For a taste of what life is like in Mexico, it isn't necessary to go south of the border.
Just walk down Broadway, one of downtown L. A.'s main streets.
Or, better yet, don't walk down Broadway, which purportedly has the most foot traffic of any retail shopping district in Southern California. Wait a month.
In January, bright two-tone banners on lamp posts on Broadway between 1st Street and Olympic Boulevard--a 10-block area on the National Register of Historic Places--signaled the start of the multimillion-dollar Broadway Redevelopment Project, which will replace street and sidewalk surfaces and provide loans for property owners to spruce up storefronts. Next month the first completed, major retail renovation is expected to be ready for occupancy.
Suffering from Physical Decay
Known as St. Vincent Galleria, the three-story, enclosed mall is intended to be the flagship project--a showplace of what can be accomplished--for the Community Redevelopment Agency's improvement program for the street, which has always been vibrant with activity but is suffering from physical decay.
Once a core of downtown's commercial and financial activity, the street changed character in recent years to become what has been described as "a colorful fiesta" of taco stands and shops and street vendors that cater to the Latino community, which represents 92% of the shoppers, according to a study just released by the Community Redevelopment Agency.
Even so, David A. Reed, a senior city street official, was quoted in 1983 as saying that the street, which has more vehicular as well as foot traffic than most older urban areas, "has gone to hell in a hand basket." Classic buildings that helped the area qualify for the National Register also have been in need of repair.
And Antranik Karaguezian, general manager of the Los Angeles United Investment Co., observed that the street is "dirty and often unsafe." However, he added, "we are changing that, providing an attractive, well-lighted shopping environment with the comfort of air conditioning, 24-hour security guards and validated parking." Such amenities were previously unheard of on Broadway.
Purchased from Bullock's
The Los Angeles United Investment Co., a general partnership, owns the St. Vincent Galleria buildings on the northwest corner of Broadway and 7th Street and the rest of the block, including seven structures, which the firm purchased from Bullock's in 1980. The investment firm is also the general contractor, developer and major financier of the St. Vincent Square project, which includes the two-building galleria.
Karaguezian explained what his firm has accomplished on the block so far:
"Like St. Vincent Jewelry Center, which we opened in December, 1983, on the Hill Street side of the old Bullock's complex, we have cleaned up the facades and transformed the sidewalks. The buildings themselves are absolutely structurally sound. We gutted the interiors and are doing a renovation at a total cost of more than $15 million."
When it opens, the galleria will have open-beam ceilings of stainless steel, a three-story central court and wide concourses. Chrome, glass and white walls with broad, horizontal stripes of blue turning to violet were used to give a sense of "bright, cool cleanliness." Reeves Architects Associates is architect for the entire St. Vincent Square project.
Galleria Jewelry Exchange, which will have booths for independent jewelry dealers similar to those in St. Vincent Jewelry Center on Hill Street, will be the anchor tenant. Other retailers are being signed up for the rest of the 82,000 square feet of leasable space on the three main floors and the basement, which Karaguezian views as "an ideal location for a discount outlet" of a large department store.
Redevelopment of floors four through 10 is now under way at an estimated cost of $500,000 per floor, he continued. These seven upper floors, with a total of 150,000 square feet of gross leasable space, are being marketed for office, light manufacturing, storage and satellite-facility use.
The interiors have been gutted, and Karaguezian's company will finish the leased areas to tenants' specifications at rents of about $1.50 a square foot. (Lower floors are renting for about $2 a square foot.)
Court Renovation Planned
The two buildings in the galleria were designed by Parkinson & Bergstrom, noted architects of early 20th-Century Los Angeles, who also designed the Los Angeles Athletic Club and the Alexandria Hotel. The seven-story building on the corner of Broadway and 7th Street, known as the original Bullock's Broadway building, was built in 1906. The 10-story building adjacent to the north was built in 1912.
After these two buildings reopen for business, three buildings on Hill Street, in the Bullock's complex, and St. Vincent Court, a public right-of-way with its entrance on 7th Street, will be renovated. An old mural depicting a Paris street will probably be restored as part of the court's atmosphere, and flower trolleys, espresso bars and sidewalk cafes are planned along the cobblestone street.
When all is done, though, there will be more than cobblestones, murals and old buildings to remind shoppers of Broadway's past. There is a link even in the St. Vincent Square name.
The square is named for the earliest college in Southern California. Founded by the St. Vincent de Paul Mission in 1865, the college occupied the site as a 10-acre, tree-covered campus. The college moved in 1877, and later merged with Loyola and then Marymount.
At the turn of the century, the downtown L. A. grounds of the vacated college became a U. S. military station. Bullock's took over the site in 1905.