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Conservancy Tour

Personal Reflections: The Conservancy Tour

The second edition of the Los Angeles Conservancy's Loft Tour in downtown Los Angeles gave a great snapshot of the burgeoning residential boom that is converting abandoned office buildings into funky living spaces. From the penthouse of the Continental Building at Fourth & Spring in downtown Los Angeles, it is easy to be seduced by the possibilities of loft living. The buildings are rich in glorious architectural detail from a long lost Los Angeles. The converted lofts spaces are thoughtfully designed. They are the kinds of places you want to come home to.

Last years loft tour was sold out. I know. I tried too late to score some tickets. My interest in the tour was purely practical. Sure, I love historic architecture. I have lived in a couple beautiful converted buildings. But, as a downtown resident for over five years, I was just interested in checking out places to live. I moved here before the recent hype about lofts and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Also, I wanted to know how these new places compared to my present place (which I love). When I evaluate a space, my concerns are pretty mundane. What is the kitchen like? How about the bathroom? Is there any closet space? How livable is the place? Where do I park? And understand that as I ask these questions, I'm already sold on the neighborhood.

This year to accommodate more visitors, the L.A. Conservancy doubled the number of tickets and expanded the tour to include existing buildings and projects under development. As soon as I heard about tour, I logged on to the Conservancy's web site and snapped up some tickets.

The Conservancy did a fine job of organizing the event. Plenty of information about the buildings on the tour was provided. Being self-guided, a map and ample signage made finding the five completed lofts easy. Docents were always near-by to help out.

The first building I checked out was the Higgins Building. Id watched the transformation of it with interest over the past couple of years. It is large cube with an interior courtyard. A gorgeous building, Id heard the developers had worked hard to return the building to its former glory. They have succeeded. The unoccupied units I saw were very large. The windows were huge. Most units had excellent views of Bunker Hill, City Hall or the old St. Vibianas cathedral. The kitchens were equally spacious, although I could do without the dark wood on the cabinet doors. In comparison, I noticed the bathrooms were nothing special. And there was very little or no built-in closet space in the units. I'd also heard that rents were very high, but given the quality of the building, I can see why.

The next buildings I checked out were the San Fernando and Continental. Both are part of the Old Bank District development. They share a consistent design sensibility: exposed elements like brick and concrete mixed with fine finished surfaces of stone and metal. Most of the units I saw were occupied. This gave you a better feel for the possibilities of the space. The kitchens featured black counters (which I didnt like) and gas burners on the stove (which I did like). The bathrooms were spacious with hideous tiling in the shower, limited built-in cupboard space, and very soft lighting. Overall, you can see how the architects adapted each unit from the existing space to create unique units. For the most part, they did a splendid job.

The Santa Fe building was the first true loft building on the tour. Not as polished as the previous buildings, but the spaces were sufficiently large and utilitarian that you could really imagine an artist working there. One unit was obviously the home of a working artist. The single space was one long room: kitchen, dining room, living room, work area and bedroom. Very large windows facing south bathed the space in the afternoon light. Both the kitchen and bathroom were very simple with no design flourishes. I found there to be very limited cupboard and counter-space in the kitchen. I suspect the tenant who lived there didnt cook much. While the bathroom was equally austere, it did have a window! One detail about the Santa Fe building was how old the elevator was. I heard that the building had been recently purchased. Hopefully, this will be upgraded.

The Spring Tower building was also a true loft building. While there was only a single unit open, it was obviously occupied by a working artist. The loft differed from all the other buildings in that the ceiling was lower and there were concrete pillars throughout the unit. High ceilings are great for creating a sense of open space. But, the unit was truly spacious. Almost all the walls were exposed brick or concrete which make hanging pictures a challenge. The bedroom was a separate room with a door and a small closet. Unfortunately, we werent allowed to check out the bathroom. I hated the kitchen. I found the counter-space too limited and the cupboards to be cheap, tacky and ugly. But, a couple of middle-aged ladies on the tour pronounced the kitchen the nicest one they'd seen on the tour. I liked that there were double-doors to the apartment. These are very handy for moving furniture into the unit. However, a couple of tenants told me there wasnt freight elevator. So there were still some limits to what you could bring into the building.

So how did these buildings stack up against where I'm living now? While each of the buildings on the tour had much to recommend them, I prefer my present building because the kitchen is very practical, the bathroom is very large (wheel-chair accessible), the building management is very responsive, and the price/value ratio is perfect. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to taking the Conservancys tour again next year to check out all the new lofts that will be ready by then.

David Kennedy
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