design new buildings with space for them to play, do their business or get shampooed by their owners.

“You almost can’t build a project without a dog park now,” he said.

Adrian Cottman works out in the Circa’s fitness center. Every day an attendant puts fresh washcloths scented with eucalyptus oil in a cold refrigerator for people who want to mop their brows while exercising.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

None of this comes cheap for tenants. Rent for a one-bedroom unit starts at about $3,000 a month at new fancy buildings like Circa, where popular, bigger units of 1,900 square feet cost about $7,500 a month and penthouses hit $25,000.

The over-the-top perks stand in sharp contrast to a tight rental market that has become increasingly unaffordable for the average person.

Because few can or want to pay such rents, owners of deluxe buildings turn to ever more swanky amenities to attract well-heeled tenants and keep them renewing their leases, said economist Richard Green, director of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate.


“New luxury stuff is having some trouble leasing up, so they have to compete with one another,” Green said. “Their calculus is that it’s more profitable to compete on amenities than by cutting rents.”

So far, builders are finding a receptive audience, he said.

“I don’t know how many people are out there who can afford $3,000-a-month rent,” Green said, “but for the time being it’s sustainable.”

Residents of the Pearl apartments in Koreatown hold a party around Korean-style barbecue grills in the complex’s courtyard.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

At the Pearl on Wilshire apartments near the Wiltern Theatre, communal-style Korean barbecues are a popular draw for tenants who want to cook dinner together or with their guests.

The new Talaria in Burbank’s Media District is on top of a Whole Foods market that has its own restaurant and pub. Tenants can request to have a prepared dinner or other Whole Foods groceries dropped off in their refrigerators.

With a call to the concierge, residents can have their clothes picked up, dry cleaned and hung in their closets. Each unit has a full-sized washer and dryer.


There is a top-of-the-line theater with 34 plump reclining seats where tenants can make reservations and choose from hundreds of movies to watch with a few computer clicks. Sometimes residents come together there to watch popular television shows, such as “Game of Thrones” or “The Bachelor.”

The gym has saunas, locker rooms, a hair salon and dry bar for hair straightening and blowouts. There is also a pet salon to go with the dog park and a plush rooftop lounge wired with televisions, music, heaters, fire pits and an open-air kitchen.

“What we tried to do was create a community that would allow you to address your daily issues without leaving the property,” developer Michael Cusumano said. Also, there’s that competitive edge.

“We wanted to set ourselves apart,” Cusumano said, “and there is no other product in this particular market that comes close in project amenities.”

Tenants such as professionals from Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, people from Warner Bros. studio and empty-nesters pay top-market monthly rents ranging from $3,300 for a one-bedroom to about $6,000 for a three-bedroom unit, he said. A penthouse unit could cost as much as $18,000.


Los Angeles developer Walter N. Marks III has seen the trend and plans to up the ante at a $400-million luxury apartment skyscraper with Art Deco styling that he plans to build in the Miracle Mile district of Los Angeles.

“It’s very expensive to build, especially high-rises,” Marks said, which prompts landlords to set their rents high — and justify rents that in many cases exceed the cost of a monthly home mortgage payment.

“When tenants pay these higher rents, they wonder what else they are getting besides the view,” Marks said.

If tenants like the gym, they don’t have to pay for a membership elsewhere, but proper fitness centers are just a given now. At Marks’ proposed 371-unit complex on Wilshire Boulevard near the coming La Brea Avenue subway stop, he plans to experiment with a range of millennial-friendly comforts including what he called a “robust” co-working space that tenants may want to use in lieu of renting an office.

Tenants who drive will step out of their cars and leave them to a robotic system that will park them underground and charge them if they are electric vehicles. There will also be a room for parking bicycles.

The 42-story tower will have an outdoor deck on the fifth floor big enough for a park with trees, flowers and a perimeter walking trail overlooking the city. There will be two swimming pools, barbecues and a dog exercise area with enough room for professional dog groomers to ply their trade.


“Some people groom their pets as much as every week because they sleep in their beds,” Marks said, and he expects about half the residents will have animals. “Pets are huge.”

In addition to a gym, the building will have a two-lane bowling alley, a virtual reality gaming room, a golf simulator, dog-grooming space, demonstration kitchen, wine-tasting counter, billiard room and yoga studio. On the 42nd story will be a private rooftop garden and lounge.

The mix of features may take some fine tuning, Marks acknowledged.

“If the gaming room doesn’t work out, we’ll find another use,” he said. “Maybe it becomes a podcasting studio, or a sound room where people can do recordings.”

Like other owners of upscale apartments, Marks plans to host events intended to entice tenants away from their electronic devices into communal activities such as bowling leagues, movie nights and backgammon tournaments. There will also be more high-minded events such as forums on astronomy or social inequities such as homelessness that may be open to visitors.

Phoebe Yee, senior vice president for Related Cos., the developer of Argyle House, an 18-story luxury apartment tower in Hollywood, gives a tour of the library and conference room.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times )

Another feature growing more common in the fancy new buildings are lockers to collect Amazon-style deliveries, or messengers who will place them inside your unit if you allow them access through your electronic door key.


Rent at the deluxe Argyle House completed in Hollywood last year includes package shipping service and weekly hotel-style tidying up by a housekeeper. Other services such as hanging flat-screen televisions, assembling furniture and walking the dog can be ordered at additional costs through a phone app.

Such attentive services including concierges are pushing Los Angeles into a realm previously associated with high-rise living in dense urban centers like New York and Chicago, Marks said. “We are now at a place where people want doorman buildings.”

So the competition to come up with new features will continue.

“There is a ratcheting up because there is this race to get your place occupied,” Marks said. “Maybe if you get it right and your amenities are really thoughtful and well planned, tenants will stay longer and not jump ship for the next shiny building.”