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Urban Architects Join Artists in Loft District

July 24, 1988|EVELYN De WOLFE | Times Staff Writer

The East Alameda area, bordering on Little Tokyo, and in recent years inhabited mostly by artists, is becoming the trendy work environment for a variety of professionals seeking to avoid urban congestion and higher rents.

The most dramatic move there by a major firm in recent months is Archiplan Inc.'s relocation from its Westside headquarters to a refurbished former factory at 923 E. 3rd St., where the downtown skyline shifts from high-rises to massive brick-faced industrial and warehouse structures.

"We are concerned with the changing urban scene and always intent on understanding its dynamics and being a part of it. The move is a reflection of our intent to practice what we preach," said Mark Hall, a partner of the firm, along with Richard W. Thompson and Elizabeth G. Thompson.

"We had previously worked on several client projects in this area and, early on, became convinced of its enormous potential as a location for our own firm," Hall said . "It's a great area, centrally located, close to the freeways and far less congested than other downtown locations."

The architecture and urban design collaborative that includes James Bonar, principal in charge of projects and marketing director, six urban planners and 14 architects, is gathered in one spacious office with an upper-level balcony overlooking a central interior conference structure.

Lower Rents

"In our own space we have retained the industrial elements of the original structure that provide a feeling of openness, and we have exposed the brick walls, allowing the vent systems to provide a sculptural interest. We've also introduced high-tech modular office systems that function as separate units while interacting with the large open spaces," Richard Thompson said.

The renovation of older industrial buildings is making larger work spaces available at considerably lower rents--under $1 a square foot, about half the cost in other areas.

Lois Gervais, her husband Scott Blanchard--artists in their mid-30s--and their cat Priscilla moved to the East Alameda warehouse district five months ago from their loft in San Pedro. Gervais is a photographer working out of her home studio, while Blanchard, a sculptor, works at several other locations.

"With 2,000 square feet in our space, we've had a chance to do some exciting things, setting up a separate living area with angled wall dividers to about half the height of the ceiling," Gervais said.

"I especially like to live and work in the same environment because one definitely influences the other."

'Light and Shadows"

The rent for their loft space is comparable to what they paid in San Pedro, Gervais said, "but what I especially like about this area is the play of light and shadows of the industrial landscape and the camaraderie we have developed with other artists in the neighborhood."

Richard H. Koshalek, director of MOCA and its Temporary Contemporary Museum of Art which has been in existence since November of 1983 in the adjacent Little Tokyo area, finds it exciting to be there.

"It is one of the few strong areas of pedestrian activity in the city, with people also living in the neighborhood who are interested in visiting public places," he said.

Koshalek's concerns and hope for the expanding area just east of Temporary Contemporary centers on extending the quality of life that has developed in the Little Tokyo community in the past few years, mostly through the support and encouragement of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center.

"One of the important things we hope to see is more 24-hour activity generated by artists who are working and living in lofts in increasing numbers. We also find more professionals moving in, some of whom also live in the area," Koshalek said.

'A Nice Little Street'

Lili Lakich, founder and director of the Museum of Neon Art, established her group in that area in 1981, because "Traction Avenue was a nice little street, quiet and pleasant and there were other (since gone) galleries which provided a feeling of the arts to the neighborhood.

"We are always a little fearful of an eminent domain takeover and we are a little sad that many of our artists will have to move because they cannot afford the higher rents of the upgraded structures."

Virginia Tanzmann, principal in the architectural firm of the Tanzmann Associates, moved to the area last August after 9 1/2 years in the landmark Bradbury Building on Broadway at 3rd Street.

"We like to think of ourselves as downtown architects," she said. "Basically we are general practitioners but doing a lot of work in the public sector."

Feels Safer There

Her firm is on the team of architects for expansion of the Los Angeles Convention Center, is doing work at UCLA and on 13 projects for the Department of Water and Power.

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