clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Inside the Dramatic Restoration at Downtown LA's Historic Rosslyn Hotel

New, 21 comments

In 2010, the non-profit SRO Housing Corporation bought the historic Rosslyn Hotel annex in Downtown Los Angeles (across the street from its older counterpart known as the "Million Dollar" Rosslyn) and began the hard work of restoring the 1923 building to accommodate 264 units of single-room occupancy housing. Single-room occupancy often conjures images of shared kitchens or bathrooms, but the new Rosslyn units all have their own kitchenettes and restrooms. The units average just 220 square feet, and come furnished with new beds, tables, and chairs, but have the original, 1920s-era wood floors in the living areas, honeycomb and subway tiles in the bathrooms, and big wooden double-hung windows, giving each room a little bit of well-crafted luxury in otherwise modest quarters.

Of the 264 units, a little over 100 are reserved as housing for homeless veterans. All the units have rents adjusted to be 30 percent of the earnings of the renters, many of whom receive government assistance (like disability) as their lone source of income. There will not be a traditional "market-rate" component for the Rosslyn Hotel Apartments, making it different from its sister site across the street, which does have more expensive apartments and lofts whose rents are not capped. With the high demand for housing for the very lowest income residents of Los Angeles, and especially Downtown, it's not hard to believe that every unit in the building has already been rented out in the beautiful and pedigreed structure.

The Rosslyn annex, designed by City Hall architect John Parkinson, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A fine example of the Beaux-Arts style, it opened as a grand luxury hotel in 1923—the counterpart to the other Rosslyn across the street, which was built for the then-outrageous sum of $1 million. As the years passed, the annex fell into extreme disrepair, leaving only sad "traces of grandeur" by the early aughts, when it had become a pretty dangerous place to live, by the accounts of tenants.

But it was the special historical status of the building, not its checkered past, that posed challenges during renovations. The process of rehabilitating the site took longer and was more expensive than SROHC's similar work on a non-historic building because of the specific rules about what could and could not be altered, and in what particular ways any changes could be made. Everything that wasn't broken had to be kept in place, which meant deep-cleaning the old bathroom tile instead of just replacing it with new tile, and working around existing hardware like sinks and bathtubs. SRO Housing Corporation spent about 20 months on its careful restoration of the structure, which, as these dramatic before-and-afters show, looked seriously rough in parts when it was first purchased.

In the course of their renovation, SRO Housing Corporation rediscovered several features of the building that had long been hidden. They took out drop ceilings inserted in more recent years and uncovered a skylight above the former check-in counter of the first-floor lobby. Adorned with elaborate wrought-iron metalwork, the enormous and now-restored skylight filters natural light into the original marble floors of the lobby, as well as onto the second floor communal section of the building, where a shared kitchen and large TV are available to residents. The lore goes that the skylight was covered up back in the World War II era and was simply left that way until the conversion to SRO uncovered it.

On one of the upper floors, toward the end of the hallway, there's a single creaky door with a small plaque next to it that reads, "Historic Bathroom." Inside there's a gross, rusty old bathroom, with water damage and peeling paint and dirt. It's a valuable reminder of how the Rosslyn looked back before it was rehabbed, and it seems comical and almost impossible compared to the way the building looks now. Since Curbed toured the Rosslyn, it was announced that a 2,300-square-foot market—a "mini-Ralphs" called Village Market —will be going into the Rosslyn Hotel Apartments' retail space at the corner of Fifth and Main, and will cater to the area residents, including those at the new Rosslyn.

· Downtown's Historic Rosslyn Hotel Becoming Homeless Housing [Curbed LA]
· Inside the Extreme Makeover at Downtown's Rosslyn Hotel [Curbed LA]