The City of Los Angeles is in the midst of a huge growth spurt, triggered by population increases and evidenced in a tsunami of development projects. But those floods are exacerbating other problems, including traffic and affordable housing shortages…both of which could build to a crisis as the city hurtles into a higher-density future. At the same time, however, the turbulent new development environment also offers opportunities for city stakeholders to become “New Urbanists,” especially in neighborhoods, such as Miracle Mile, which perfectly encapsulate current citywide trends.
The Miracle Mile started humbly, at the beginning of the 20th Century, at a barren intersection of Wilshire and Fairfax, surrounded by oil pumps and small airfields named after Cecil B. DeMille and Charlie Chaplin’s older half-brother Sydney Chaplin. Over the decades, Wilshire-Fairfax morphed into a fabled intersection, often on the cutting edge of development as the gateway to the Miracle Mile. The trend began in 1939 with Albert C. Martin, Sr.’s Streamline Moderne May Company Department Store (lately LACMA West and soon to be the new Academy Museum). Two decades later, across Wilshire Blvd., Welton Becket’s Seibu and then Ohrbach’s department store opened in 1962, followed in 1965 by William Pereira’s multi-building LACMA campus. Pereira’s office tower across the street, at 5900 Wilshire, architecturally mimics the museum buildings, making Pereira unique as an architect who has bridged Wilshire Boulevard with his designs.
So it’s not surprising that once again, Miracle Mile’s Wilshire and Fairfax intersection is ground zero for current development, with more than a billion dollars of construction planned between now and 2023. Projects that will completely re-imagine this iconic Los Angeles intersection include Metro’s Purple Line Subway Extension, the Petersen Automotive Museum remodel, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s Academy Museum, and the LACMA expansion and modernization.
The New Urbanism movement suggests we locate ourselves in neighborhoods that provide a mix of housing and shopping, easy transit access and employment opportunities, as well as neighborhood connectivity and walkability. The Miracle Mile has all of these, along with the potential for higher commercial and residential density, which provides the perfect mix for the current development boom.
For example, Metro’s express and local transit lines, and the intra-neighborhood Dash transit system, help mitigate pass-through traffic and provide the means for residents to navigate the community without cars. The forthcoming Purple Line subway extension, with stops at both Miracle Mile gateways (Wilshire and La Brea on the east and Wilshire and Fairfax on the west), should also help to ease traffic when completed in 2023. And by then, “new urbanism” will likely be more fact than movement, as people slowly realize there are alternatives to sitting in a car and contributing to traffic and parking impacts. Walking, biking and public transit are increasingly viable for almost everyone.
The new transit boom will, in turn, bring more people to the intersection’s unique collection of museums – a car museum, movie museum, art museum, tar pits and ice age museum, and craft and folk art museum, all within two blocks of one another…and all easily accessible to the entrance of Metro’s Purple Line subway extension.
And where transit riders go, development follows. International architecture stars Renzo Piano and Peter Zumthor, both winners of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, are notable names working on the collection of buildings that will help re-make Museum Row for our next generation. All projects are scheduled to be completed in the next few years, with a 2023 final completion date to coincide with the subway opening.
The Metro Purple Line Extension of the subway will eventually install a station box at the Wilshire/Fairfax intersection, and this fall will begin work on the other Miracle Mile station at Wilshire and La Brea. This is the biggest, longest lasting, most influential project of the current wave of huge projects on the Miracle Mile. Construction preparations have been underway since 2014, and serious digging at Wilshire/La Brea is scheduled for later this year. Digging for the Wilshire-Fairfax station box will follow, sometime next year.
Petersen Automotive Museum
The last steel ribbon has been attached to the new red and silver exterior of the Petersen Automotive Museum, as it prepares for reopening later this year. The interior remodeling continues. Expect increased use of technology inside, as the museum jumps boldly into the future with both interior and exterior upgrades.
”We will be open on Dec. 5,” Terry Karges, the Petersen’s Executive Director, told the LA Times during the recent Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
At the same event, Museum Board Chair Peter Mullin announced a food and beverage service partnership with Drago restaurants, which will operate the new museum’s ground-floor and fourth-floor restaurants. Partnerships have also been forged with Ford, BMW, Maserati, Automobile Assn. of America, Pixar Animation Studios, X-Box and the insurance giant AIG.
Chairman Mullin also told the Times that “a little more than $90 million” of the Petersen’s fundraising goal of $125 million had already been achieved.
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s Academy Museum
In what could be considered a classic Hollywood sequel performance, famed Hollywood producer Cecile B. DeMille will be making an ethereal reappearance at the Wilshire-Fairfax intersection. Almost 100 years ago, he located his DeMille Airfield No. 2 at the northwest corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. Now, directly across the street, is the May Company building that will house the Academy Museum. DeMille was a founder of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, bringing him full circle to the Wilshire-Fairfax intersection a century later.
On August 5, motions passed by the City Council and signed by the Mayor, became laws that include a project zone change, a signage district, and a conditional use permit paving the way for the project’s groundbreaking.
The newest addition to the Miracle Mile’s Museum Row will include a Renzo Piano-designed addition to the historic 1939 A. C. Martin May Company building, with its historic gold “perfume bottle” facade. The two connected structures will house the new movie museum.
Groundbreaking is expected this later this year. “We are about to finish construction prep this month, and we’ll have more updates/information to share in the next few weeks,” said Academy spokesperson Morgan Kroll.
Another recent development that affects this very busy stretch of the Miracle Mile was the announcement by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that Elaine Wynn, ex-wife of Las Vegas casino mogul Stephen A. Wynn and a LACMA trustee since 2011, has become a co-chair of LACMA’s Board of Trustees as the museum moves forward with its building campaign.
Wynn will help lead fundraising for the proposed Peter Zumthor building that will replace the original William Pereira buildings on the museum’s east campus. The west campus, housing the recent additions by Renzo Piano, will remain.
When all projects are completed, the Miracle Mile will once again be on the cutting edge of modernization, continuing its long tradition of development leadership, and serving as a prime example of New Urbanism in the city of Los Angeles.