Miracle Mile project recalls the glories of a bygone era
Developer bets on high demand from Purple Line extension
The Miracle Mile has demonstrated new vitality in recent years as apartment complexes with shops and restaurants opened in advance of upcoming mega developments at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art complex.
Now, the storied stretch of Wilshire Boulevard that was once a premier Los Angeles address is poised to get a further lift in the form of a soaring $400-million luxury apartment skyscraper with Art Deco flair.
The planned 42-story tower near the coming La Brea Avenue subway station would replace a Staples office supply store and is being proposed by the property’s longtime owners: the family of Walter N. Marks, a real estate broker and developer who was so active on the boulevard he was called “Mr. Wilshire.”
The Marks family, which has owned the property since 1968, is betting there will be plenty of demand for the 371 apartments — including 56 set aside for low-income residents — when the neighborhood’s Purple Line extension opens in a few years, bringing an expected 50,000 weekday riders.
“There are going to be a lot more people” on Miracle Mile, said Walter N. Marks III. “Industry follows people, my grandfather used to say.”
The family, which also owns and renovated the landmark Helms Bakery District retail complex in Culver City, will seek city approval to build a skyscraper designed by Los Angeles architect Richard Keating, who also designed the 52-story Gas Company Tower office building downtown.
Marks and Keating envision the tower, set to open in 2023, as an updated version of graceful prewar luxury housing on Wilshire Boulevard, such as the Talmadge, Gaylord and Bryson. In a bid to connect to those origins — as well as that of an Art Deco building on the property that will remain — the apartment tower will have a curvilinear shape and overlapping windows that can open to let in a breeze.
But to stand out today the tower sports comforts that more than hearken back to the boulevard’s glory days.
The 5411 Wilshire high-rise will have several amenities, including an outdoor deck on the fifth floor big enough for a park with trees, flowers and a perimeter walking trail overlooking the city. There will be a dog exercise area, barbecues and two swimming pools, with attractions clearly targeted to millennial tastes.
In addition to a gym, the building will have a two-lane bowling alley, a virtual reality gaming room, a golf simulator, dog-grooming space, demonstration kitchen, wine-tasting counter, billiard room and yoga studio. On the 42nd story will be a private rooftop garden and lounge.
Tenants will step out of their cars and leave them to a robotic system that will park them underground and charge them if they are electric vehicles. “The cars sit on plates and the plates will charge the car,” Marks said. “The resident can plug it in.”
Rents have yet to be set, but can be expected to be at the high end of the market. “It’s going to be a first-class building,” Marks said. “The rents are going to be representative of that.”
The project will seek to make the most of the original design for the Miracle Mile, subdivided by founder A.W. Ross in 1921 when the area was flanked by oil wells and barley fields. The stretch of Wilshire between La Brea and Fairfax avenues was designed as a shopping-and-office district with sidewalks unusually wide at 20 feet to accommodate window shoppers.
“We thought the whole frontage should be glassy and retail,” Keating said.
And because original Miracle Mile retailers were dependent on patrons arriving by cars, stores such as Desmond’s and Silverwood’s put their main entrances on the sidewalk but made it easy for shoppers to park in back and enter through the rear. The new apartment tower will follow the form, with its parking entrances tucked on Cochran and Cloverdale avenues.
The Markses also own the Art Deco building adjacent to the boxy Staples store that is being demolished. Constructed in 1936, it is occupied by a beauty supply store but was originally home to a Sontag drug outlet that included a soda fountain and grill capable of seating 100 patrons.
Marks plans to open a cafe and a white table cloth restaurant in the renovated space that he hopes will be named Sontag.
The stretch of Wilshire prospered in the mid-20th century, prompting The Times to remark in a 1958 article: “From the towers of downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean, the Miracle Mile is the most outstanding of all of the 15 Wilshire Boulevard Miles.”
Amber Schiada, regional director of research for real estate brokerage JLL, said the district was challenged in the latter half of the 20th century by its lack of proximity to the region’s developing freeway system.
But, she said, it is “a neighborhood on the rise,” with the coming subway and the spill-over from rising prosperity in Hollywood, where Netflix and other entertainment companies are expanding rapidly.
“The Netflix effect is real,” Schiada said, and could help lift Miracle Mile’s office market as well as its residential values.
She also thinks that the new tower should have little problem attracting tenants, even though more than 44,000 apartment units were built in the county from 2013 to 2018, and an additional 24,600 are in the pipeline to be completed by 2023.
“We cannot supply enough” housing, Schiada said. “Industries here are growing, but it’s going to be hard to sustain for the long term without more housing.”
In a vote of confidence in the neighborhood, Canadian developer Onni Group is in talks to buy the Wilshire Courtyard office complex on Miracle Mile for $630 million — a big jump in price from the $422 million that current owner Tishman Speyer paid for 2012.
It’s been a while since the Miracle Mile lived up to its reputation as the star attraction of Wilshire Boulevard, said Henry Van Moyland, a co-founder of neighborhood advocacy group Miracle Mile Forward.
The Mile thrived as a “linear central business district” after World War II until about 1980, Van Moyland said. During that time some memorable buildings were erected, including a 32-story skyscraper at 5900 Wilshire designed by noted architect William Pereira and a T-shaped office complex near the La Brea Tar Pits now known as SAG-AFTRA Plaza.
Both of those office buildings have been renovated in recent years and other important structures are on the way. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art got approval from the county Board of Supervisors last month to build a $650-million new home for its permanent collection that will span Wilshire Boulevard.
Next door, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which includes an eye-catching spherical building that will house a theater and terrace, is being built in a former Art Deco-style department store. The $300-million complex is set to open late this year.
The owner of SAG-AFTRA Plaza, JH Snyder Co., is also building a 20-story apartment tower behind the office plaza that will be completed by the end of next year. And Metro plans to return a bit of the boulevard’s grandeur when construction is finished on the subway stop, replanting trees in the wide center median.
The Miracle Mile “could be much more inviting, a true boulevard,” Van Moyland said. “The Purple Line is a catalyst now for transformation or revival.”