An Interview with Jon Blanchard of BLVD Hospitality
KFA principal John Arnold, AIA spoke to LA developer Jon Blanchard of BLVD Hospitality (the Ace Hotel and SoHo House) about trends in design and adaptive reuse, and the future of Downtown LA.
What do you see trending in Downtown LA?
Condos are definitely coming back. People really want to own a piece of Downtown. Millenials, for lack of a better term, want to have everything in their lives be walkable, and Downtown offers this. I think that living car-free in Los Angeles is happening now, and will only get easier in the future. Downtown is going to be it for a long time. LA’s land costs are still significantly cheaper than places like New York, and this is attracting a lot of American and foreign capital to Downtown.
Are there any other areas that are competing with Downtown to be THE walkable urban center of LA County?
I don’t think so. Downtown LA has the infrastructure in place – amenities, grocery stores, restaurants and especially transportation – that gives it an edge over other places like Glendale and Pasadena. Downtown has an ease of connectivity that is less prevalent in other parts of the City. Also, the City is trending pro-growth and making development easier and smoother – LADBS, the Planning Department, and the Mayor have been really stepping up lately to make the process better and quicker. Santa Monica will always have its appeal, especially with the Expo Line opening, but the opportunities for growth are so limited there.
What do you see happening Downtown in the next 10 years?
I see the Convention Center expanding, which will spur more hospitality and retail growth in South Park and south of the historic core all the way to the I-10. I think the industrial areas between the Arts District and the I-10 will continue to be developed as the land there becomes more valuable for residential, creative office, and retail uses, with industrial uses moving south towards Vernon. The one-story warehouses that give the Arts District its character will continue to be turned into galleries, retail, and food and beverage venues. The connection between Downtown and the Arts District will become stronger through Skid Row, which will have a mix of development there that will include housing and services for the less fortunate.
What are some of the more exciting current developments Downtown?
The possible extension of the Red Line into the Arts District would have a huge impact. I think the new Sixth Street bridge is also a big positive, and could help extend opportunities further eastward into Boyle Heights, which I think could become LA’s Williamsburg. There is a lot of real estate activity east of Chinatown towards the river, and extending towards Lincoln Heights. I’m hoping that Downtown will have bike sharing soon like other big cities already have.
Do you see development extending west of the 110?
Yes, towards MacArthur Park especially, and the areas closest to the Convention Center in Pico Union.
What’s happening with city planning policies to preserve the industrial lands by the river and in the Arts District?
I think there is a split at City Hall about that. There are some council members and planners who see that the land closest to Downtown is more valuable for residential, creative office, hospitality, and retail than it is for low-rise industrial, and the potential there for tax revenue. There are some politicians that are still fighting to keep the land industrial, but I think the writing is in on the wall for greater density and non-industrial development.
What’s the future of adaptive reuse?
I think within the next 10 years all the big adaptive reuse opportunities in Downtown will be gone. There will only be small ones remaining for boutique development as the current owners gradually give them up for rehabilitation.
Vertical. Downtown will keep going up and up.
Is Type III construction on its way out in Downtown?
I think so. I think once high-rise construction starts penciling out as land costs go up, mid-rise construction will start to become less attractive to developers.
What are your favorite places Downtown?
I know I’m biased, but I think the Ace Hotel is fantastic and has already had a huge impact on the area south of 9th St. As you know, I love Bar Ama [in the Old Bank District], as well as Bestia [in the Arts District]. I’ll give Bottega Louie a special shout out for being a big catalyst on 7th St. I think the Last Remaining Bookstore is an awesome, unique space Downtown – it’s such a cool place.
Do you think LA has a signature design aesthetic that isn’t handed down from New York?
Yes, and it will only become more distinct. There are the typical ideas in LA about light, the great weather, and indoor-outdoor living that drive design more than they do in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. LA is more open, lighter, and friendlier, which is a departure from the darker, more inward-looking design aesthetic of New York. Roof top venues exist in the other cities, but they are at their best in LA. Developers and hospitality operators know that design is competitive and that they aren’t the only cool kids on the block. Everyone is looking for the next big idea beyond what has already been done in New York or down the street. This competition will inevitably lead to fresh design, and a lot of it will be tailored to take advantage of Downtown’s unique assets, including its historic nature. I do see design in LA becoming more formal and sophisticated. LA’s food culture will also continue to advance and be distinctive from other cities.
Speaking of fresh ideas, do you have any development secrets to share?
I’m not going to tell too many secrets, but we are working with our partners on some hospitality concepts that will be truly unique to the market, and driven by Southern California culture. That’s all I have to say.
Tuesday, June 30 2015
ARO 2.0: Hospitality
In 1999, the City of Los Angeles passed the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance providing flexibility within some portions of the planning and building codes that had made it prohibitively expensive to rehabilitate older historic buildings. KFA designed the first projects to take advantage of the ordinance in the Old Bank District, transforming the San Fernando, Hellman and Continental from dated office buildings into residential lofts. The population of DTLA increased five-fold over the next several years, and with over 40 development and rehabilitation projects, KFA has been a central player in the Downtown revival. It wasn’t until the great recession of the late 2000’s that enthusiasm for development downtown waned.
In 2011, Greenfield Partners and Ace Hotels saw a great opportunity in rehabilitating the abandoned United Artists Theater Building and former Texaco offices, commissioned by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin and built in 1927, into a boutique destination. Naysayers doubted the viability of a hotel south of the historic core, but since the Ace Hotel Link opened in January of 2014, its rooms, bars and restaurants have been packed, and it is credited with starting the boom that is currently happening south of 9th Street.
Identified by many as having an extreme shortage in hotel rooms, the City is now witnessing the development of previously overlooked DTLA historic buildings into hotels using some of the provisions allowed by the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance. Of KFA’s 1000+ designed boutique guest rooms in Los Angeles, over 75% of them take advantage of the ARO. Buildings that may be less viable as apartments have become opportunities for hotel developers, with accommodations ranging from luxury hotel rooms to sleeping rooms in a private club to hostel style bunk rooms.
Development of existing buildings in Downtown Los Angeles offers locations within walking distance to hundreds of entertainment, convention, and restaurant venues, faster approval timelines through LADBS, and design opportunities for a unique, daring, and innovative product that challenges the hotel norms. KFA is excited to again be on the forefront of this second wave of adaptive reuse in DTLA.
Sydell Group is transforming the Commercial Exchange building at 8th and Olive into Freehand LA, a 226 key hotel that caters to the young international traveler with a range of room types from standard king rooms to rooms that accommodate up to 8 bunks.
The Giannini Building also being developed by Sydell Group, is a long vacant centerpiece of the 7th street corridor that will become NoMad, a luxury hotel with a different design experience in each guest room.
On the outskirts of the Arts District, a 1920s warehouse will become the latest SoHo House, an artist-focused haven with a range of ground floor retail and members-only club amenities.
The development of these ARO projects and others to be announced in 2015 and 2016 represent a solution to the hospitality shortage in Los Angeles that is creative, innovative, and perfectly Angeleno.
Monday, June 08 2015
Dwell Conference 2015 – THE RISE: Building Downtown Los Angeles
Immanuel Church in Long Beach turned into affordable housing.
COURTESY SAFRAN & ASSOCIATES
Beyond the political rhetoric and the well-intentioned workshops calling for more affordable housing persist the difficult challenges of actually trying to get it built. Earnest as its advocates may be, the shortage aggravated by an overheated private market is getting worse, particularly in Los Angeles, according to the latest academic studies.
But in the housing rank and file there are murmurs of hope that present the promise of rare paradigms. Such is the case history of the adaptive reuse of Immanuel Church into 25-units of rental housing for seniors in a leafy section of Long Beach, California.
The recently dedicated project lends a new residential life to a nondescript church originally built in 1923, damaged in an earthquake in 1933, and given a poor alteration in the 1950s. Resisting pressure to sell the all-but-abandoned church, leaders saw its potential as a focal point in the surrounding historic district of 1920s bungalows for much needed senior citizen housing and a social services center. “We had a dream, for the church building and the community,” said its stalwart former minister, Dr. Jane Galloway.
The concept also appealed to Thomas Safran, whose eponymous development company, Thomas Safran & Associates, has pursued affordable housing projects for nearly 40 years.
The rehabilitation has taken 10 years to process from concept to approvals to construction, with a projected cost of only $12 million. Persevering in partnership with Safran has been Killefer Flammang Architects. “The reuse has been a challenge,” said Wade Killefer. Nevertheless, the firm hung tough, fashioning a design that saved the sanctuary for community uses while ringing the three-story space with a variety of one-bedroom apartments.
What delayed the project for several years was a parking requirement of just 13 cars, which was eventually satisfied by the purchase of an adjoining historic house, which was then relocated to a nearby vacant lot. “To keep these projects moving you have to be flexible,” said Safran.
Sam Hall Kaplan
Monday, April 27 2015
Spring at KFA: New Projects, New People
For New People and New Projects/Spring has blossomed at KFA and we welcome with pleasure 9 additional staff who are helping to hatch several new and re-energized projects. Moving forward in Santa Monica is Pico Eleven, a 32-unit 4-story apartment building developed by Pico Eleven LLP, and the only housing project to be approved by the City in 2014.Also coming up in Santa Monica will be 100 units at the Denny’s site at Lincoln and Colorado. Developed by NMS, the project’s residents will enjoy 13,000 SF of neighborhood serving retail, a roof top pool and a 4 block walk to the Expo Line station.
In Playa Vista, Brookfield Residential will break ground in June on the 75-unit Seabluff Condominiums. The 92-unit Roy @ Overland in West LA is Anejo Development’s latest project, and amenities include a roof top garden, ground floor cafes and close proximity to the Expo Line. Glendale will add 489 units at 201 West Lexington, a Century West development, comprised of 4 buildings organized around a 40’ wide landscaped public paseo.
Monday, April 27 2015
Meet the KFrosh: KFA’s 2014 – 2015 Freshman Class
Our office is bustling with new faces and we are excited about opportunities to collaborate as we grow. We interviewed our newest freshman class and asked them to give us a brief introduction:
Ashkan Afshari is an architect with diverse experience including educational, hospitality, residential, and mixed-use projects. His goal is to combine sustainability, culture, and aesthetics in all his designs. Ashkan’s passion is to explore nature either on the ground by foot or in the sky via glider.
Dulce De La Paz earned a BA in Architecture from UNLV and then moved to L.A. to attend the M. Arch. Program at USC. While working on her graduate degree, Dulce began to appreciate L.A.’s beauty and culture diversity, which attracted her to stay and explore the City further. She enjoys little pockets of nature found in urban settings that create a beautiful mixture of textures and colors. As a new KFA team member, she looks forward to working on projects that improve L.A.’s landscape.
James Hwangbo received his Bachelor of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. As a versatile designer, James creates opportunities from constraints and reveals the extraordinary in the ordinary. During his free time, James enjoys spending time with friends and family, as well as reading books.
Natalie Park is of Korean descent, born in Brazil, and raised in the U.S. She earned her Bachelor of Architecture from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. Natalie loves nature, but enjoys living in an urban city. Traveling and climbing are a big part of her life. It keeps her honest and humbled, while constantly challenging herself. Her philosophy is to work hard, play even harder. A quote that she holds dear: “Happiness only real when shared.” – Christopher McCandless
Emmanuel Sandoval is a native Angeleno whose passion for all things L.A. continues to intensify as he pursues his commitment to inspire and create a socially sustainable city through art and architecture. Being a world traveler, foodie, art enthusiast, and a local tourist are a few things he enjoys away from the office.
Min Shuai came to the U.S. to pursue a second degree in architecture from USC about twenty years ago. Being very detail oriented, she loves the technical side of architecture, particularly putting buildings together. Currently, she is in the process of completing the construction of her own dream house in Monterey Park.
Jeffrey Tseng grew up in the Bay Area and came down to UCLA for his undergraduate in Civil Engineering. While studying structures, he developed a love for well-designed buildings and environments and pursued this passion further at Cal Poly Pomona’s M. Arch program. When away from the office, he likes to ride his bike around L.A., sketch sceneries, and struggle with his golf swing.
Yining Wang is originally from Hangzhou, China. She received her undergraduate architecture degree from Zhejiang University during which she studied in Madrid, Spain on a six-month student exchange program. Soon after graduating, Yining moved to L.A. to attend UCLA’s M. Arch program. When she is not designing buildings, she enjoys dining at nice restaurants as well as L.A.’s warm weather. One of her favorite activities is going wine tasting in Napa Valley.
Chad Yussman is KFA’s new marketing director and is excited to be a part of such a special firm with so many talented individuals. Originally from Louisville, KY, he earned his BSBA in International Business from Wash U in St. Louis and received an MBA in Marketing from LMU. Chad’s marketing journey has taken him from international film and art festivals in England and Los Angeles to high-end video production in Hollywood. He is a performing bassoonist, an avid Louisville Cardinals fan, and loves playing on the beach with his kids.
Thursday, April 16 2015
Restoration Drama: The Challenges and Rewards of Historic Renovation – Form Magazine
The complexities of reimagining older buildings into new spaces become even more layered with designated historic structures. Architects must coordinate not just with clients, consultants, and artisans, but public agencies empowered to protect a classic building’s character. Killefer Flammang Architects (KFA) has performed this role in multiple Los Angeles historic and cultural monuments, including the Ace Hotel (the former United Artists office tower), The Roosevelt and the Pacific Electric Building
The just-completed renovation of the 1923 Taft Building in Hollywood (once occupied by Charlie Chaplin, Will Rogers and Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences) is the latest example: It combined navigating approvals with finding moments of architectural inspiration. KFA Project Manager Tarrah Beebe describes them.
What was the building and the assignment?
The Taft renovation repositioned a beautiful, 12-story, neo-Renaissance landmark into creative space for building owner Clarett West Development. It required a careful integration of modern uses – open floor plans, modern HVAC systems – with a building listed as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.
How did you interface with city agencies?
There was a tremendous amount of coordination with the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety and the Office of Historic Preservation to make this project a reality. We were protecting the historic character while upgrading essential fire/life/safety systems, and the entire process involved collaboration among the design team, owner, and city agencies. Frequent meetings ensured that historic building configurations were transformed to accommodate contemporary demands. The central open stair, for example, has a lot of historic fabric. We maintained the beautifully detailed stone and decorative metal, but within the context of fire and life safety requirements. Now, this central stair provides an active transition from floor to floor. It is integral to the experience of the place.
What were some sources of inspiration?
We had the good fortune of discovering the original architectural and structural drawings, and their beauty captures the grandeur of the Taft, telling the building’s story. They were not only a source of inspiration for the renovation design, they were helpful in understanding the original design. It is fascinating to uncover the historic fabric shown in the drawings that had been covered over the years by modern – and in most cases unfortunate – materials.
Along Vine Street, for example, we referenced the historic drawings and cast molds of the existing historic fabric in order to recreate the historic storefronts. We were able to replace lost or damaged terra cotta tile in order to bring the façade back to its original design.
What are some of the other conflicts that need resolution?
Today’s market demand for creative offices makes a building such as the Taft very popular. The materials and craftsmanship are inspiring to this kind of tenant, who is often rejecting a “corporate,” Class A building. The irony is that in the 1920s The Taft was a very formal office environment. Our challenge is to reflect contemporary, creative office culture of open, collaborative spaces and raw materials, while preserving the irreplaceable character created almost a century ago.
Photography by Jim Simmons
Thursday, April 09 2015
New Pershing Apartments Video
Tuesday, April 07 2015
Company’s Commitment to Affordable Housing Recognized – Park LaBrea News
KFA partners Barbara Flammang and Wade Killefer. (photo by Chad Yussman/KFA)
Killefer Flammang Architects (KFA) received the John Chase Creative Community Award at the recent West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation (WHCHC) Gala.
KFA was recognized for dedicating “so much of their time and energy to creating affordable homes for hundreds of people who struggle not only with inadequate income, but with multiple health issue and disabilities,” said WHCHC Chair Ramon Mendez, Jr. and WHCHC executive director Robin Conerly.
KFA designed five of WHCHC’s 14 affordable housing communities, starting with Palm View in 1998, Havenhurst in 2004, Detroit Senior and Detroit Family in 2001 and Hayworth House in 2013. KFA has designed over 3,000 units of affordable housing in Los Angeles County.
The John Chase Creative Community Award is dedicated to the late urban designer for the city of West Hollywood.
John Chase oversaw the design of hundreds of projects, big and small, playing a significant role in West Hollywood’s redevelopment. WHCHC held its 4th Annual Gala Celebration “A Night To Remember” at the London Hotel West Hollywood.Killefer Flammang Architects is a full-service, award-winning architecture firm based in Santa Monica.
KFA’s design expertise includes multi-family/mixed-use housing, affordable housing, adaptive reuse, senior and special-needs housing.
For information, visit http://www.kfalosangeles.com.