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Condos Planned for Art Deco Landmark

Units in the downtown Los Angeles building will sell for about $300,000 to $600,000.

August 11, 2004|Roger Vincent | Times Staff Writer

The Eastern Columbia Building in downtown Los Angeles, considered one of the region's finest examples of Art Deco architecture, is slated to be converted from offices to condominiums as downtown's housing construction boom rolls on.

Hotel and apartment developer KOR Group said Tuesday that it purchased the 13-story building at 849 S. Broadway and an adjacent parking lot from Denly Investments for $20 million. KOR said it would spend an additional $30 million to repair the 270,000-square-foot building and create about 140 condominiums.

The units will be completed late next year and priced from the low $300,000s to about $600,000, said Tyson Sayles, senior vice president of acquisitions for Los Angeles-based KOR. A few three-story penthouses would go for around $1 million.

New amenities would include a rooftop gym, a pool and cabanas. Such features echo the luxuries found in the building in 1930, when self-made merchant Adolph Sieroty opened the opulent retail and office tower. He installed a model bungalow and recreation area on the roof of his combined department stores, the Eastern and Columbia Outfitting companies. .

Sieroty, a Polish immigrant, arrived in Los Angeles in the 1890s as a poor teenager. Eventually, he parlayed a $400 investment in a small store on Spring Street into a retail empire that included 29 stores on the West Coast. Columbia sold mostly clothes and accessories while Eastern sold furniture, appliances and other home furnishings.

Sieroty's Eastern Columbia building at Broadway and 9th Street, which cost $1.25 million to build, was his flagship. Clad in terra cotta tile of a color described by The Times in 1930 as "melting turquoise," the building designed by Claude Beelman included a spattering of gold leaf and an interplay of horizontal and vertical elements common to the Art Deco style.

Although it conformed to regulations that required buildings to have fewer stories than City Hall, its upper floors of mechanical space and prominent clock tower pushed its total height to 270 feet, a tad higher than the public tower completed in 1928, said Mitzi March Mogul, president of the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles. She ranks Eastern Columbia among the best examples of Art Deco, a popular design style in the 1920s, '30s and '40s.

Buildings from the era "were personal statements of their owners. It wasn't a corporate thing," said real estate broker Ed Rosenthal of CB Richard Ellis, who represented both parties in the sale with his partner, Mark Tarczynski.

The Eastern Columbia Building was converted to offices in the late 1960s. It is about 20% to 25% occupied, mostly by garment-industry tenants on short-term leases, Sayles said.

Downtown has experienced a surge in residential development that has seen 2,700 units added since 1999, according to the Los Angeles Downtown Center Business Improvement District. An additional 3,400 are under construction.

Among them are the Pegasus, a former office building at Wilshire Boulevard and Flower Street that KOR Group converted to 322 apartments in 2003. It also is converting the historic Santa Fe office building at 6th and Main streets into housing.

Other KOR developments include the Avalon Hotel and Maison 140, both in Beverly Hills; and the Viceroy hotels in Santa Monica and Palm Springs.

The arrival of so many apartments downtown has softened the rental market a bit, Sayles said, forcing landlords to offer concessions such as a month's free rent.

"Short-term there might be some growing pains" downtown, Sayles said, but "we think there is going to be significantly more demand for downtown housing as the neighborhood continues to mature."

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