Saturday, June 21, 2003

Los Angeles' Ghost Towers
Los Angeles has plenty of empty buildings-- but there's nothing more unsettling than a tall, hulking mass of a structure that's gone empty. Seeing a tower that's boarded up and neglected reminds you of hopes dashed, of promises squandered, of time passed.
I'm not even talking about buildings like our beloved Ambassador, which at least still sees some life as a popular movie shoot location (the lobby most recently made an appearance in "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," doubling as the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel).

Los Angeles, the town late to the skyskraper game, now has more than a few that just sit there, empty. Here are a sampling:

Sunset-Vine Tower
Built in 1963, this skinny 20-story building-- at the corner of Sunset and Vine, natch-- was the first skyscraper built in the city after Los Angeles repealed its14-story building height limits.
You know the building-- it's the centerpiece of the 1974 Universal Studios disaster flick "Earthquake." More recently, it was also home to the 360 restaurant/bar, which offered up amazing views of the city from the building's top floor.
Until Dec. 6, 2001, that is. An electrical room in the basement was destroyed by fire, and the Tower was evacuated.
Spanish-lingo radio station KWKW and sister KIRN (an Iran-focused radio outlet), were based in the tower and forced off air the day of the fire. Station employees were only allowed to take what they could before scrambling to find other studios (their story is here). Although the stations had back-up generators and were able to continue broadcasting from the otherwise dark building, fire inspectors still ruled the building unsafe.
A year and a half later, the Sunset-Vine Tower is still boarded up and dead to the world-- ironic given the action across the street, where a housing/commercial space is being built, with apartments and a Borders set to open within the next year.
Instead, it looks like squatters and taggers have taken over. You can see the grafitti on the first floor windows, clearly done from inside. According to an L.A. Times story from last August (sorry, no link), the office tower has remained padlocked as disputes continue over who is to blame for the electrical problem and whether the building is safe to enter.

Colwell Company Building
Located at the corner of 6th and Vermont, the Colwell building is probably best known for the elaborate grafitti that now adorns the roof.
In addition to the typical, huge Andre the Giant "Obey" image, someone has painted large block letters in yellow and black above the top level's windows. It's a very 70s motif, as if the tagger in question had just seen "Saturday Night Fever" before going out on an ambitious grafitti run. On the north-facing side, the letters spell out "SABERVOK." On the south-facing side, it reads, "ZESTEEL."
The building itself is a pretty non-descript, 1950s-era structure about 12 stories in height.
But the real draw is the lettering on the side of the building advertising its one-time inhabitants. "The Colwell Company," the building reads in a 50s-era sans serif font. Underneath that, "Mortgage Bankers" is spelled out in the fancy script (think the "Los Feliz" marquee) popular from the era.
Beyond that, this building is a mystery. It doesn't appear to have been inhabited in quite some time. Grafitti adorns virtually every floor, and there's no upkeep.

Hall of Justice
The 14-story building, built in 1925, remains L.A.'s most famous ghost tower.
The building, at Temple and Spring Streets, was abandoned the morning of the Northridge earthquake-- and calendars in the building are still set to January 1994. Christmas presents, empty files and other things left behind still collect dust.
The Hall of Justice, of course, is where famous criminal proceedings such as the trials of Sirhan Sirhan, Charles Manson and Bugsy Siegel took place.
A retrofit and reconstruction are still in the works, almost 10 years after the historic building was left for dead. Here's the proposal, as submitted in February, according to Southern California Association of Governments' Intergovernmental Review Clearinghouse Report:

The County of Los Angeles is proposing to renovate the Hall of Justice for use by the County Sheriff's Department, District Attorney, Recreation and Parks and other County Agencies. The primary objective of the project is to rehabilitate and adaptively reuse the HOJ by seismically retrofitting the earthquake damaged building that w as historically used as a jail and court facility into an office building while maintaining the primary historic features of the building, to the extent that preservation efforts are economically feasible. At completion, the 15-floor 549,284 square foot building w ould be renovated to consist of 13-floors providing approximately 475,000 gross square feet of space and 325,000 square feet of useable space. The Hall of Justice is located in downtown Los Angeles at 211 W. Temple Street.

1110 Wilshire Blvd.
This 37-story office tower, built in 1986, has been empty for a decade and has never been more than 10% occupied, according to the L.A. Times.
Built before the late 80s construction collapse in downtown, the building was hampered by its location-- on the west side of the 110 freeway-- as well as its odd design.
You've seen it while driving north or south on the 110: It's the triangle-shaped building that sits on top of a 15-story parking garage. That's right-- a 15-story parking garage. Potential tenants were scared off by the sheer size of the garage, as well as the difficultly in laying out a rectangular office plan in a triangular office.
But things are starting to look up for the structure. The Times reported in May that a group led by Santa Monica-based developer Robert D'Elia had bought the property for $36 million, and plan to convert it into luxury condos.

More ghost buildings to come in future weeks. If you know of any, drop us a shout out!

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