It’s been a busy couple of weeks for development news in the Miracle Mile, including the release of the final Environmental Impact Report on the big LACMA re-design…the addition of a hotel to the development planned behind the new Purple Line subway station at the NW corner of Wilshire and La Brea…and a significant milestone in the construction of a big new apartment building at Wilshire and Curson.
LACMA EIR Released
On March 22, the final Environmental Impact Report for the big new LACMA redesign project was released, which means the LA County Board of Supervisors (LACMA operates mostly under the authority of LA County and not the City of LA) will review and seek public input on the report, with an eye toward final approval of the project.
While local officials and interested members of the public are still reviewing the 300-page document, however, one of the first things observers noticed was that it did include some news about the overall size and design of the Peter Zumthor-designed project, which LACMA CEO Michael Govan confirmed in a statement about the EIR’s release:
“Some changes to the project design we previously presented have been made as well. The new building will be smaller than originally proposed and the maximum height of the building has also been reduced. However, the overall design and aesthetics remain the same.”
In a story about the EIR and redesign news, the LA Times confirmed that:
The environmental impact report…shows that the building has shrunk considerably since its last iteration — by more than 10%, or some 40,000 square feet.
The report lists the project’s original proposed square footage at 387,500 square feet; it now stands at 347,500. Projected gallery space has shrunk as well — from 121,000 square feet to 110,000 square feet, roughly the size of one exhibition hall.
This development was a surprise to many art and architecture afficianados, because one of the main reasons for the redevelopment of the museum’s facility was to provide the museum with more space – not less – to exhibit its vast permanent collections. In fact, the new museum, as described in the EIR and as confirmed by the Times story, would now have even less exhibition space than the current LACMA buildings it would replace:
When the Zumthor design was unveiled in 2013, it was reported that the new building would have 170,000 to 200,000 square feet of exhibition space — at least 45,000 square feet more than the buildings they would replace.
By the time the design had been refined, the gallery space had shrunk to 121,000 square feet, less than the estimated 125,000 square feet contained in the four buildings to be razed. Now that number has shrunk even further, to 110,000 square feet — raising questions about how exactly the new space will accommodate the museum’s expansive permanent collection.
While no specific reasons were given by LACMA for the project’s shrinkage, the Times listed several possibilities:
Whether the plan’s newly reduced size is due to neighborhood environmental concerns or fundraising issues — last year, the museum missed a year-end fundraising target — is also unclear.
The design gymnastics have occurred partly to fulfill Govan’s desire that the museum occupy only one floor. “I’m a big believer in horizontal museums,” he said at a talk he hosted with Zumthor in 2013. “All the great museums for me are horizontal.”
The rationale is that single-story museums are more accessible and eliminate hierarchy. But in a Los Angeles that is growing increasingly dense — growing up instead of out — the conceit also seems like a throwback to ’50s-era sprawl.
Today, in a new story partially titled “The Incredible Shrinking Museum,” LA Times architecture writer Christopher Knight comments, “I couldn’t name another art museum anywhere that has ever raised hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on reducing its collection space.” And he goes on to ask, “With a reduced building plan now, LACMA is offering less art for more money. Is an Incredible Shrinking Museum really worthy of taxpayer support?”
Knight speculates that the project downsizing may be a result of several factors, including “sluggish fundraising,” but also a shift in LACMA’s focus from one major center to a more decentralized plan:
“Given vast L.A. sprawl, the museum has promoted developing satellite facilities. A small one is in place at the Vincent Price Museum at East Los Angeles College, and two more are planned for South L.A. Fine with me — except, not for the permanent collection.
An encyclopedic or universal museum is distinct from other kinds for its diverse global holdings. Uniquely valuable because that diversity is pulled together in one place, it reflects the cosmopolitan urbanity of a modern city.”
Locally, Miracle Mile Residential Association President James O’Sullivan told the Buzz that he, too, has questions about both the EIR itself and the downsizing described in the report.
First among his concerns, O’Sullivan said, is that the lengthy report is different from those done for other local building projects because of its seeming reliance on both county and city rules, without clear statements of which rules are in are in play for different kinds of factors, such as soil testing, parking requirements, etc. (For example, O’Sullivan said, the county is listed as the project’s “lead” agency, while the city is listed as the “responsible” agency, which is very confusing.) O’Sullivan said that trying to figure out which entity’s rules are in effect, for different project factors, and in different parts of the EIR, is like watching a game of “Two-Card Monte” – often the city seems to have no say in certain matters, but no specific information is provided by the county either.
And O’Sullivan said he, too, is perplexed by the downsizing of the project, especially since size was such a big issue in the beginning. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said of the new twists the project’s development has taken.
The next step in the project’s review will be a public meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, where they will discuss and possibly certify the FEIR, which is the final approval the project would need to move forward.
Hotel Added to 629 La Brea Project at Wilshire and La Brea
Back in 2017, development firm CGI Strategies filed applications to construct a 12-story multi-use project at 627-667 S. La Brea, just behind the new Purple Line Subway stop now under construction at the NW corner of Wilshire and La Brea. The development was planned as 160 residential units, with an urban market hall and public dining space, and ground-level retail shops.
About a week ago, however, CGI revealed that it has switched strategies, and filed a new application, using the city’s new Transit Oriented Communities guidelines, for a shorter (seven stories) but slightly denser development that will now include 121 condominiums, 125 hotel rooms, and about 13,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space. (Also, under the TOC guidelines, at least a few units will have to be set aside for low income housing, which was not part of the previous proposal.) The hotel would occupy the southern part of the property, adjacent to the subway station, while the residential units would be on the northern side. There would also be two levels of below-grade parking, with a total of 250 parking stalls.
MMRA President O’Sullivan told the Buzz he is still reviewing the details of the new proposal, so can’t comment fully, but said the inclusion of a hotel intrigues him. “Part of me thinks it’s a good idea,” he said. “We don’t have many hotels” in the area, he said, and – because of all the big museums nearby – “I’ve said for years we should have a hotel.”
O’Sullivan noted that the previous version of the project was in its EIR phase, but because requirements for TOC projects are different, he’s not sure whether that environmental review process will be finished or not under the new application. “So we’ll wait and see,” said. “We’ll see.”
Construction Starts Climbing at Wilshire and Curson
Finally, the Urbanize.LA blog noted this week that another big housing project – the 21-story, 285 unit apartment building now under construction at 620 S. Curson (in what used to be a parking lot behind the old Wilshire Blvd. Marie Callender’s Restaurant, and next to the SAG-AFTRA building), has installed a new tower crane and is beginning its vertical climb in earnest. According to the story:
“Two weeks ago, the Los Angeles-based developer installed a tower crane at the future site of the Wilshire Curson Building, located just east of the LACMA campus at 620 S. Curson Avenue. The 21-story building will feature 285 rental units, as well as parking for 410 vehicles on two basement levels.”
The story noted that the construction project also has its own YouTube page, which posts video of the work in progress.