Hing Wa Lee Jewelers, the family-owned luxury jewelry store, will open its third retail location at 119 N. Larchmont Blvd later this year or early next year, if all goes well with its construction plans. Last week, second-generation owner David Lee, who recently purchased the building to house his jewelry store, met with members of the Cultural Heritage Commission who had recently decided the property may be significant enough to warrant further investigation as a potential Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM).
The decision to further investigate the property was based on the Commission’s staff recommendation of an application filed by local resident James Dastoli, who had been looking at the historic buildings on Larchmont and wondering how they could be landmarked for preservation even though many have been dramatically altered over the years.
“I’ve had my eye on Larchmont for some time,” Dastoli told the Buzz. “This building at 119 N. Larchmont is one of just a handful that remains untouched and gives us the connection to the way the street was intended to look 100 years ago.” Dastoli is a digital artist who lives in the Ridgewood-Wilton Historic District and has been actively researching buildings and even entire neighborhoods for historic preservation.
“I want people to understand what contributes to a sense of place and that design standards really do make a difference,” said Dastoli. He was also successful in securing consideration for the Piccadilly Apartments at 682 Irolo Street, an excellent example of Chateauesque architecture constructed in 1929. His application for a National Register of Historic Places District for parts of St. Andrews Square will also be considered by the state commission next month.
According to his application, 119 N. Larchmont was built in 1923, the work of architect H.B. Saunders. The building is an excellent example of streetcar commercialization becoming a crucial anchor for the surrounding residential neighborhood. The Los Angeles Railway “R” line (later restructured as part of the “3” line) ran right past the building along Larchmont Blvd.
The two-story mixed-use building sits within what SurveyLA has identified as the “Larchmont Boulevard Streetcar Commercial Planning District.” The building was constructed while the streetcar was at the height of its popularity, with pedestrian-oriented storefronts placed on the sidewalk within a dense fabric of attached retail buildings.
119 N. Larchmont is a very desirable location on Larchmont Blvd. Over the past 100 years, Larchmont has changed continuously with ever-increasing value. Since the pandemic emergency has ended, numerous new shops and businesses have opened, each adding to the unique nature of Larchmont, which serves as the commercial spine of the nearby residential neighborhoods.
Unaware of Dastoli’s HCM application, Lee had begun a major renovation of the interior of the building’s first floor and part of the second floor. The decision by the Commission to further investigate the building effectively stopped work on the project, and Lee and his representatives were invited to meet with the commission and present their plans for the building. Considering Lee’s request to allow work to continue on the interior, Commission members and Office of Historic Resources staff met last week to inspect the building. OHR staff recommended Lee and his team separate the project scope between the interior and the exterior. This would allow interior work to proceed while plans to work on restoring the exterior elements of the original facade are developed.
The commission has not yet determined if the building will be designated an historic cultural monument. But Lee and his team told the Buzz they had always planned to restore the facade, keeping as much of the original elements in place as possible while making seismic and safety improvements appropriate for a contemporary luxury retail location.
Lee, who lives in San Marino, told the Buzz he loves historic buildings and believes in keeping the original architecture of neighborhood streets like Larchmont, which offer the visitor something unique and interesting to experience.
Larchmont Boulevard might seem an unusual choice for a luxury jewelry store more common in Beverly Hills or even The Grove. But it’s a perfect choice for Lee who says he was looking for a central location where he could offer customers an opportunity to discover something very special in an unexpected place.
“Customers are tired of seeing the same thing everywhere and all the stores look the same,” said Lee, who added that he has been looking for a new location for several years. “It is much more interesting to be on Larchmont.”
Lee decided to call the store Larchmont Jewelers in an effort to make the store accessible to everyone and building on his extensive Chinese-American clientele. The store will feature a selection of the best luxury watches and fashion jewelry, Lee told the Buzz.
The family-owned company was founded by Lee’s father, Hing Wa Lee, a master gem carver who started his career in Hong Kong. In the 1980s, Hing Wa Lee opened a shop in downtown Los Angeles, offering imperial jade and gemstone jewelry to jewelry stores. In 1992, David Lee joined the family business and started the company’s retail operation, serving the Chinese-American community from the family showroom downtown and two stores in San Gabriel and Walnut, offering a wide selection of luxury Swiss-made watches including Piaget, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Girard-Perregaux, and Ulysse Nardin, according to the company’s website. The company was recently recognized as one of the best independent watch retailers by Watch Pro Magazine.
Lee said he also considered the recently renovated Larchmont Mercantile for his new location, but jumped at the opportunity to purchase 119 N Larchmont because he prefers to own the property where his stores are located. Lee said his investment demonstrates his longevity and commitment to the community.
The Larchmont store offers Lee the opportunity to create a unique luxury shopping experience for customers and the brands he represents, such as Rolex, an industry trendsetter which is very selective about where its products are sold. According to Lee, Rolex is very excited to see how the space is transformed. Lee said earlier reports of a rooftop deck and VIP lounge for customers are no longer being considered, but he does plan to create an environment for a highly personalized shopping experience at the forefront of luxury retailing.