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Downtown Market Gets a Face Lift : Grand Central Will Fete 70th Birthday With Beauty Restored

December 07, 1986|RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

The Grand Old Lady of Broadway will turn 70 in 1987, and she's already getting ready for her birthday with some beauty treatments that will make her look decades younger.

She is the Grand Central Public Market, and like the Statue of Liberty, she's getting a "a real cosmetic overhaul," as Ira Yellen describes it. He expects the first phase to be completed by the end of this year.

Yellen--who grew up in Van Nuys and always liked the downtown market as "an active place filled with people, food and smells"--heads a partnership that bought the property, including the market, on Broadway between 3rd and 4th streets, last year for about $6 million.

"I don't know what the long-range cost to fix up the tower and the rest of the property will be," he conceded, but he estimated that Phase 1 expenditures will amount to $600,000 to $700,000--not including what the merchants themselves are investing.

Reflect Market's Heyday

The first phase involves painting and cleaning, as well as changing the signs--from "'50s plastic to '40s neon," says Brenda Levin, project architect.

The style might be called "the new look of tradition" as it will reflect the market's heyday, which Tracy Lyon, manager/partner of the market, figures was between the late '30s and early '50s.

"We never entirely lost that look," he said, "because the showcases are the same as they were 40 years ago."

Lyon is only 37, but his grandfather created a master floor plan for the market in 1939 that is still in use. "Only two families have been owners of the property in all these years," he said, "the Laughlins and the Lyons."

'Always Had a Store'

Homer Laughlin Sr. bought the land in 1896 and commissioned architect John Parkinson to build the six-story structure that houses the market. "The ground floor always had a store in it," Lyon said.

"When the building was completed in 1898, the store was the Coulter Dry Goods Co. Then, in 1905, the building was expanded. The back wall was chopped off." The ground floor was extended to Hill Street, and two stories were added overhead.

By 1908, he said, the ground level housed a department store that was supposed to compete with the May Co. and the Broadway, which had opened nearby.

"The department store lasted until 1917, when the market opened almost overnight," Lyon recalled hearing. "The department store's lease ran out in August, and a new lease was signed for the market in September."

The Metropolitan Water District occupied offices on the upper floors of the Broadway building for years, and the Central Library was located on the two upper floors of the Hill Street expansion from 1906 to 1908, Lyon said. With time, the upper floors of the Broadway building were vacated, and the upper floors of the annex were used for storage.

Turned Down Buyers

The Lyon family was involved in the market from its inception, first strictly in a management role, then gradually in an ownership position. "My father and aunt were majority owners when Ira (Yellen) bought it," Lyon said. By then, the Laughlins were minority owners.

"My dad said 'no' so many times to people who wanted to buy it, but he finally said 'yes' when Ira showed that he intended to preserve and restore the buildings," Lyon said.

"There was a lot of publicity when the property was sold to Ira, but the whole intent was to bring me back in as a partner and to renovate the place, as the family couldn't afford to do."

This is actually the market's third renovation. The first was in 1940. The second was in 1961, under the direction of Lyon's father, Beach Lyon, who installed the current facade. Yellen's goal is to have a new facade in place during 1987.

Most From Broadway

The most noticeable changes until then will be on the Broadway side of the market, which Lyon said "we recognize as our doormat." An estimated 80% of the market's shoppers leave or enter the market from Broadway, and most of those shoppers are Latinos, although the market has always reflected immigration patterns through its shoppers and vendors, Lyon noted.

Even now, 20 languages are spoken by the merchants, and Yellen expects this diversity to grow as the part of town where the market is situated is redeveloped.

Even so, he said, "Grand Central was a neighborhood grocery store, and it still is, though the neighborhood has expanded to include East Los Angeles."

He and Lyon want to show that they are trying to respond to the Latino community's needs. Levin even chose a paint for the interior that is black with flecks of hot pink, green and purple--"to tie in with the community," she said.

Family-Oriented Store

Latinos "love to shop on Broadway and in the market," Lyon observed, "but we want to clean up both, add more security and provide more food uses."

Because he and Yellen perceive the market and the Latino community as being family oriented, a business that has operated on the Broadway side for 45 years is being eliminated.

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