As far as L.A. boulevards go, Wilshire has a fare share of beautiful buildings: There's the lovely sea-blue glazed tile Pellissier building (better known as the Wiltern theater), and the art deco inspired E. Clem Wilson building (also known as the Samsung building because of the giant blue advertisement that obstructs its top third).
The low-lying Page museum at the tar pits is a subtle, local favorite, and folks seems to like the new addition to the LACMA complex too with its elegant stone and red structure poking through.
Even a newbie like the BMW showroom at Mansfield avenue is a sleek addition, all glassy with a hint of angled wall bending towards the road, as if its moving along the street with the rest of the traffic.
Most of the buildings on this stretch of Wilshire were built with guidelines set in place by a developer named A.W. Ross in the 1920s who envisioned Wilshire as a new kind of shopping area that privileged cars over pedestrians. The famous Bullocks Wilshire and Desmonds department store buildings still stand on Wilshire, echoing this era and Ross' vision for the street. Other buildings constructed on Wilshire followed suit: They butted up to the sidewalk. They had their parking lots in back. They formed a corridor of place-markers along the street, where drivers could recognize each far enough away so to maneuver the car towards that store or building.
But the boulevard has its bad teeth too: Some older buildings have been neglected or covered over with stucco and other materials, and newer, two and three-story buildings fit strangely next to the taller ones. Of the ugliest, there's the Variety building tower directly across from LACMA -- simultaneously unnoticeable, out-of-scale, boring and out of place.
There's the Smart and Final store at Burnside avenue, which features a random brown stucco shard slicing through the facade, apparently to break the monotony of the other flat stucco surfaces that radiate the heat of the hot summer sun onto pedestrian passers-by.
Equally unsightly, but slightly higher rent, is the tiered green and red pile at Curson avenue. Built in 1985, the "Wilshire Courtyard" was an attempt to re-energize business interests along the boulevard -- it currently houses the likes of the Oprah Winfrey Network, Fox Animation, the Los Angeles Business Journal and E! Entertainment.
But the newest addition to the Miracle Mile may actually be the worst.
On the southeast corner at the intersection of La Brea avenue and Wilshire boulevard, the yet-unopened mixed use housing and retail development dwarfs any and all other nearby heinousness in its hulking shadow of fugliness. The 480-unit apartment complex with stores at the ground floor has been speared by local design blogs and neighborhood groups as an abysmal civic failure and towering eyesore. What makes this crime of bad architecture even worse is to consider what used to be there, and what is now gone from the prominent intersection -- the 1965-designed Columbia Savings Bank building, by architect Irving Shapiro. Good to know at least some of that classically understated and thoughtful structure has been salvaged.
What's being completed at the site today and set to open in weeks is a six-story, 2.8 million square foot complex that blocks out the sun and reduces La Brea avenue to a shadowy, congested crevice running north/south through the neighborhood. The long term plan for the development is founded on good intentions: It will serve as a hub for retail activity and easy access to the future Metro stop at the intersection (slated to be constructed at the northwest corner, where the MTA is currently located), and the development offers residences in an area that is presently lacking housing.
But TCA Architects and the San Francisco developer BRE, who built the beast, will have to answer to outraged and disgusted residents for the egregious design mistakes pulled-off here. Surely the developers demanded a maximized building to the lot lines for maximum profit. TCA had the impossible task of pulling architecture from a bottom line project budget that likely never considered the human scale. Unfortunately, they didn't succeed.
TCA (previously Thomas P. Cox Architects), builders of many highly-regarded local buildings like the slender addition at 1100 Wilshire downtown, and the renovation of the building that houses the Mercury downtown, should have known better. But the six lumbering stories of flat burnt red, beige and black plaster facades that reach up to scalloped rooftops, the copper tower and a spindly spire (the spire has yet to be placed) are executed messily. Round the corner, and the mish-mash abuts a two-tone seafoam and lime green wall of flatness extending all the way down La Brea to 8th street.
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When asked about the design, one patron at the Little Bar near the corner of La Brea and 8th, now overshadowed by the behemoth, said of the new building, "That's the shit ugliest building I think I've ever seen." Others have called it "shameful," "jumbled," (on the Curbed LA blog) and "like a fucking row of silos." (on the Skyscraperpage blog). Hey L.A., tell us how you really feel.
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