Recycling increasingly is being viewed by preservationists as the best hope of saving landmark buildings and preserving a city's scale, tone and sense of history and place.
"We have found that the most effective means of saving a building of historic interest is to find a function it can serve, preferably one that generates a profit," comments Ruthann Lehrer, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy.
Her comment echoes the so-called new realism of many preservationists who view historic buildings not like paintings to be hung on walls or oddities to be herded together in a sort of architectural zoo, but something to be used.
Known technically as adaptive reuse, recycling in Los Angeles has involved a variety of buildings and uses. These have included a bank converted into a theater, a warehouse into a museum, a bakery into a furniture mart, a jail into a community center and office buildings into a design center and housing developments.
Free Symposium Offered
Also recycled have been artist studios into an office building, a railway substation and an automobile service station into architect's offices, a men's clothing shop and a jewelry store, among others, into restaurants, and an office building into a factory, than back into an office building.
How such conversions serve both developers and the community will be explored Thursday at City Hall at a free symposium organized by the Los Angeles Conservancy. It is scheduled to be held at 5:30 p.m. in the chambers of the Board of Public Works, Room 350.
The symposium, followed by a reception, will mark the opening of a photographic exhibit in the rotunda of City Hall featuring outstanding examples of recycled buildings from across the country. The exhibit, produced by the Smithsonian Institution, is entitled "Remaking America: New Uses, Old Places," and will be on view through Feb. 13.
The exhibit was orchestrated by Barbaralee Diamondstein, who also is scheduled to serve as moderator of the symposium. She is the author of "Remaking America" (Crown: $30), which was published in conjunction with the traveling exhibit.
Cooperating with the Conservancy in presenting the exhibit are the city's departments of General Services and Cultural Affairs, the Los Angeles chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.
The examples selected from Los Angeles and included in the exhibition and book are the Fine Arts Building at 811 West 7th St., originally constructed as artist studios and recently converted with style to offices, and the Temporary Contemporary Museum at 152 N. Central Ave., which before its present use, served as a garage and warehouse.
The recycling of buildings here and in other cities parallels the rise, in recent years, of the preservation movement, the renaissance of sorts in our downtowns and historic communities, and the frank recognition of recycling's numerous advantages.
In addition to usually getting a building of some architectural distinction and community recognition, economic advantages tend to include savings of time and money by not having to demolish the building to build a new one at the same location.
Giving More Value
And dollar for dollar, reconstruction, most times, gives more value than new construction when an old building of particularly rich details is involved and is to be saved. Given today's cost of labor and materials, replication is prohibitive, lending much truth to the adage that "they don't make them the way they used to."
Certainly, that can be said for the detailing on 515 West 7th St., which had been a jewelry store before its conversion to Clifton's Silver Spoon restaurant. Other examples of recycling in Los Angeles include:
Rex Restaurant, 617 S. Olive St., formerly Alexander & Oviatt men's clothing store; the Design Center, 433 S. Spring St., and a senior citizens housing project at 7th and Spring streets, formerly office buildings.
Also, the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., formerly a bank; the Antique Guild in Culver City, formerly a bakery; a community resource center, 685 Venice Blvd., formerly a jail; the architecture offices of the Jerde Partnership, 2798 Sunset Blvd., and Solberg + Lowe, 1901 Main St., Santa Monica, formerly a substation for the Pacific Electric Railway and a service station, respectively; and the Helms Athletic Foundation, 2411 W. Adams St., the former Britt mansion, .
The landmark Bradbury Building, at 304 S. Broadway, was originally designed as an office building, then converted to a factory, then back to an office building.
For the next three weeks, in conjunction with the exhibit, the Conservancy will be offering guided walking tours of examples of adaptive reuse downtown.
The tours will be held Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Wednesdays at noon, free to Conservancy members, $5 for others. For more information and reservations, the Conservancy can be called at 623-CITY.