The Los Angeles Times' downtown headquarters is a hodgepodge of five buildings, not all of them pretty.
The paper's oldest building, a Moderne 1935 structure designed by Gordon B. Kaufmann of Hoover Dam fame, is beloved for its deco-era majesty and for its Globe Lobby, adorned with towering Hugo Ballin murals.
Adjacent structures built in 1935 and 1948 carry on the main building's color and theme, if loosely. All are fairly respected. Then there's the 1973, brown-glass-adorned structure on First Street designed by the office of architect William L. Pereira for use as onetime Times-Mirror Company corporate offices.
The low-slung edifice has been loathed inside the neighboring Times newsroom, even though an invitation to dine in the executives' Picasso Room was a rare treat (before the space was largely abandoned to film shoots). The building helped Times Mirror Square, the name for the whole, one-block campus, take second place in Curbed L.A.'s first “Ugliest Building” contest in 2007.
But some preservationists are aghast at recent news that a developer reportedly has gobbled up the Times property for $120 million and plans to raze the Pereira building to make way for apartments. The 1935 and 1948 portions would be preserved as offices and retail space, the Los Angeles Business Journal reported.
Vancouver-based Onni Group, the reported buyer, did not respond to a request for comment.
“In many ways Pereira's career and his other buildings helped to create a real California modern architecture,” says architect and historian Alan Hess, who's working on a book on California modern architecture in the 20th century.
Pereira and his office are responsible for the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, the defunct, pre-Disneyland theme park known as Marineland of the Pacific in Rancho Palos Verdes, the iconic Theme Building at LAX, UC Irvine, CBS Television City and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's original structures, the latter of which are also under the threat of extinction.
The architect was a friend of the Los Angeles Times' first family, the Chandlers, and also designed two homes, one in San Marino, for members of the clan, Hess says.
“All great empires have great architecture,” Hess says. “These are examples of California's expression of its wealth and power and position in the world. Pereira really understood what Southern California was all about and invented these new forms to provide for it.”
Yes, but Pereira's Times-Mirror building was no Transamerica Pyramid.
“It shows that Pereira could throttle himself back,” Hess says. “He knew the L.A. Times building was important. So what he added doesn't overwhelm the original building. It's set back. It's darker in color. It's simpler in form. It's the right building for the right place for the right purpose.”
Many are nonetheless underwhelmed by Pereira's work for the publisher, associating the structure with a bell-bottom era drunk with funky colors (brown, green) and too much hair. But Hess points out that bungalows and even art deco lost favor with the public at one time or another.
“We lost a lot of those until the styles came around and were appreciated again,” he says.
The architect says there's no doubt the Times' Pereira should be saved. But efforts to keep it are virtually nonexistent. Preservationists Richard Schave and Kim Cooper, perhaps best known for their historic Esotouric tours of Los Angeles, gave it a try when they started a Cultural-Historic Monument application for the property.
But Schave says support from the city's Office of Historic Resources, which handles requests for Historic-Cultural monument status, “sort of evaporated.”
“I'm frustrated that the Office of Historic Resources put up barriers,” Schave says. “I felt discouraged.”
Ken Bernstein, manager and principal city planner at the Office of Historic Resources, says a proposal was generated a few years ago but was never turned in or completed for his office's review.
“I don't know that there's a true movement afoot to save it,” he says of the Pereira.
During the project's would-be environmental review, the office would conduct a “historic resources assessment” to make a “recommendation on whether any proposed project would adversely impact historic resources,” Bernstein says.
The nonprofit Los Angeles Conservancy, which has a track record of helping to save historic buildings from the wrecking ball, says it favors preserving and reusing the whole Times complex.
“At this point we're looking at the entire building,” says Linda Dishman, president and CEO of the conservancy. “Our hope is that they'd want to save it as a good example of adopting a historic building.”
However, Dishman favors weighing in after the developer submits plans and they're reviewed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
“Any project will likely have to go through a CEQA environmental review,” Dishman says, “so at that point we could look at saving or preserving it.”
Observers, including Schave and Cooper, believe that applying for Cultural-Historic status for the buildings is easier and more democratic. CEQA is complicated and involves legal language.
“CEQA is not the silver bullet for historic preservation,” Schave says.
Kate Eggert, founder of the West Hollywood Heritage Project, has battled for preservation during the CEQA review stage of projects before and agrees that it's the harder road to take.
In fact, she argues, once a project's environmental impact report (EIR) is submitted, it's almost a done deal in many cases.
“Once the EIR is published, it's a rolling ball,” Eggert says. “The process goes by fast.”
And so it might be that the Times' Pereira won't be saved. But preservationists have to choose their battles.
“There's just a lot of exhaustion in the preservation community when it comes to these fights,” Eggert says.