Canadian developer Onni Group plans to demolish part of the Times Mirror Square complex in Downtown LA in order to build a pair of tall residential towers, but a group of preservationists want to landmark the office buildings before that can happen.
Last week, the group nominated the complex for Historic-Cultural Monument status. If Los Angeles’s Cultural Heritage Commission agrees to consider the application, the property can’t be razed as long as the review is ongoing.
The complex has long been home to the Los Angeles Times, but the paper is moving to a new home in El Segundo. Richard Schave of Esotouric, who is leading the effort to preserve the complex, says the offices have an important place in LA history.
“They tell the story of the Times, which is the story of Los Angeles,” he says.
The earliest of the buildings, a 1935 Art Deco structure designed by Hoover Dam architect Gordon Kaufman, was commissioned by Times publisher Harry Chandler, who famously used the paper to promote his own business interests, including real estate in the San Fernando Valley.
A 1948 Late Moderne-style addition designed by Roland Crawford was added by Norman Chandler to hold offices for the Los Angeles Mirror, an afternoon paper that folded less than 15 years later.
But by 1973, those offices and more were needed to support the Times, which was growing into a nationally recognized paper. Noted architect William Pereira designed a sprawling addition in the corporate modern style, with dark glass and wide pillars of granite.
That’s the portion of the complex that Onni plans to demolish, along with a parking lot, in order to make room for two glassy high-rises that would bring more than 1,110 units of housing to the area.
Schave says he’s not necessarily opposed to the development, but wants the developer to factor the historic value of the Pereira addition into plans for the site.
“I’m not here to tell Onni Group what to do with their project,” Schave says. “I just want to make sure this will be an important factor in the [environmental review] they submit to the city of Los Angeles.”
Though Pereira is today considered one of Southern California’s most influential modern architects, his work on Times Mirror Square is not his most popular project. When we launched a 2007 contest to determine LA’s ugliest building, the Pereira addition helped the complex earn the second-place spot.
But Schave and architect Alan Hess, who assisted with the landmark application, argue that Pereira’s fortress-like contribution to the paper’s headquarters is misunderstood.
“There’s a cycle, where a style is not appreciated, considered ugly, and many examples are torn down,” says Hess. “Then, inevitably, people say, `Those were great why didn’t we save them?`”
Like other preservationists, Hess is concerned about Pereira’s legacy in Los Angeles. Several of the architect’s most significant projects are under threat, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Water District headquarters, and the recently-landmarked CBS Television City campus.
Hess says the 1973 Times Mirror Square addition is emblematic of how Pereira “redefined modernism” when the familiar aesthetic of midcentury architecture was “getting stale.” He says Pereira set the building back from the street and kept its profile low so as not to upstage the Kaufman-designed building next door.
Pereira’s original concept for the building also incorporated a ground-level courtyard meant to create the kind of pedestrian-oriented public space now valued by urban planners and architects.
But the Pereira structure isn’t all that preservationists are concerned about. Schave says he’s especially worried about the ornate lobby of the original 1935 structure, which still sports a spinning aluminum globe, bronze bas relief sculptures, and murals by artist Hugo Ballin.
Built as a monument to the Los Angeles Times and its place in a growing city, the lobby may quickly become an incongruous feature of the building now that the paper is moving out. Schave says he’s anxious that it will also become disposable.
“I will do everything I can to create a dialogue around the lobby,” he says.
If the city eventually grants landmark status to the Times Mirror Square complex, parts of it could still be razed, but local officials would be able to delay demolition for up to a year in order to explore opportunities for preservation.
In a statement, representatives of Onni Group say the company is “looking to preserve and celebrate the history of the LA Times property, while investing in new additions that will add to the revitalization of the site and the surrounding area.”
The developer did not comment on whether the Pereira addition could be incorporated into the new project.