This Wednesday, July 1, 2020 from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m, long time local developer Walter N. Marks will conduct a virtual public meeting to discuss his proposed 42-story tower at 5411 Wilshire Blvd. in the Miracle Mile. The building, named The Mirabel, will capitalize on the site’s close proximity to Metro’s Purple line, just 650 feet west of the intersection of Wilshire and La Brea, on the north side of the street.
Marks is proposing to build 348 residential units, including 38 affordable units (29 for very low income and 9 for moderate income tenants). The building will span the block between Cochran and Cloverdale, where Staples and Wilshire Beauty Supply are currently located. The building will feature 4,000 square feet of retail space, including two restaurants in the current Wilshire Beauty Supply space (the historic facade of which will be preserved). Marks said he intends to house local businesses in the building. (Wilshire Beauty Supply is currently looking for a new location and Staples is considering its options, according the Mirabel website.)
Marks presented the project to the MidCity West Community Council’s Land Use Committee earlier this month, explaining that his family has owned the property since 1968. Marks has been active in the Miracle Mile for decades, serving as chair and co-chair of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition over the years, with founder Lyn MacEwen Cohen. He also participated in the development of the Miracle Mile Design Overlay Zone in 2005…and he serves on the boards of two local museums, the Craft Contemporary and the Natural History Museum of LA County, where he serves as one of the lead trustees on the renovation of the La Brea Tar Pits museum.
Marks said his family is deeply rooted in the community and told the story of how his grandfather, Walter Marks, Sr. convinced Tom and Wilbur May to locate their department store on the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax in 1937, when the elder Marks was just getting started as a real estate broker in the city. Marks said he and his family are lon- term property holders, having never sold a property in the last 80 years. Marks said his family has a track record of dealing with a cherished buildings – for example, his office is located in the Helms Bakery Building, which his family bought 50 years ago and continues to own and operate.
“We really believe it’s a privilege to own a property, not a right,” said Marks.
LA-based architect Rick Keating, most well known for the Gas Company Tower downtown, has designed a tower set on a base, similar to other buildings along Wilshire. Keating, an architecture historian before he became a practicing architect, presented the concept for the Mirabel at the MidCity West meeting.
“Wilshire is the spine of our urban form,” explained Keating, noting the building is located across the street from the 12 story Wilshire Dominguez building and adjacent to the 28 story rectangular building at 5455 Wilshire Blvd. known as Leed Tower. He described the series of buildings along Wilshire as “point towers,” which are set on base buildings that are sometimes two or three stories tall, and serve almost as navigation points guiding our way along the Wilshire spine. Keating also said the art deco style of the building was inspired by the Wilshire Beauty Supply space, which was formerly the Sontag Drugstore, and which will be restored as part of the new building.
Keating also said he shifted the form of the building to maximize the view from each unit in the building, and devised an exterior of shingled glass (called a “breatheable wall”) that provides more ventilation. He explained that it also serves to break down the mass of the building, allowing for a greater variety of shade and shadow…while also avoiding horizontal lines and greater visibility for residents.
Keating addressed the three perceptions of the building, from the view in the distance, street level perception and the view from inside. In the distance, explained Keating, you will see a the tower like others along Wilshire. From the street level, he is proposing matching the iconic Canary Island Palms across the street at the Wilshire Dominguez, combined with a garden at what he calls the podium level, which houses the parking for the ground-level retail, and outdoor amenities for the residents. Inside the building, Keating has designed retail spaces to evoke the fluid art deco feeling with materials in the entries each retail space. Rather than view the parking at the back of the building, Keating is proposing a center driveway that brings visitors into the designed space with more consideration than a parking lot.
Marks concluded the presentation by noting that he has seriously considered requests from the community and public leaders for a mixed-income property, and has responded with more than units than required for the density bonuses he is seeking. Marks said the building will have an automated garage under the building for residents, capable of charging 395 electric cars every night. There will also be EV charging capability for 82 cars in the podium level garage for retail parking.
Marks concluded that he decided to constructed a “well building rather than a LEED standard building, because we care more about the people in the building rather than the performance of the building.”
Following the presentation, MCWCC Land Use Chair Mehmet Berker called on Emma Howard, land use deputy for Councilmember David Ryu who said the council office does not yet have a position on the project yet. She said the council office preferred to remain neutral to “allow the community conversation to progress,” but she added the priority is about the integration with the streetscape and expanding affordable housing options.
Before calling for public comments from people who had called into the meeting, Berker said the Land Use committee would not take a vote on the project because this was the committee’s first virtual meeting and the presentation was informational for the community.
The actual number of people who queued up to comment on the project was not visible to this reporter. Most comments expressed concern about the scale of the building and the impact on the neighborhood. Among the first calls was from Barbara Gallen, the elected Zone 6 Representative on the MCWCC who expressed concern about not hearing about the project sooner. Gallen said there were likely to be “extreme impacts on residents on the surrounding the streets,” and requested a meeting with Marks and his team to discuss and address the issues. She said the residents, over 1,000 in the area don’t believe MCWCC represents their interests and asked Marks to reach out to her directly.
Another caller, Gordon S said he was very concerned about the height of the building, saying it was twice as tall as the tallest building in the neighborhood and would be more appropriate in downtown. He said it would block all the sunlight to his two-story building. He added his biggest concern is the lack of parking, 477 parking spaces are planned, which he considered inadequate in an already tightly parked neighborhood.
Margaret Rose Flores, called the building a “monstrosity.” She expressed concern about the impact of construction and the lack of parking. Joseph Mintzer doubted the assumption that the building would create a vibrant shopping district and said 38 moderate income units wouldn’t help the housing problem. And, Daniel Straylo, a nearby neighbor, said the building was beautiful it didn’t fit into the neighborhood because it was too large and belonged downtown. He agreed with others who expressed concern about parking and traffic.
Speaking in favor of the building. Meg MacComb, Executive Director of the Miracle Mile Chamber read a statement of support from Steve Kramer, president of the Miracle Mile Chamber and a founding member of the MCWCC. Kramer said the project was appropriately located to public transit and complimented Marks on proposing so many affordable housing units.
Following the public comment, members of the MCWCC committee said they liked many aspects of the building, including the number of affordable units and looked forward to another opportunity to review the project.
Marks is requesting several entitlements to complete this project including a density bonus for both on an off menu items. Here is a link to the case on the Planning Department website. The design team is activity seeking public comment. Click here to register for the public meeting. Comments can also be sent to [email protected]