The blocks of historically significant but virtually empty office buildings in downtown Los Angeles' historic core have the potential to be converted into housing for at least 5,000 people, according to an architectural survey to be released today.
The survey commissioned by the Los Angeles Conservancy is intended to fuel a growing interest among property owners, investors and developers in carving out apartments from the shells of long-vacant buildings along Broadway, Main and Spring streets. The first batch of new, loft-style apartments is scheduled to open next month at the intersection of 4th and Main streets.
"This is part of ongoing effort to attract new investment and positive rehabilitation projects to downtown's historic core," said Kenneth Bernstein, head of preservation issues for the conservancy. "This will prove successful only if we can develop that critical mass of residential projects."
But previous attempts to attract residents to the historic core have proved costly failures. Current efforts to stimulate residential development also face competition from telecommunication-related firms, which have been paying top dollar for many aging downtown buildings and converting them into high-tech switching stations.
The historic core now includes more than 500 apartment units scattered in a handful of projects, including Grand Central Square on Broadway and Premier Towers on Spring Street.
The conservancy's survey of the historic core revealed that only 50 of 200 buildings reviewed were suited to housing conversion. Many buildings have interior spaces that are too far removed from windows for adequate light and ventilation.
"There were less buildings than we expected," said Los Angeles architect Wade Killefer, who organized the survey teams that fanned out one day in April. "But we also confirmed that there are a lot of wonderful buildings that would be just fantastic."
The survey by Killefer Flammang Purtill Architects and Degenkolb Engineers found that, of the 50 buildings identified as potential residential space, each could accommodate an average of 100 apartment units. Most are envisioned as large, loft-like spaces.
"You really don't want to cut that up and make those spaces smaller and darker," said Killefer, who designed the 250-unit Old Bank District apartment complex at 4th and Main for developer Tom Gilmore.
Donald Spivack, deputy administrator of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, said the survey will help spread the word about downtown's residential potential.
"This is a means of putting a whole stock of buildings up for view," Spivack said. "People didn't know what the inventory was like."
Izek Shomof, who owns Premier Towers, recently began converting another of his Spring Street properties between 6th and 7th streets into a 37-unit, loft-style apartment building. The building, which housed the Pacific Stock Exchange in the 1920s, will open late this year as the Spring Tower Live-Work Lofts.
"People want to get into projects like this," said Shomof over the sound of jackhammers filtering into his office. "There is a lot of money to be made downtown."
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Fifty downtown buildings shown below could be converted to about 5,000 apartment units, according to a study commissioned by the Los Angeles Conservancy.
Courtesy of Killefer Flammang Purtill Architects and Landata Airborne Systems