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Downtown Los Angeles Landmark Wasn’t Always a Gem

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Here now, Past Lives, in which Curbed contributor Chris Berger explores what some of the country's most interesting residential buildings used to be before they became livable homes. Care to suggest a building with a fascinating past life? Do drop us a line.

The Eastern Columbia Building is one of Los Angeles’ most recognizable architectural works. The turquoise, deep blue, and gold exterior is textbook Art Deco, and the 147 residences contained within are much sought after—Johnny Depp and John Stamos are supposedly owners. Even replica Eastern Columbia models are for sale. But the 13-story tower wasn’t always so popular. Less than a decade ago, it was an underutilized office building in a downtown most recognized as the backdrop for scenes shot in the Hollywood Hills. As for its distinct appearance, the Eastern Columbia, built in 1930, was a Monet: captivating from a distance, but not a pretty picture up close.

? Water, a structure’s worst nightmare, had infiltrated the ornate terra cotta, particularly in the upper stories near the lifeless clock.

? Beginning in 2004, the Kor Group gambled and poured $80 million into a condo conversion. For nine months, workers drilled, patched, and sanded the 200,000-square-foot terra cotta and masonry skin. The original casement windows and terrazzo sidewalk and lobby floor were also restored. The iconic clock was repaired, and in its shadow a rooftop pool, fitness center, and outdoor fireplace were constructed. Parking was added, and balconies were built on the north and west elevations.

? The Eastern Columbia’s tired interior was gutted, and Killefer Flammang Architects partitioned the boxy floors into rectangular units, designed to maximize the natural light in each condo.

? Homes range in size from 720 to 2,750-square-feet, and the exposed ceilings stretch from 11 to 14 feet. There are eight penthouses, and some units have private terraces. Amenities include stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, and Whirlpool tubs. Floors are concrete with a hardwood upgrade option. Of the one bedrooms currently on the market, prices range from $260K for 890 square feet to $600K for 1,610 square feet.

? The much lauded adaptive reuse project is a key facet in downtown LA’s rebirth and spotlights the benefits of historic preservation in redeveloping urban cores. The Depp connection probably doesn’t hurt, either.

· Eastern Columbia Lofts [official site]
· Eastern Columbia Lofts [Curbed LA]
· Restoration of Eastern Columbia Building [Preservation Arts]
· Kor Group [official site]
· Killefer Flammang Architects [official site]