You can draw a straight line, in terms of architectural history, from William Randolph Hearst’ssprawling estate in San Simeon to the corner of Broadway and 11th Street in downtown Los Angeles. It was at that downtown site in 1913 that Hearst commissioned architect Julia Morgan to design a headquarters for his Los Angeles Examiner newspaper, which he’d founded in 1903.
Morgan produced one of the most remarkable designs of her prolific career, a 103,500-square-foot Mission Revival building draped with Italian and Moorish touches, including domes covered in yellow and blue tile. It opened in 1914.
Hearst was so pleased with the results that five years later he hired Morgan, California’s first registered female architect, to design San Simeon. She would work on that gargantuan project for more than two decades, overseeing the main residence and a long list of auxiliary buildings.
Hearst died in 1951, and in 1962 the company he left behind merged the Examiner with the Herald-Express, creating the Herald-Examiner, or HerEx for short. By then Morgan’s building had already acquired a deeply old-fashioned air.
In his book “The Last Editor,” Jim Bellows writes that when he first saw it in the 1970s it reminded him of “an ancient Hollywood star waiting endlessly for her close-up. Some mornings when I stepped through the security entrance, I could imagine photographers with flash cameras and reporters with press cards tucked in their wide-brimmed hats.”
The building has been vacant since 1989, when the HerEx went out of business, but it’s still owned by the Hearst Corporation and used periodically for film shoots. A plan to have architect Brenda Levin restore it — and build a pair of adjacent condo towers by Thom Mayne — was put on hold after the economy turned sour in 2008.
As a result it languishes as the most important piece of shuttered architecture downtown, and maybe in all of L.A. But given the level of investment that has lately poured into this stretch of Broadway — a branch of the painfully stylish Ace Hotel will soon fill the United Artists building up the block — it may be only a matter of time before Morgan’s triumphant design enjoys a well-deserved second act.