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Luxury Lofts Rising in Westside

In a gritty area of L.A. next to Marina del Rey, 800 upscale residential units are planned. It's part of a trend toward higher-density living.

October 18, 2005|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

A loft boom of another sort is taking shape 18 miles west of downtown Los Angeles.

In an industrial pocket on the edge of Marina del Rey, body shops, tow yards and surfboard makers are waging a turf battle with developers of residential lofts and condos. The developers are winning in a big way.

With 800 upscale residential units rising on half a dozen parcels, the gritty little area has become one of the busiest construction zones on Los Angeles' Westside. And that's saying something, given the building boomlets in Playa Vista, Marina del Rey, Westwood and other enclaves as developers strive to meet the seemingly insatiable demand for housing.

Crisscrossed by power lines serving a hodgepodge of mom-and-pop businesses, yoga studios and architects' offices, the area is "a great pocket for urban infill," said Ken Kahan, a developer who is building four residential projects, including lofts with 17-foot ceilings, in the zone.

It's hardly news that loft living is all the rage. For the last few years, developers have fed the hunger for high-end lofts and condos in downtown Los Angeles. So many abandoned bank buildings and decaying hotels have been refurbished -- with units selling for as much as $1 million -- that poor residents are having to scramble to find dwellings.

Around Marina del Rey, the shift is pushing out business owners and factory workers who have occupied the area for decades. Steve Jones, an architect on Glencoe Avenue, said he enjoys the area's eclecticism and fears being displaced. His landlord told him the site was once part of a dairy farm that gave way to metal and brick buildings that served as boatyards and aircraft production facilities.

Many of those structures are being demolished to make way for residential projects with names like Del Rey Lofts, Redwood Lofts, Element and Indigo.

Advertisements for the lofts -- "Beachy but Urban," "Hip but Homey" -- seek to capture the notion of a sophisticated but comfortable lifestyle in the coastal zone.

These projects are part of a trend toward higher-density living on the Westside. The epitome of this new approach to housing is Playa Vista, a densely packed community just south of Marina del Rey. Activists have long battled that project, contending that it robbed residents of much-needed open space and exacerbated traffic congestion.

One developer jokingly dubbed the area SoCo (for south of a Costco shopping center in Culver City), but another name has caught on: Marina Loft District.

The neighborhood is changing before the very eyes of business owners, who figure their buildings, too, will be supplanted. Many say they are scouting new space in Inglewood, Downey and other communities that don't mind the attendant machinery and fumes. Parcels are selling for millions of dollars.

"We small businesses are being squeezed out," said Chris Pak, manager of Platinum Auto Refinish & Collision Center on Glencoe. A year ago, after seeing tenants tote sofas and tables into a new apartment building next door, he told his workers to activate the shop's compressors later than usual on Saturdays. No one dictated that change, Pak said, but "it seemed the sensible thing to do. I just don't want to create a rift between the tenants and us."

Once a quiet street, Glencoe has become a thoroughfare, Pak added, with clouds of dust from construction equipment that wreaks havoc with detailing work and clogs spray-booth filters.

Residential developers say this transformation represents a desirable neighborhood's natural progression, given the strong demand for Westside housing. The 800 units -- being built by John Laing Homes, Standard Pacific Homes, Kahan's California Landmark Development and others -- will range in price from the $400,000s to about $1 million.

"It was time for that neighborhood to evolve," said Alan J. Boeker, division president with Standard Pacific of Los Angeles, a builder of 140 lofts on Redwood Avenue, with an average size of 1,350 square feet. Across the street, Standard Pacific plans to tear down a Burger King on Washington Boulevard and replace it with 41 "live-work" condos.

"Fortunately," Boeker added, "the right people realized it and set a blueprint in place for when the market was right."

That blueprint was the Glencoe/Maxella Specific Plan, which the city of Los Angeles adopted in 1993. The ordinance allows for the development of residential units amid the industrial uses. Devised by residents of a condo complex and industrial property owners and their tenants, the plan arose because of concerns about traffic and noise at a time when Culver City was contemplating building a regional shopping center where Costco now sits.

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