The Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) has voted to landmark only the most historic elements of the Los Angeles Times complex, paving the way for the demolition of a William L. Pereira–designed addition from 1970. The decision to deny Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) status for the entire complex comes as developer Onni Group and architects AC Martin push forward on a transformative project that aims to bring two high-rise apartment towers containing over 1,200 units to the portion of the LA Times complex site currently occupied by the Pereira-designed structure. Preservationists Kim Cooper, Alan Hess, and Richard Schave had been fighting to designate the entirety of the complex in an effort that predated the 2016 announcement of the AC Martin–designed project. The approach was geared toward positioning the Late Modern addition as an integral portion of the complex and as a pivotal structure built during a time of growth and expansion in the city of Los Angeles. The council members on the PLUM committee disagreed, however, and instead voted to grant HCM status only to the older portions of the complex, including the flagship Art Deco LA Times building from the 1930s designed by Gordon Kaufman, and a later addition from the 1940s designed by Rowland Crawford. The decision will allow Onni’s project to move forward at a time of increasing change for the Civic Center, which recently saw the completion of SOM’s United States Courthouse, the Rios Clementi Hale Studios–designed Grand Park, and other notable projects. The district is undergoing a forward-looking master planning process that aims to convert the sleepy, single-use administrative enclave into a mixed-use neighborhood complete with apartment towers, office spaces, and new parks, including the forthcoming First and Broadway Park designed by OMA and Studio-MLA. Just around the corner from the proposed AC Martin project, Gehry Partners’s long-awaited Grand Avenue complex recently broke ground. The battle over the future Times Mirror Square complex also comes following a bruising preservation battle aimed at saving the much-derided Parker Center complex, a former Los Angeles Police Department headquarters designed by Welton Beckett. Parker Center is currently being demolished. No word yet on whether an appeal will be filed in support of the Pereira structure or, if further efforts to save the complex fail, when demolition might commence.
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The current proposal to bisect the Los Angeles Times’s buildings facing City Hall on First Street would delete a key chapter from the city’s collective memory. In spite of the Cultural Heritage Commission’s September 20th approval of landmark status for the entire block, half of the block could still be demolished for two high-rise towers by Canadian developer Onni Group. What would be lost? One of Los Angeles’s most vivid symbols commemorating its ambitious rise from provincial outpost to global metropolis during the twentieth century. Commissioned by publisher Harry Chandler, architect Gordon Kaufmann’s 1935 building on the corner of First and Spring Streets announced Los Angeles’s arrival on the national stage. Two generations later publisher Otis Chandler (Harry’s grandson) hired architect William Pereira to design the 1973 wing on the corner of Broadway to proclaim that the city (and the Times itself) had achieved its destiny as a national and global presence. Together the two buildings embody the dynamic story of the city’s evolving vision that still shapes its direction. That tangible reminder is one of historic architecture’s essential roles in a city.But while Onni’s proposal at the moment would preserve the beginning of that story (Kaufmann’s widely beloved Art Deco masterpiece) it would sacrifice the payoff—Pereira’s wing. This is the thornier issue. The Pereira addition’s Late Modern style has not yet had the time to become as widely appreciated as Art Deco. Late Modern landmarks were often corporate headquarters, aerospace campuses, new universities, master-planned cities, and cultural crowns—designs which undergirded Southern California’s tremendous growth, but which were not often praised by architecture critics in their time. Proper appreciation today is hampered by the fact that there is little published recently about this important style, or on Pereira‘s career. Yet Late Modern turns out to be the signature style of Los Angeles’s arrival as a global capital.
We can’t forget that the Kaufmann building’s Art Deco style was also once considered ugly and old-fashioned. Even Kevin Lynch, a respected observer, called another Art Deco landmark, the Richfield Building, “ugly” way back in 1960—just before it was demolished as expendable. Today it is lamented. So opinions change, which is why we can’t dismiss Pereira’s 1973 design out of hand. The Late Modern style was part of a worldwide re-evaluation of Modernism—frequently spearheaded by Los Angeles architects, including William Pereira.By the 1960s the mainstream International Style of modern architecture was growing stale, and many architects around the world realized it. While some architects introduced historic sources—leading to Postmodernism—others held to Modernism’s faith in technology and functionalism. This was what we now call Late Modern. They realized that technology had changed since the 1920s when an earlier generation had defined the International Style. Late Modern architects moved away from the simple glass box to sculpted forms that reflected the complex interplay between interior functions and exterior context. James Stirling and James Gowan lead the way at the Leicester Engineering Building in England in 1963. In Los Angeles, Cesar Pelli and Anthony Lumsden (lead designers at Daniel Mann Johnson & Mendenhall before Pelli moved to Gruen Associates) moved away from the transparent Miesian curtain wall framed by exposed structure to a taut multi-directional skin of glass that—they realized—could take almost any shape or color. Recent technologies offered fresh possibilities. As historian Daniel Paul records in his Late Modern historic context statement for SurveyLA, they were also impressed by a new wave of artists such as Larry Bell, Donald Judd, and Craig Kauffman. Lumsden’s curvaceous Roxbury Plaza, Pelli’s blue Pacific Design Center, Pelli and Lumsden’s weightless FAA headquarters in Hawthorne, CNA’s mirrored box by Langdon & Wilson in Lafayette Park all followed. Pereira offered his own new direction for Modernism in the new LA Times wing and other buildings. He had already moved past International Style Modernism (best seen in his CBS Television City with Charles Luckman) at his Neo-Formalist Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1965) and the richly expressive Metropolitan Water District (1963), both inspired by the sunlight, water, and outdoor living in our region.
If Kaufmann told the story of California’s raw power and potential in the 1930s, Pereira’s response in the 1970s was larger, lighter, and more sophisticated in its use of modern technological might. The pair mirrored the progression from the first trans-Pacific Clippers of the 1930s to the 747 of the 1970s.For the new wing at the Los Angeles Times, Pereira drew on several innovative urban planning and aesthetic ideas. Breaking up the International Style box, he sculpted the building into receding and advancing planes, into dominant and secondary horizontals and verticals, each articulated with richly textured stone, metal spandrels, and tinted glass. Lifting its mass high in the air on muscular columns it echoed the forms of beton brut design and of R. M. Schindler’s Lovell House in Newport Beach. Though dynamic and sculptural, these shapes also responded to functions, carving out public space in a landscaped courtyard paved with cobbles at ground level out of the path of sidewalk traffic, and maximizing office space in the jutting prow overhead. As a planner, Pereira knew that Los Angeles wanted to build an elevated people-mover system throughout downtown, so he added a second-floor walkway to serve as a convenient stop. Then there was Pereira’s innovative response to the strong historic structure next door. He designed the new wing to respect the older, setting his building back, reducing its height, muting its colors so as not to detract from the Kaufmann building. This was a daring response in 1973 before historic preservation had become a major urbanist concern, but it reflects Pereira’s innovative thinking throughout his career. The new possibilities of Late Modernism allowed him the leeway to do so. It is time to leave behind outdated opinions of the Late Modern style and recognize Pereira’s LA Times building for its bold composition, its creation of urban public space, and its sensitive relation to its historic neighbor. Onni can still reasonably develop the site without sacrificing this significant building—or the legendary origin story it tells about how Los Angeles grew to greatness. Fashion inevitably changes. Late Modern architecture will soon return to fashionability, as Kaufmann’s Art Deco building has. Pereira’s lessons in good urban design must remain to help us plan the next chapter in Los Angeles’s civic center. Alan Hess is an architect, historian, and author of twenty books on Modern and California architecture. He has written landmark designation nominations at the local and national level for many midcentury Modern buildings, including CBS Television City by Pereira and Luckman for the Los Angeles Conservancy. Since 2004 he has been researching the work of William Pereira in preparation for a book on the subject. His newest book, Hollywood Modern: Houses of the Stars, will be published by Rizzoli International this October.
Efforts to landmark the historic Los Angeles Times headquarters in Downtown Los Angeles took a step forward last week when the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC) agreed to take up a Historic Cultural Monument (HCM) nomination for the complex put forth by a group of Los Angeles preservationists. The agreement moves the historic nomination process forward for the five-building complex just as the Los Angeles Times staff vacates the property amid a move to El Segundo, California. Concurrently, a fight over several of the buildings’ historic lobby artifacts has entered a new stage as the new LA Times owner, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, has moved to illicitly remove a collection of historic elements from the complex in a bid to create an LA Times-focused museum at the paper’s new headquarters. Just days before the CHC hearing took place work crews removed several historic busts from the so-called Globe Lobby, a grand, marble-wrapped entry space punctuated by a 66-inch wide aluminum globe sculpture. The orb, created by Gutzon Borglum in 1891, survived a 1910 bombing of the newspaper’s offices and is joined in the lobby by a series of 10-foot-tall murals painted by Hugo Ballin in 1934 that depict the origins and major industries of Los Angeles. In a blog post describing the removal, Kim Cooper of historic tour group Esotouric described the emptied lobby as “a defaced space that looks like a plucked chicken.” The nomination for the complex was compiled by preservationist Richard Shave, also of Esotouric, with the help of other experts, including Cooper and the historian Alan Hess. The nomination considers the entire complex for designation, including a pair of late modern-era buildings designed by William Pereira. The buildings included in the nomination follow:
- The eight-story Los Angeles Times Building designed in the Art Deco/Moderne style by Los Angeles architect Gordon B. Kaufmann in 1935.
- The four-story Plant Building completed in 1935 that includes an original two-story Art Deco/Moderne-style building by Kaufmann and two one-story additions designed by Los Angeles architect Rowland H. Crawford in 1946 and 1955.
- The 12-story Mirror Building designed in the Late Moderne architectural style by Crawford in 1948
- The six-story Times-Mirror Headquarters Building and an attendant six-story parking structure designed by Pereira in the Corporate International architectural style in 1973.
Three finalist teams have released hotly-anticipated designs for a new tower complex at Angels Knoll, a former Los Angeles park now known as Angels Landing. The finalists were selected based on their submissions to a Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by the City of Los Angeles back in January to develop a parcel at 4th and Hill Streets, which was once home to Angels Knoll, a park that closed in 2013. The RFP asked architects to include affordable housing on the one-acre lot, which bridges the neighborhoods of the Historic Core, Civic Center, and Bunker Hill. Urbanize.LA reports that the development will also offer pedestrian access to California Plaza, the Pershing Square Metro Station, and Angels Flight, a historic railway. One design team, Angels Landing Development Partners (ALDP), is led by local developer Lowe Enterprises in collaboration with Cisneros Miramontes, Gensler, and Relm Studio. ALDP's tower design, pictured first in the gallery above, stretches to 883 feet (1.27 million square feet in all). Its building is proposed as a part of the UCLA campus. The tower would include 655 residences targeting university faculty, and it would host ample academic, office, and adaptable program space. The renderings depict an irregularly stepped tower of terra-cotta and glass with publicly-accessible terraced landscaping and green roofs on a few of the setbacks. Another team is comprised of Onni Group, a Vancouver-based developer, and Stanley Saitowitz of San Francisco–based Natoma Architects. In the renderings, two unevenly stacked steel-and-glass massings stand at respective heights of 840 and 410 feet tall. The shorter structure would include condos and a hotel, while the taller tower would include apartments, commercial space, and an elementary school. Two acres of open space are incorporated into the plan at ground level and at California Plaza. Angels Landings Partners (ALP), the final team, is a partnership between MacFarlane Partners, the Peebles Corporation, and Claridge Properties, as well as Handel Architects and Olin. ALP has also proposed two towers for the site, one at 24 stories and another at a lofty 88 stories. These structures would incorporate 400 rental units (20 of those affordable), 250 condos, and 500 hotel rooms. The buildings, with 57,000 square feet of open space, would also include extensive retail space and a charter school. If ALP's design were to move forward, the towers would become the largest minority-owned development in L.A. The city plans to select a developer for the project in November.
Vancouver, Canada—based developer Onni Group has officially filed documentation with the City of Los Angeles to redevelop the historic Los Angeles Times property in Downtown Los Angeles. Urbanize.LA reports that the developer plans to rehabilitate the most historic components of the site, including the original, Gordon B. Kaufman—designed structure from 1935 and a 1948 addition designed by Rowland Henry Crawford. Onni’s plans, however, also call for the demolition of the William Pereira—designed addition made to the complex in the 1970s. Through visually and formally striking and demonstrative of larger architectural trends from each respective era, none of the site's components, including the original Los Angeles Times building, the 1948 addition, or the High-Modernist Pereira addition, are currently protected by historic preservation ordinances at either the local or national level. The developer paid $120 million for the entire Times Mirror Square complex earlier this year and has been quick to announce the growing list of redevelopment plans associated with the purchase in the months since. Tribune Media Company, owner of the L.A. Times, announced an unrelated development a few weeks ago for a site currently being as a parking lot for the complex. That project consists of a 30-story tall, boxy tower designed by Gensler. The design of that tower features offset and cantilevered masses and would contain 107 condominium units, 534,000 square feet of commercial space, and 7,200 square feet of ground-floor retail area, all located above a new subway station being developed as part of the Downtown L.A. Regional Connector project. Onni Group's filing indicates plans to build a pair of new high-rise towers in place of the Pereira-designed structure. These towers would contain a combined 1,127 residential units and over 34,000 square feet of ground floor retail space, Urbanize reports. The developers would also rehabilitate the remaining L.A. Times buildings as office space. The proposed development would require a series of discretionary approvals by the City, but since the L.A. Times complex is not currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places or locally as a Historic-Cultural Monument, the Pereira-designed portions, in particular, are open to demolition. The filing comes as the development and preservation communities in Los Angeles spar with one another over which aspects of the city’s architectural history are worth preserving. A Gehry Partners—designed complex at 8150 Sunset that aims to demolish the Kurt Meyer—designed modernist bank has been at the center of this debate, as have proposals to demolish several other William Pereira—designed structures, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art complex (to be replaced by a new $600-million museum by Peter Zumthor), and portions of the Metropolitan Water District.