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Cultural Commission to Hear Monument Application for Beneficial Plaza and Liberty Park at 3700 Wilshire

Beneficial Plaza and Liberty Plaza nominated a Historic-Cultural Monument (photo from Save Liberty

Next week, the City’s Cultural Heritage Commission will consider an application to designate Beneficial Plaza and Liberty Park at 3700 Wilshire Blvd a Historic-Cultural Monument according to Urbanize

The effort to landmark the office building and plaza constructed in the 1960s was motivated by a proposal from the building’s owner, Jamison Services, one of Southern California’s largest office landlords based in Koreatown, who filed plans last year to construct a 36-story tower with 506 residential units and approximately 62,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space on the large open green space that fronts Wilshire Blvd.

Residents of  Koreatown, concerned about losing one of the few green spaces in the neighborhood, formed the Save Liberty Park coalition to preserve the unique open space and filed the application for landmark status. If landmark designation is granted, the site would be protected from immediate demolition and allow the Cultural Heritage Commission to review modifications to site. It would also entitle the building owner to certain property tax reductions.

In making their case for historic significance, the coalition described the site on their website:

The concept of the 315-foot building setback and park as community open space came from President and CEO of Beneficial Insurance Group, Joseph N. Mitchell, and was noted at the time of completion as the deepest setback for a commercial building in the nation. Mitchell’s and Beneficial Insurance Group’s grand gesture of community open space on corporate property was a response to the paucity of green space around office buildings at the time. Mitchell was honored by a proclamation from the City of Los Angeles for his contribution to the community-decades ahead of his time when developers now insert pocket parks for community benefit.

The LA City Planning Department determined the application is complete and that the property may be significant enough to warrant further investigation as a potential Historic-Cultural Monument.

According to the summary of the 93-page application, the Planning department outlined the building’s historic architectural significance as well as its cultural significance as part of the Wilshire Blvd business district developed in the 1960s:

Beneficial Plaza and Liberty Park is comprised of an 11-story office tower with a three-level underground parking garage, a plaza, and a park located on the south side of Wilshire Boulevard between Oxford and Serrano Avenues in the Wilshire Center/Koreatown community of Los Angeles. Completed in 1967, the Late-Modern architectural style office tower was designed by architects Gordon Bunshaft (1909-1990) and Edward Charles Bassett (1922-1999) of the prominent architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). The plaza in front of the office tower and the park facing Wilshire Boulevard was designed by noted landscape architect Peter Walker (born 1932) of Sasaki, Walker & Associates. The subject property was built as the headquarters of the Beneficial Standard Life Insurance Company, which occupied the building until 1985.

Wilshire Center emerged in the 1920s as a business improvement association to champion progress along the new boulevard and by 1941 it consisted of 12 blocks along Wilshire Boulevard, between Lafayette Park Place and Normandie Avenue. Over the decades the western and eastern boundaries continued to expand and in 1966, Wilshire Center was formally dedicated as a four mile business district extending from Union Avenue on the east to Sycamore Avenue to the west. A post-war commercial development boom in Los Angeles saw the congested downtown area being bypassed by major corporations who preferred to build their headquarters in Wilshire Center. From the late 1940s through the 1970s, insurance firms, oil companies, and major financial institutions, including Carnation, IBM and Texaco, built their headquarters in Wilshire Center, often hiring prominent architects to design their high-rise towers.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) was originally founded as Skidmore & Owings in 1936 in Chicago, Illinois. In addition to designing several of the world’s tallest buildings, including the John Hancock Center (1969), the Sears Tower (1973) and the Burj Khalifa (2010), SOM is known for pioneering International-style architecture in high-end corporate buildings. Gordon Bunshaft was SOM’s preeminent designer for 40 years. His most noted works include his post-war designs for H.J. Heinz (1950), Delta Airlines (1960), and First City National Bank (1961). Edward Charles Bassett, who worked for Eero Saarinen before starting with SOM, is known for San Francisco’s Bechtel Building (1967) and Louise M. Davis Symphony Hall (1980). Starting the San Francisco office of Sasaki, Walker & Associates in 1957, landscape architect Peter Walker went on to head projects like the Golden Gateway commercial and residential development (1960-1968) and Fashion Island in Newport Beach (1970).

The hearing is Thursday, October 5 at 10 am at City Hall in Room 1010 at 200 N. Spring Street.

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Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.

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