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Historic Downtown hotel turning into affordable housing

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Skid Row’s century-old Panama Hotel is getting a preservation-minded makeover

More than a century old, the Panama Hotel has for years offered temporary shelter to residents of Skid Row. Now, owner SRO Housing Trust is coordinating a Carrier Johnson + CULTURE-designed redevelopment of the building into permanent supportive housing.

The $12 million project will convert the 220 single resident occupancy units into 79 furnished studio units. Along with the apartments, the project will include common laundry and resident gathering areas, offices for on-site case workers, and a bicycle storage area.

According to Carrier Johnson + CULTURE, the new housing will also be eco-friendly. Plans include a cooling roof design for efficient temperature control and a solar thermal system that will provide up to half of the building's hot water and heat.

In contrast to the contemporary design of other recent permanent supportive housing projects on Skid Row, like the Michael Maltzan-designed Star Apartments, the project's design preserves the historic aesthetic of the hotel. Carrier Johnson + CULTURE director Kyle Peterson says the firm is working under guidelines proposed by the State Historic Preservation Officer.

Generally thought of only as a gathering point for the city’s most downtrodden residents, Skid Row has a long and tangled history dating back to when it was a lively hub of hotels and restaurants grouped around the long-demolished Central station. When Union Station replaced Central Station as the city’s largest passenger terminal, the hotels of Skid Row were forced to lower prices and became havens for the city’s poorest residents and visitors.

Renovations of the building’s exterior will include a restoration of the hotel’s brick facade and repairs to its vintage neon signage. Work on the apartments is already underway, with the project expected to be complete by April 5, 2017.