As dusk fell on downtown Los Angeles, dozens of people gathered on the sidewalks outside the Wilshire Grand Center, watching as the hotel’s LED lights — confined to a stripe on the side of the building — glowed in an array of rainbow colors.
Koreatown resident Miky Nam brought a small folding chair to take in the spectacle. A Korean American, she said she was proud to learn that the tallest building in the West was built by Korean Air.
“It can be a landmark for L.A.” she said.
The newest addition to the L.A. skyline opened Friday to the brassy sounds of a USC marching band and suggestions that the 73-story building, which houses an InterContinental Hotel, office space and several restaurants, could forge a new chapter in the relationship between Southern California and East Asia.
The new building replaces the old Wilshire Grand, which was torn down in 2013. At 1,100 feet, it is the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River thanks to a spire that pushes it past the U.S. Bank Tower on nearby 5th Street.
Kathie and Ed Enriquez were among the Angelenos who stayed downtown Friday evening to check out the new building after finishing work. A Mount Washington resident, Kathie remembers when the corner of 7th and Figueroa streets was a ghost town and no one wanted to stay downtown after 6 p.m.
With the new Wilshire Grand, downtown is “thriving and booming,” she said. “It’s great. It makes the city alive.”
One of several politicians to speak at Friday’s opening, California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Léon, called the Wilshire Grand a symbol of “successful intentional partnerships.” He pointed to the political division seen in Washington, D.C., but said the new hotel demonstrates “our willingness for collaboration with our friends and neighbors across the world.”
“This is an example of when we break down barriers and walls,” he said.
The building marked several “firsts” for the city. It helped usher in a code change that allows developers to forgo the city’s long-required helipads safety feature in tall buildings, a requirement blamed for contributing to L.A.’s flat-topped skyline.
The Wilshire Grand also secured special rights from the city for an array of lucrative digital advertising and artistic presentations, a precedent that wasn’t without controversy and pushback from foes of digital billboards.
The lower section of the building allows for digital advertising, while the top will feature brightly lit signs promoting the buildings’ owner and major tenants. On the floors in between, the building is allowed to display noncommercial lighted images such as flowers and vines.
In additional to securing sign rights, the city provided significant financial assistance. The L.A. City Council agreed to provide up to $193 million over 25 years for the reconstruction of the hotel because the company said it faced a funding gap, budget officials said.
Koreatown architect Christopher Pak said the Korean American community has taken pride in the fact that Korea’s largest airline has now built the tallest building on the West Coast.
Many immigrants arrived in America after a flight on Korean Air, and they had been abuzz about Friday’s grand opening party, Pak said.
“A lot of people are comparing notes” on who was getting an invitation to the event, Pak said.
Times staff writer Andrew Khouri contributed to this report.