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The Wilshire Building Stands Out for Civility Within Condo Gulch

March 25, 1993|AARON BETSKY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Aaron Betsky teaches and writes about architecture

Among the abominable hulks that make up Condo Gulch on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood, The Wilshire stands out. It is not a great building, but the hint of detailing and its careful massing let it rise into a realm of civilized urbanity that is totally lacking among its neighbors.

This is a building that looks much taller than its 27 stories. It steps back from the street with measured, symmetrical forms that give you a sense of a grand scene on this fast-paced boulevard.

These simple gestures give The Wilshire the appearance of being a fragment of New York. The sales forces for this 97-unit condominium reinforce that notion by using in their brochures typeface straight from the New Yorker.

And San Francisco architects Kaplan/McLaughlin/Diaz have chosen the great apartment buildings of the Upper Westside as their models. There is a little bit of the 1931 Eldorado in the soaring finials of The Wilshire, and a little bit of the 1930 San Remo in its spread-out massing. Mainly, however, the granite-clad base, the top defined by small balconies and set-back windows, and the artificially aged copper give you a generic sense of East Coast age and elegance.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday April 1, 1993 Home Edition Westside Part J Page 3 Column 1 Zones Desk 2 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Architecture column--The architecture column in the March 25 edition misidentified the architect of The Wilshire building in Westwood, above. The architect for the project was Richard Magee & Associates. Kaplan/McLaughlin/Diaz were the design architects.

The two most successful decisions the architects made were to make the building into a single "V" that opens up to Wilshire Boulevard, and to break the facade up into a rhythm of windows interrupted by what appear to be "piers," some of which soar past the roof of the building. The first choice means that the building has a strong presence of which you are especially aware because there is space from which you can see it. The angled shape catches the sloping curve of the boulevard and bounces it back with high-class diffidence. The "piers," which are no more than differently shaped pieces of stone aggregate pasted onto a steel structure, give the mass its sense of verticality.

The rest of the design is the gravy that justifies the high prices that the developers, a group put together by California Federal Bank, are asking for these units. The circular driveway is covered with cobblestones taken from a street in Berlin. The spreading porte-cochere marks the entry as much as it protects you from rain. The little balconies that run up the middle of the building aren't really big enough for barbecues, but they help anchor the middle of the mass. The final flourish, a two-story balcony that graces the penthouses, actually pushes the whole composition over the top, making the pile of tacked-on metal ornaments, piers and other miscellaneous protrusions seem just a bit, well, tacky.

Only a select few will get to pass the army of liveried coachmen, through the mahogany-covered lobby and into their exclusive and secure aeries. Not that it matters that much: The units themselves are bigger than most and have great views, but essentially they are just glorified apartments. The Wilshire, like most urban apartment structures, lacks any kind of grand public space. Such space is, after all, not salable.

Westwood is the home of the slow-growth group Not Yet New York. This kind of building is probably exactly what they have in mind to keep out. Yet, as we face the necessity of increased density and look forward to a more urbane environment in which each building contributes to our collective experience. The Wilshire is an example, admittedly flawed, of how we can build a better city, not just for the wealthy few, but for all those looking for their collective castles in the Los Angeles air.

The Wilshire: 10580 Wilshire Blvd.

Architect: Kaplan/McLaughlin/Diaz

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