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The High Life

The Wilshire Corridor, a mile-long stretch of tony high-rises, offers paradise for a price.

January 18, 1998|PAUL BROWNFIELD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES. Paul Brownfield is a Los Angeles freelance writer

It was the coyotes, finally, that drove Dory Given, 68, and her husband, Sherman, 79, from their Sullivan Canyon home to the Blair House, a luxury high-rise condominium building on the Wilshire Corridor in Los Angeles.

Not just the coyotes, of course. There was also the traffic getting to and from the Westside and the fact that two of their children live out of state, which means the Givens often find themselves away from home.

"But when the coyotes got to our cats, that really made me ill," Given said.

So she and her husband, a retired general contractor, traded a half-acre of rustic living next to Topanga State Park for a 3,800-square-foot condo that they bought in 1991 for a little more than $1 million.

"It's like going from the country into Manhattan," she said. "One thing I do have to say for condo living: It's very convenient."

The Wilshire Corridor is a roughly one-mile stretch of 30 tony high-rises along Wilshire Boulvard between Westwood and Beverly Hills. "The Golden Mile," as the corridor is sometimes called, is bordered on the east by Comstock Avenue and on the west by Malcolm Avenue.

Some of the condo buildings are as recent as 1992; others date to the 1950s and '60s. But the older buildings don't generate the buzz that emanates from the newer, high-end buildings.

According to those whose business it is to make such distinctions, there are four A-list high-rises on the corridor--the Blair House, the Wilshire, the Wilshire House and Latour--so designated because they're the newest of the new, offering upscale amenities and service, with a staff of 25 or more at each building.

"You can call from South Dakota and have the valet warm up your car so it's running when you get back," is how Catherine Lacy, a broker with Wilshire Realtors, describes the service at the Wilshire.

Stuck in a sales funk as recently as a few years ago, the Wilshire Corridor has enjoyed a comeback of late, with Realtors pronouncing the high-end condo market in good condition.

For most, the corridor is just a winding stretch of Wilshire Boulevard, where tall buildings loom over the traffic, the landscape of high-rises interrupted every now and then by a church, temple or hotel.

But high above the traffic, paradise can be found. For a price. If you want to live on the corridor, it'll cost you--anywhere from $600,000 to $3 million in the luxury condo buildings, Realtors say.

A 3,600-square-foot unit on the 23rd floor of the neo-Deco Wilshire, for instance, is listed at $2.65 million and features two master bedrooms, two master bathrooms with Jacuzzi tubs and a living room with a 20-foot ceiling.

Marilyn Dunn lives on the 11th floor of the Wilshire House, in a unit that features a wrap-around terrace and rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows.

"What I liked about this building is that every home is on a corner, so you have a panoramic view," said Dunn, an 11-year resident of the corridor and an agent with Coldwell Banker-Jon Douglas.

Not so long ago, in the late 1980s and early '90s, the viability of these ritzier high-rises was somewhat in question, say Realtors. Hit hard by the real estate recession, high-end units sat vacant; meanwhile, owners at the older, less glamorous buildings like the Wilshire Holmby saw their home prices slipping away.

But that has changed. "The market for high-end condos is healthy again," said Steve Heiferman, an agent with Coldwell Banker-Jon Douglas, "because it coincides with the good market right now for high-end single-family homes. This is the first time in a long time that there hasn't been enough inventory."

Celebrities like Placido Domingo and Rodney Dangerfield undoubtedly like the exclusivity and privacy. Other typical corridor residents, say Realtors, include singles and couples downsizing their lives after years spent in Beverly Hills or Brentwood and those with international business concerns who might spend only three months a year in Los Angeles.

When Walter and Helga Oppenheimer were condo-shopping in the mid-'80s, they weren't particularly interested in the penthouse unit at the Wilshire House, although they did get a kick out of the fact that its out-of-sight asking price included a Rolls Royce.

Instead, the Oppenheimers bought in at the low end, a $600,000 sixth-floor unit.

"We moved from an apartment off Sunset Boulevard, on Shoreham Drive," said Oppenheimer, 82, retired from the apparel business. "We were concerned about security."

And security is tight in the luxury condo buildings on the corridor. Even residents can't simply travel freely from floor to floor. A security guard downstairs has to identify you before allowing access to other floors in the building.

"High-end condos represent a maintenance-free lifestyle," said Heiferman, who has been selling condos on the corridor since 1978. "I lock my door, I leave, I don't worry about someone breaking in. The only thing that's missing is room service."

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