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Community News: Central

DOWNTOWN : Stately Senator Gets a New Face

November 13, 1994|BRETT MAHONEY

It wasn't the stately terra-cotta tiles or its recently scrubbed red-brick face that attracted Glenn Taylor Jr. to the historic Senator Hotel. It was the cheap rent and clean rooms.

The newly renovated Senator Hotel is unique among the single-room occupancy hotels along Downtown's Skid Row. Its owners can boast that the 82-year-old building has a historic exterior, facing Spring Street between 7th and 8th streets.

That, however, did not impress tenant Taylor, 55, one of 16 who moved in last month.

"I didn't notice. I did see the sign hanging out front that said phone and cable TV available in the rooms, though," Taylor said.

Representatives of Skid Row Housing Trust, the nonprofit organization that owns the Senator Hotel, were not surprised by Taylor's indifference. In fact, it wasn't their choice to maintain the hotel's exterior.

Their mission is to provide "decent, affordable housing for decent people."

When Skid Row initiated its proposal to take over the four-story hotel in 1991, it wasn't pleased to discover that the building's historical landmark designation by the Community Redevelopment Agency forestalled any plans to demolish it.

"We just didn't see what they saw," said Lisa Grady, Skid Row Housing Trust's project manager. "We were seeing a very old and decrepit building that would have been easier just to demolish."

The Community Redevelopment Agency, however, was interested in maintaining the integrity of the Downtown historic core around Main Street, Spring Street and Broadway from 1st to 9th Streets, said Charles Sifuentes, an agency representative.

With the Senator's significant historical elements, including its flat terra-cotta key stones, green ceramic tile diamonds and cavetto cornice, and brick craftsmanship embodied in the Spring Street exterior, the redevelopment agency allowed the developers to demolish everything but that facade.

To save it, the demolition crew had to attach a steel frame to the outer wall and bolt it to the ground while the rest of the building was destroyed.

Grady admitted that after its thorough cleaning, the Senator's face, formerly marred with broken windows and soot, is now "gorgeous." She lamented, however, that maintaining the historical facade added an estimated $150,000 to the project, whose total cost was estimated to be $8.7 million paid with public and private financing.

The structure, built by a prominent pioneer family in 1912, had decayed over the past few decades. It had become a haven for drug dealing and prostitution, said Sergio Vasquez of the Community Redevelopment Agency.

Under the Skid Row Housing Trust's management, the Senator now offers a clean, safe home for those with annual incomes below $13,500, according to the Senator's new manager, Kenneth Moore Sr.

The rooms rent for $255 per month for individuals with annual incomes of under $13,500 and for $190 per month for those receiving general assistance.

There is yet another change at the Senator--things have literally turned around. As a result of the construction, the Spring Street facade is now the rear of the building, with tenants entering through a new doorway on the opposite end on Main Street.

As one of those tenants, Taylor appreciates the newness of the building. It mirrors his own fresh start.

Taylor said he isn't drinking anymore and is trying to take better care of himself since he was diagnosed with a heart condition a few years ago. The former gardener and truck driver now supports himself with a disability check.

The Los Angeles native never thought he would be living Downtown. But as he settles into his dorm-like room--he hasn't yet put up any pictures of his six children, three of whom are no longer living--he has found it to be surprisingly peaceful.

He has all that he needs, he said: a pine desk, so he can study his King James Bible, a dresser, a wardrobe, a twin bed, a small refrigerator and a sink. Taylor will share a bathroom, right next door, with about six other residents when the Senator reaches its 96-person capacity.

Right now, though, when he goes to prepare his stew and hot-water corn bread in the communal kitchen, he is usually the only one there.

When asked what he likes about the Senator, Taylor said he loves the quiet and that the water runs "really" hot.

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