It's been generations since a high-rise building had its debut on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, but the skyline is finally in for a dramatic change.
A local developer hopes to transform a homely corner of the city's famed commercial corridor early next year by leveling a drab one-story retail center at 4th Street and Broadway. In its place would be a 34-story apartment skyscraper more than twice as tall as most other buildings in the historic core of downtown L.A.
To be built at a cost of nearly $150 million, the apartment and retail complex called Broadway @ 4th would house 450 units and fill in a key block in gentrifying downtown L.A., developer Izek Shomof said.
To market observers who saw the city's former elite streets of Broadway, Spring and Main become run-down and plagued by drugs and crime during the latter decades of the 20th century, it's remarkable that an extravagant upscale apartment tower would even be built in the neighborhood, much less one that would stand taller than City Hall.
"It's a new day for Broadway that large-scale construction is even proposed," said property preservationist Adrian Scott Fine, director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy. "It wouldn't have even been on anyone's mind 10 years ago."
Most buildings in the historic core date to the early 20th century. The most recent high-rise was an office tower completed at Spring and 6th streets in 1961. Soon after that, Fine said, many businesses began leaving the city's historic downtown blocks for newer office buildings on Bunker Hill and other blocks near the Harbor Freeway.
But developer Shomof has enjoyed success in recent years renovating old office buildings on nearby Spring Street and turning them into apartments served by hip restaurants, bars, nightclubs and shops.
"I have over 2,000 units with no vacancy," he said of his properties around 7th and 8th streets. "Why not go for another 450?"
Shomof recently submitted plans for Broadway @ 4th to city officials and hopes to get the go-ahead to start construction early next year. The developer and his architect face the challenge of coming up with an appropriate design for a new building in an old part of the city.
The site lies in several overlapping city land use zones where development is restricted, property consultant Hamid Behdad said. Among the zones are the Broadway Theater and Entertainment District, the Bringing Back Broadway Corridor and the Historic Preservation Review Area.
Assigned the challenge of designing a new building for a classic old neighborhood was architect Douglas Hanson, president of HansonLA. Among the city requirements: The first 10 stories or so had to be flush with the sidewalk to preserve sight lines along Broadway. The next 14 stories are to be set back 30 feet from the street.
"These are really strict guidelines that we are the first to test," Hanson said. "Nowhere else in L.A. do people have these kinds of restrictions to make something."
The goal for his firm was to design a building that would look appropriate on Broadway but wasn't an imitation of a historic building in the way that some baseball parks, for example, are made to look as if they were built in an earlier era.
"We weren't interested in making it feel historical," Hanson said. Instead, they used some historic architectural traits such as deep-set windows and other indentations intended to create shadows and texture.
Unlike many historic structures, the new building would have parking spaces both underground and set behind apartments on floors two through six.
City Councilman Jose Huizar, whose downtown district includes historic Broadway, said he likes what he's seen of the project.
"They've really hit the mark with this design," Huizar said. "This project will spur more revitalization on Broadway."
Quite a bit of revitalization has already taken place or is in the works on Broadway between 2nd and 12th streets, where there are a growing number of new bars, restaurants and stores. Near Olympic Boulevard, the trendy Ace Hotel recently opened in a former office building and movie house.
An Urban Outfitters clothing outlet recently set up shop in the former Rialto Theatre. Hip Swedish retailer Acne Studios launched a flagship store in the Art Deco landmark Eastern Columbia building, a former department store turned luxury condominium tower.
But none of them approach the scale of the Broadway @ 4th project, which would be one of the tallest buildings in Southern California and a new visual landmark almost as high as nearby towers on Bunker Hill.
Another eye-catching project is already in the works on Broadway. The renovation of Clifton's Cafeteria, a popular Depression-era restaurant, may once again attract throngs of diners.
Real estate developer and moviemaker Andrew Meieran is staking his reputation and millions of dollars on an attempt to revive the beloved restaurant and make it even grander with additional restaurants, bars and a museum.
Each venue is to be crafted with the sophisticated attention to detail that Meieran brought to the nearby Edison, the Jules Verne-like subterranean nightclub he created deep under a century-old building on 2nd Street.
Meieran is now years behind schedule on his revival of Clifton's, but he hopes to have the famous restaurant open by summer. "It's a carefully crafted work of art," he said. "It's going to come out when it comes out."
Big projects like Clifton's, the Ace Hotel and Shomof's bold investment at 4th Street will help lift all of Broadway, Meieran said.
"I'm excited," he said. "You've got so many things going on that are going to anchor and re-anchor this place."