Movin' On Up 

Our city gets vertical with a crop of new high-rise condos

Wednesday, Dec 6 2006

The edges of Los Angeles bleed like lipstick onto pale skin. This city is constantly expanding. And along with it, increases in traffic, smog and time spent trapped in gridlock during mind-numbing commutes, leading more people longing to live near their jobs. This year, 63 percent of buyers in downtown L.A. are purchasing what will be their primary residence, the majority of them so they can live closer to their work, according to a recent study by the Ryness Company, a marketing firm for developers. And this trend is spreading all over the city. We’ve seen it happen on Wilshire and in Westwood, but now tall buildings are going up downtown, in Hollywood and even in Marina del Rey. As density increases, sprawl is no longer an option and developers are forced to build up. Many have begun to look for old office buildings, hotels and other abandoned multistory structures that can be repurposed as high-rise apartments or condos.

To tempt young marrieds, single professionals and empty-nesters, these new homes offer luxuries like bars, gyms, pools and even day spas. Lavish modern conveniences make up for less square footage. The residences offer views of the cityscape to rival the Hills, and, with supermarkets and shops nearby, eliminate the need to drive through L.A. traffic. Here is the newest batch of high rises.

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On a Clear Day You Can See Catalina

For years, the 57-story Rolls Royce office tower downtown sat empty. But it was only a matter of time before the chunk of real estate caught the eye of Forest City Enterprises. With the help of Thomas P. Cox Architects, the building was reinvented as a home to luxury high-rise condominiums. Now 1100 Wilshire boasts a swimming pool, 16 floors of above-ground parking, hidden electrical outlets and breathtaking views of the city and even Catalina. It has added enviro-friendly standards like bamboo flooring and energy-efficient use of space and light.

But the main reason residents like Kevin Strom moved here is to avoid a brutal commute. “A lot of my clients are there [downtown] and I can avoid the daily traffic from Orange County,” Strom says. “A lot of young people are moving to the area as well.” Strom sold his 4,100-square-foot O.C. house in exchange for an 18th-floor two-bed/two-bath corner loft. The lofts feature bedrooms on platforms, and they are open and raised to the level of the windows to reduce the need for artificial light. There is even an option for an “upside-down town home” with 21-foot ceilings upstairs, where the bedroom is located, and lower, 18-foot ceilings downstairs.

Frosted glass, set in place with an invisible frame, is used to divide space between the bathroom and the living area. Existing steel beams, from floor to ceiling, had to remain in the new development. Enclosed with dry wall and paint, they form an interpretive-modern-art display of alphabet letters. Most of the condos cost more than a million dollars, but when you’re stuck on the 405 for four hours, you might start a complicated math equation involving gas costs and time spent per year in traffic. 550- to 12,000-square-foot penthouses: high $400,000s to more than $1 million; 1100 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., (213) 482-9000 or www.livingabovela.com.

Pool With a View

You have to crane your neck to see all of the towering turquoise-terra-cotta-and-gold-leaf Eastern Columbia building. In the 1930s the Art Deco structure was home to Polish entrepreneur Adolph Sieroty’s Eastern Columbia Outfitting Company. The ’50s brought office space and the ’80s saw Sieroty’s sale of the building. And in 2004 the Kor Group purchased the 13 stories. Killefer Flammang Architects and L.A.-based Kelly Wearstler Interior Design helped to convert the opulent space into glamorous live-and-work loft condominiums.

The majority of tenants are young entrepreneurs themselves who claim Eastern Columbia as their second home. They were drawn by the stunning visuals. The lobby boasts restored terrazzo floors and antique elevator doors. On the upper levels, the original flooring and mirrors remain, complimented by new marble walls and patterned carpet. Roof views include the Staples Center, the Transamerica building and the downtown skyline. The penthouse loft shows off the famous Orpheum Theatre sign. There’s also a spa, sun deck, fireplace and fitness studio. These may be live/work lofts, but residents say that with all of these hotel-like amenities, it’s more like being on vacation. Move-ins start January 2007. All units sold except some penthouses. 881 to 3,208 square feet: low $400,000s to under $3 million; 849 S. Broadway, L.A.

Temperature Rising

The Mercury, an ultrasleek 23-level high-rise, used to be the 1963 Getty Oil building. Forest City converted it into the only residential high-rise in K-town. Architect Claude Beelman designed the original building, and was also the architect of downtown L.A.’s Standard Hotel. Interior designer Kahi Lee of HGTV’s FreeStyle show gave the Mercury its look — after all, the place “caters to fashionista types.”

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