Developers plan to tear down the May Co. department store in the Fairfax District to make way for an 8.6-acre hotel and shopping center, according to a draft environmental impact report released by the city of Los Angeles.
The 50-year-old building, notable for its black and gold facade at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard, would make way for a 19-story, 500-room hotel, three department stores and more than 100 other shops on one large city block.
2,000 Rental Units
The shopping center would be only part of the proposal, which also includes construction of more than 2,000 rental units at the Park Labrea housing complex.
But a spokesman for City Councilman John Ferraro said the project is not likely to get his blessing, especially at a time when the A. F. Gilmore Co., which owns the Farmers Market, is planning its own large-scale expansion three blocks away.
Ferraro's approval is crucial because the development would need several zone changes and other city actions to proceed. In such cases the City Council generally goes along with the recommendations of the member in whose district a project is located.
"The Gilmore-Farmers Market project is already in process, and they've got 30 acres to work with," said Bill Gilson, a Ferraro spokesman. "John has not flatly come out and said he's opposed to the May Co., but he's said there's no way he's going to endorse two major projects in the same area."
Spokesmen for May Co. and Forest City Enterprises, which share ownership of the Park Labrea complex, declined to comment after the environmental impact report was released last week. The complex has 4,212 units and an estimated 10,000 residents.
The report was prepared by an independent consultant and approved by city planning officials. It will be rewritten and issued in its final form after a public-comment period ending Sept. 11.
The report states that the developers plan to build a 1,024-unit, five-story apartment complex near the corner of Fairfax Avenue and 3rd Street on land now occupied by the Park Labrea shopping center, 812 additional units further east on 3rd Street at a site now occupied by a tennis club, and 381 apartments for seniors in a 12-story building near 6th Street.
This could mean an additional 54,040 automobile trips daily in an area where major intersections are already congested during much of the day, the report concludes.
Even if steps are taken to ease the flow of traffic, "several intersections will still be significantly impacted," the report states.
Neighborhood activists also express worry about traffic congestion if the project goes ahead.
"It's a lot for one neighborhood to swallow," said Ronnie Gootkin, president of the Rancho Labrea Neighborhood Assn., a group made up of homeowners and tenants in the area.
"I absolutely think that housing is a good thing, but . . . they didn't mitigate all the traffic," said Stanley Treiter, a director of Agudath Israel, which speaks for many of the Orthodox Jews who live in the neighborhood.
"The big problem is going to be the million and whatever square feet of retail, and the hotel," he said. "Is there going to be enough demand to support a hotel there and a hotel in Farmers Market? . . . The question is, who's going to be swallowed up first?"
The environmental report also cites the loss of the architecturally distinctive May Co. building as a "significant adverse impact" of the project.
Although it is not protected as a landmark, the building has been determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It also has been nominated as a city historical-cultural monument.
Built in 1939 and designed by architect Albert C. Martin Sr., it is five stories high and covered in black Southern California granite and Texas shell limestone.
Virtually unchanged in five decades, the building is adorned with a barrel-shaped corner facade made of glass mosaics covered with gold leaf and protected by a glass film.
"I remember going as a child to May Co., living in West L.A. and driving down Wilshire, and that was the most recognizable piece of architecture on Wilshire Boulevard," Gootkin said.
Teresa Grimes, a preservation officer for the Los Angeles Conservancy, said the developers have told the preservationist group that they will consider saving the facade as part of the new project. But no guarantees were made, she said.
PROPOSED DEVELOPMENTS AT PARK LABREA
A: 1,204-unit, five-story apartment complex on 9.8 acres. Site is now occupied by the Park Labrea shopping cneter.
B: 812-unit, five-story apartment complex on 7.8 acres. Site is now occupied by the Tennis Place.
C: 381-unit, 12-story congregate care apartment complex on 3.7 acres. Site is now occupied by a garage and offices for Park Labrea.
D: 19-story, 500-room hotel and 1,140,000 square feet of retail space on 8.6 acres. Site is now occupied by the May Co.