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Downtown Fine Arts Building Has New Owner

May 12, 2003|Roger Vincent | Times Staff Writer

The Fine Arts Building, a richly embellished office tower built in downtown Los Angeles during the 1920s, has been sold for $12.7 million to a Beverly Hills real estate investment company.

Blue Real Estate Management bought the 12-story, 107,000-square-foot landmark at 811 W. 7th St. from a partnership headed by Michael Barker, chief executive of real estate development firm Barker Pacific Group, whose offices are in the building.

Barker's partnership bought the Romanesque Revival-style building in 1998 to head off a foreclosure on the previous owner, he said. The company's business plan was to improve the property's cash flow and sell it within five years.

"We love the building," Barker said. "I hate to turn loose of it."

Barker Pacific will continue to rent space there for the time being, Barker said.

The purchase gives Blue Real Estate Management 13 buildings, most of them in Southern California, said founder James Reis. The firm has targeted historic buildings for investment, including the 1929-vintage Security Bank Building on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena and the L'Opera Building erected in 1906 on Pine Avenue in Long Beach that sports a prominent clock tower.

"These buildings have appeal to a certain type of tenant who wants something a little out of the ordinary," Reis said. "They tend to stay very well occupied."

The Fine Arts Building is 88% full, with a mix of architects, lawyers and engineers, said real estate broker Sean Sullivan of CB Richard Ellis, who represented the seller.

The building originally was constructed to be artist studios, artisan workshops and dealer showrooms. When it opened in 1926, The Times called it "a tribute to the awakening interest in art among Southern California residents and organizations."

It was designed by Los Angeles architects Albert R. Walker and Percy A. Eisen, who also created such well-known structures as the Oviatt Building downtown, the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills and the El Cortez Hotel in San Diego.

The Fine Arts Building's design reflected an era when sculpture was integrated into the architecture as a way of expressing the meaning and purpose of the building, according to USC archives.

Sculptor Burt William Johnson fashioned two giant figures representing Architecture and Sculpture that recline against ledges on the third story. The top of a Greek column at the foot of Architecture and a partially carved torso at the foot of Sculpture symbolize their respective crafts.

The front of the building is clad in terra cotta from the Los Angeles Pressed Brick Co. kilns of Gladding, McBean & Co., which decorated other local landmarks, including the Bullocks Wilshire department store.

The Depression apparently put an end to the Fine Arts Building's reign as a cultural haven. By 1933 it was known as the Signal Oil Building and went on to be called the Havenstrite Building and Global Marine House. It was renovated in 1983 by developer Ratkovich Bowers & Perez under the direction of architect Brenda Levin, whose office is in the re-christened Fine Arts Building.

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