Buy L. A. Now

How many times in the past year have I found myself saying, “You know, when the next recession comes along, doggone it, I’m going to have a hundred grand laying around so I can take advantage of these dang fire sales that are constantly tempting me.” Wishful thinking only? Well, perhaps, but let me explain the latest observation to spark this ambition.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a couple of occasions to enrich my in-depth appreciation of the City of Angels. First was a downtown walking tour, sponsored by the LA Conservancy, of the locations that were central to the summer indie film “500 Days of Summer.” This romp was a great deal of fun, despite it being the hottest day of the year. Of course, there were the typical trompe l’oeil effects of making one place seem like another—Old Bank DVD standing in for a record store, and another building on South Spring Street faking it as Tom’s apartment. At least the treasured Bradbury Building (site of Harrison Ford’s apartment in Blade Runner, only much prettier in real life) was played close to the real thing as an important meeting takes place there between the architect protagonist and a prospective client. (Could this be a thinly veiled reference to the developer who is actually headquartered in this Victorian confection?)

The city itself, however, played itself, rather than imitating New York, Philadelphia, or any number of loony third world outposts. It might be noted that often when LA plays itself in a movie, it ends up being destroyed—Terminator 2 and Independence Day spring to mind. So, in this quirky little study, not only does downtown play itself, but it survives, and even thrives.

Our tour guide pointed out that the producers of the movie deliberately edited out of strategic camera shots iconic LA structures that would have plainly painted it as a modern town: the Walt Disney Concert Hall; the Library Tower. Instead they focused on what they termed “pre-World War Two” architecture. At the end of the day, this gives the film a bit of a “timeless” quality, or at the very least, a romantic patina. LA has, by the way, the largest concentration of historic early 19th century buildings in the entire country.

But on to my sales pitch. This past weekend I went on a Downtown Housing Tour, which is sponsored by the Downtown Center Business Improvement District as a means to promote dwelling opportunities in the core of the burb. I have done this before, but there was a spate of new stuff I really wanted to see, including several historic buildings that have been adaptively re-used as apartments or condominiums (and for actual people, not for actors in a movie!) A couple really got my attention. The Rowan building, on Spring Street (the emerging artsy district) is extremely classy, with the signature feature of unimaginably large windows. Seriously, these monsters must be nine feet wide by six feet tall—and the open, too! It’s almost a wall of glass, except for the existing beefy structural columns that separate the openings. Awesome. Oh, and there are special transparent guard rails added to keep your French bulldog from plummeting over the sill.

If slick, modern, chic, amenity-rich living is more your style, Evo in the south park area offers it in spades. This brand new high rise in one of downtown’s other emerging hot spots has walls of glass, too, but of the modern variety, not to mention outstanding finishes and top shelf appliances. Without resorting to hyperbole, it is really quite jaw-dropping, especially on the upper floors, when the building breaks out above it’s tall neighbors.

Now, if you’ve got a bit of bank, you can snag a fine pied a terre in one of these buildings for a total song. I’m not exaggerating. The entry-level pricing at Evo is around $350/square foot; that’s probably $100/foot less than it cost the developer to construct this gem! The Rowan was one of the first downtown properties to offer a release of units at auction, which was a tremendous success for buyers, even if the seller lost money on every transaction.

I must say that if I were serious about moving downtown and could pull it off, I would probably have a very difficult time deciding between Evo and The Rowan. Too bad I won’t have to agonize about it now.

Somebody call me again in about eight years.

(Daniel Gehman is principal at Thomas Cox Architects. He can be reached at