I have lived in Los Angeles my entire life and for much of that time it seemed as if the city was in some sort of time stasis. While New York City has constructed 41 skyscrapers since my birth while Los Angeles’s grand total comes up to 1 at the L.A Live complex. Why is this? Despite its economic and cultural prowess, L.A. has long lived with a shadow over its downtown that has stigmatized large development. Some say this is because of L.A.’s large geographic area; others point to earthquakes, and still more highlight the historic crime/homeless rate. But the “Downtown Renaissance” ,which started right before the Great Recession, is beginning to pick up steam again as the architectural firm AC Martin released the final renderings of Los Angeles’s new tallest building, the Wilshire Grand Hotel.
Once completed in 2017, the Wilshire Grand Hotel will be a prominent and welcome new addition to the L.A. skyline, symbolizing the start a modern 21st century city. This may seem like the press release from the hotels website, but the Wilshire Grand is truly much more than another building. It is a building of many firsts and will hopefully prompt many more of them.
One of the most common criticisms I get from tourists is that there is not a single skyscraper that does not follow the rigid and boring single shape design. This is because Los Angeles law requires that all skyscrapers have a helipad for use by emergency personnel during a fire or earthquake. The first thing one notices from the renderings is the sail roof which tops the 1,100 foot tower and its curved, sleek façade. The Wilshire Grand has not broken any laws because rather than submit to the status quo of earthquake resistant buildings, the Wilshire Grand has cleverly integrated a helipad into the sail. Once people see the beauty of this new structure in the L.A. skyline, it will plant the thought in the minds of Angelinos that we do not have to settle for a second rate downtown in a world class city.
I have been to many downtowns; from Shanghai, to Paris, to Chicago. And one thing which connects them all is that their downtowns are all bustling centers of tourism, entertainment, and nightlife. The scene in downtown L.A. could not be more different. Except for the rare occasions when there is a basketball game or award show, Downtown Los Angeles is a virtual ghost town. I could stand in the middle of Grand Avenue on a Friday night without worry of a car coming by for at least 10 minutes. I am not saying that the building of a single new hotel will change this even in the slightest, however like my previous post about Farmers Field; I believe that all revitalizations need a simple catalyst. The Wilshire Grand could be that catalyst.
Los Angeles is a unique city because of its enormous size. This has been both a blessing and curse because it has allowed for a very diverse city while at the same time robbing it of a common and central core. I realize that developing in one area usually means taking it away from another and I in no way want to turn L.A. into New York. But Los Angeles is still a young city and we can show the world how to do both. We should not be afraid to try something new. On the subject of building in Los Angeles this fear usually stems from the apocalyptic image of a skyscraper toppling over during an earthquake. This is a 20th century fear that needs to be reevaluated in the new era. It has already been done. Taipai 101 stood as the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2010 while being located in a more active earthquake zone than Los Angeles and having to face 100+ mph winds each year. A vertical and modern Los Angeles is no longer science fiction. And with the construction of the Wilshire Grand Hotel staring this year, I say, let’s get started.