Developer Geoff Palmer has built more apartments in Downtown Los Angeles than anyone else (more than 3,000) and they're all fucking terrible. His squat, nearly-identical fortresses, with embarrassing names like the Visconti and the Medici, aren't just ugly (although they are very ugly), they're vacuums designed to suck the life out of a neighborhood that has worked so hard to become lively in the past decade. "Fortress" isn't really a metaphor—Palmer's buildings take up full city blocks but face entirely inward. They're notorious for the skybridges that keep tenants off of the streets and sidewalks; their street-level retail spaces sit mostly empty; their many basketball courts and libraries and green spaces (in one case, a one-acre park) are not even a little bit open to the public. And they're spreading: while most of Palmer's buildings are practically on top of the 110 Freeway, his latest will add more than 650 units on the action-packed block of Broadway between Ninth and Olympic.
Palmer "hasn't granted an interview in eight years," but Los Angeles magazine has put together a shocking overview of a career that's involved illegally laundering campaign contributions; destroying a historic Downtown gem; and making an amazingly, hilariously dumb defense of his architectural record. Here are the worst parts:
· Palmer wrote in an email to Los Angeles that "he wanted to recapture downtown's former glory with the buildings," which are collectively referred too, barfily, as the Renaissance Collection. He adds that his totally-incomprehensible-but-kinda-Italianate architectural style is actually historifical: "The Italians actually settled L.A. before the Spanish and Chinese." That of course is not in any way true (the Spanish founded LA in the late *1700s, shutting out both the Chinese and the Italians).
· The Renaissance Collection features "resort amenities" including gyms, movie theaters, basketball courts, libraries (!!), climbing walls, and, in the case of the Medici, a "one-acre private park with tennis and picnic facilities and a sand volleyball court." And none of it is open to the public, including that park. Only the Orsini has an "outdoor ornamental fountain" available to non-tenants. And that is the result of an obscure episode that really ought to become common knowledge…
· Palmer's the man responsible for destroying the very last building in the lost Downtown neighborhood of Bunker Hill. The city wiped out most of the neighborhood, which it deemed a "slum," starting in the 1950s, but there was one 1880s Queen Anne house left at Cesar Chavez Avenue and Figueroa Street in the late 1980s, when Palmer began work there on the Orsini. It was called the Giese House and it was protected under preservation laws. There were plans in place to move the house to Angelino Heights, but Palmer's workers demolished it instead. Their excuse? A bulldozer had accidentally backed into it, making it unsavable. It gets even more screwed up, though! When the city suggested it might hold Palmer accountable for his shitty actions, he sued the city. In the end he only had to pay $200,000 and provide some "public mitigations," which explains the Orsini's fountain.
· Unshockingly, Palmer began his career building sprawly tract houses in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys. "Perhaps fearing that the move to incorporate Santa Clarita in 1987 would result in more building regulations," his company GH Palmer Associates laundered donations to an anti-cityhood PAC, reimbursing employees for contributions it made. He also made illegal contributions to an LA City Councilmember whose district he was building in, "under a similar scheme," as the LA Times described it in 1991. The company ended up paying just $30,000 in fines for 15 campaign finance violations.
· Palmer's potentially hurt efforts throughout the state to build more badly-needed affordable housing. He's won two lawsuits to keep affordable apartments out of his buildings, including one over the Piero II that pokes a hole in cities' ability to make zoning laws that require affordable housing. According to LA, "Affordable-housing advocates often blame that decision when they point to the paucity of low-income housing downtown."
· Palmer's properties are, according to Palmer's company, 95 percent full (rents range from about $2,000 to about $5,000), but the tenants don't actually seem to like it there: "There are consistent complaints about trash and property damage around the premises, about the noise from other tenants (many are students), and about what people describe as lax oversight." His company actually has its own management subsidiary that runs the buildings, so it's all on him. Update: A tipster emails to add that Palmer's buildings are also magnets for break-ins, far more than other Downtown buildings, plus they're riddled with surveillance cameras, by Palmer's own admission.
· Palmer plans to add "at least 1,200 other apartments" Downtown, which he very strangely believes "will resemble Manhattan" in a couple decades. You know, Manhattan, that borough full of ornate, ahistorical, five-story, stucco fortresses.
· Geoff Palmer's Faux-Italian Renaissance [Los Angeles]
· Geoff Palmer [Curbed LA]