The Sycamore Square Neighborhood Association (SSNA) certainly has had its share of development in the past couple of years, with the massive new BRE development at Wilshire and La Brea and the new BMW dealership where Big Boy used to stand.
Now the 5100 block of Wilshire Blvd, once home to a deluxe art deco theater as well as the artless Burger King, is to be developed into a retail and residence apartment building, tentatively called The Mansfield. But this time, the developer and his architect have worked closely with the neighborhood association, and both sides seem to be pleased with the results.
“In June of 2013 we met with the developer and they showed us the first rendering of the building,” Ann Eggleston, President of the SSNA, told the Buzz in a phone interview. “None of us liked it – it looked like a modern hotel in Miami. We told them we know that today is no longer the decade of art deco, but we wanted the building to reference that era, and take elements of the deco theme familiar to the theater and other buildings along Wilshire.”
The Korda Group, a family-owned developer of apartment buildings across Los Angeles, took the SSNA’s suggestions to heart, and worked with their architect Shahab Ghods of Plus Architects to redesign the building. “Besides the meetings, I personally went to over 55 homes and apartments to get input and feedback from the community,” architect Ghods told the Buzz. “They were really devoted, they spent a lot of time with us, and had an architect from their neighborhood join us in our office to give input on design elements and layout.” Plus Architects has also presented before the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council and its Land Use Committee.
Architect Ghods also studied the historic resource assessment that found the theater, in its current state, too far gone from the original building to warrant designation as an Historical Cultural Monument. Summarized from the May, 2013 study:
The subject property retains its integrity of location, as it has not been moved. Its integrity of design has been greatly compromised. As it appears today, the subject property retains very few of its character defining features. While it was originally constructed in an Art Deco style, little characteristic features of this style remain. All entryways into storefronts and theater have been significantly altered. Openings into the stores have been enclosed by glass brick at the sidewalk line and there is no evidence of transoms or insets…. Windows with metal grills have been removed along the north façade. The high parapet has been altered with the bas relief covered or removed with blank panels. The blade sign and marquee have also been removed. The interior retains almost no historic fabric. Aside from the volume of the auditorium, there are no features that would suggest the building had been used as a de luxe theater.
With information and historic photos to pour over, they began a new design to include deco elements like the marquee, geometric parapets, and poured decorative elements. When completed the Mansfield will house 132 residential rental units including studios, one bedroom and two bedroom units, many with loft space.
The building will sit tall on the Wilshire exposure, with six stories to face a widened sidewalk shaded by a double row of trees and outdoor seating. The building will be U-shaped, with the open area stepping down in the back, facing the Sycamore Square homes and apartments built primarily in the 1920s. The south side of the property will also include a Zen garden, pool, spa, rec room and underground parking for tenants of the building.
Bob Korda, developer of the property, noted that the SSNA and the GWNC also gave suggestions on how to build the ground floor retail space to attract better tenants. “We’ve now designed these spaces to have higher ceilings and a more loft-like environment that will attract higher-end retail such as restaurants and speciality shops,” Korda told the Buzz. None of the spaces will be large enough to host a supermarket, but a small grocery or butcher might fit in well.
The Mansfield now has to clear hurdles in Planning and the City Council, so groundbreaking is not expected to start for about a year. In the adjacent lot, the Burger King lease will expire in July of 2014 and that building will be demolished to make way for the larger complex.
While many may bemoan the loss of the turquoise and white deco building that stands there now and the increased density the new development will bring to the area, others feel it’s time to clean up the tawdry block and add some vibrancy to this part of Wilshire Boulevard once again.
“None of us like to always be naysayers when it comes to development,” Eggleston told the Buzz. “It was great to come together in a series of meetings and have the neighborhood work this through with the developer and architect.”