Downtown Los Angeles has been awash in development in recent years, with everything from new housing to entertainment mega-projects appearing on the horizon. Now, however, one of the most significant offerings in decades is coming about, one with the potential to capitalize on the community's past while looking forward to a full-of-possibility future.

The project is the reconceptualization of the Herald Examiner property, and it is one many Downtowners are greeting with a sigh of relief. The future of the structure has been in flux for decades.

Elements of the exquisite Mission-Revival architecture, particularly its gorgeous domed ceiling, made it an obvious building to save, but to what end? While its distinctive features were always revered, the desirability of its office space was not, as many former Herald Examiner employees would attest. It was at best problematic. A solution to this vexing state of affairs seemed unattainable, nearly hopeless.

Yet someone found a solution, and last week Los Angeles Downtown News detailed the plans of developer Urban Partners and building owner Hearst Corporation. They intend to renovate the 1914 structure at 11th Street and Broadway and erect two new skyscrapers alongside it. Altogether, the project would create up to 600 housing units, nearly 1,000 parking spaces and associated retail. It would sit just a short walk away from the proposed $1 billion LA Live project and the wealth of residential structures rising in South Park.

What makes this resolution to the Herald Ex dilemma particularly promising are the players on the team. Those being tapped bring a depth of experience, talent and passion.

It begins with Urban Partners, a firm co-founded by respected developers Dan Rosenfeld, Paul Keller and the late Ira Yellin. Yellin had a rare and visionary sense of history and development, as evidenced by his renovation of the Bradbury Building and Grand Central Market. His legacy is carried on by Keller and Rosenfeld; the latter's widely renowned career includes stints managing real estate assets for first the state of California and then the city of Los Angeles. The firm's biggest project to date, the Caltrans District 7 Headquarters in the Civic Center, was finished on time and on budget. That's a significant accomplishment, especially when dealing with a public agency.

The next prime player in the Hearst project is architect Thom Mayne, who designed the Caltrans structure, as well as the California Science Center School in Exposition Park. The recipient earlier this year of the Pritzker Prize (considered architecture's Nobel), Mayne possesses a dynamic mind and fearless imagination. Yes, the Caltrans building was much debated at its opening, but already many recognize it as a striking and successful edifice. Mayne will design the skyscrapers, one 37 stories fronting 12th Street and the other a 23-floor building with a Hill Street address.

An equally key inclusion is preservation architect Brenda Levin, who worked with Yellin on the Bradbury Building and Grand Central Market, and whose other credits include refurbishment work on City Hall and the Wiltern Theatre. She is the best there is to handle the renovation of the Herald Examiner building, designed by Julia Morgan and for decades the Los Angeles headquarters of William Randolph Hearst's newspaper empire. Indeed, Ken Bernstein of preservationist organization the Los Angeles Conservancy called Levin "an outstanding choice to bring new life to the Herald Examiner."

It also bodes well that the players have already approached and shown plans for the project to the Conservancy, and that the firm Historic Resources Group has been hired to ensure that Mayne's skyscrapers fit with the Herald Examiner structure. There will likely be points of contention in the future - there almost always are when working with buildings that played key roles in the city's past - but this recognition by the developers of the structure's historic status is auspicious. They understand that a preserved, 1914 property can be an opportunity rather than a hurdle, that with the right care and backing it could even be a tourist attraction that people will walk over from LA Live to visit.

We applaud the participants for their foresight to date. We also appreciate the open nature; a public unveiling of the current versions of the rendering and model is set for this Thursday, Sept. 8 at the Central Library.

Much work remains, but it will continue to emanate from this experienced and esteemed team. We encourage the players to maintain their high standards, and to continue to work together for the common good. Although the Herald Examiner is no more, and the printing presses in the 91-year-old building have long ceased rolling, this partnership has the potential to make one of Downtown Los Angeles' treasures gleam once again.

page 4, 9/5/2005
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