Old hotel gets new life as affordable housing

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The Pershing Hotel in downtown Los Angeles is getting a facelift as well as a complete interior makeover. 

July 19, 2013

The Pershing Hotel in downtown Los Angeles is getting a facelift as well as a complete interior makeover. The 1889 Victorian will be converted to 69 units of affordable housing for homeless and low-income individuals, and will be called New Pershing Apartments. It?s one of several hotels being renovated for this purpose by Skid Row Housing Trust.

?We?re preserving [the old hotels] as supportive housing,? says Michael Alvidrez, Skid Row?s executive director. ?It?s not only affordable housing, but also offers residents access to on-site services such as health care and mental-health counseling.? Projects like New Pershing Apartments, says Alvidrez, ?prove that you can mix the homeless population with other income levels, and that the buildings can be beautiful.?

He adds that the hotel is on a block that is undergoing intense revitalization: ?It?s a destination for a lot of new restaurants as well as being the site of the Downtown Art Walk, which takes place mostly around the galleries on Spring and Main Streets.?

The Pershing will retain its original façade through a complicated shoring process whereby the existing walls are braced while the rest of the building is gutted and remodeled. Then the walls will be incorporated into the new structure.

?We are saving the walls and floor systems along 5th and Main, dropping steel pilings into the ground alongside the exterior walls and tying them together through the windows,? says Wade Killefer, principal of Killefer Flammang Architects, Santa Monica, Calif.

Killefer says the building is one of the oldest in downtown Los Angeles and is on the National and State Registers of Historic Places. ?Nevertheless, it was insensitively remodeled a number of times in the past,? he says. ?Our biggest challenge was to provide good housing units with adequate access to light and air, while maintaining the historic fabric of the original hotel and weaving the old program into the old structural system.?

There are no other surviving examples of Victorian architecture in the surrounding neighborhood, Killefer says, ?although there are some nice Beaux Arts hotels across the street.? One characteristic of Beaux Arts, a style that flourished between 1885 and 1920, is elaborate ornamentation. The Pershing Hotel has elegant bay windows and façade details, but lacks the grandiosity associated with Beaux Arts.

Alvidrez says the Pershing had previously been utilized as a single-room-occupancy (SRO) hotel. ?The interior circulation was a little maze-like, and it was difficult to bring people together for socializing,? he says. ?We?re redoing the building in a much more sensitive way that protects it historic significance.?

Whereas the original hotel had two stories of residential above ground-floor shops, the New Pershing Apartments will be a five-story building. The top two floors will be stepped back to reduce the impact on the existing façade. In addition to 65 studio units and four one-bedroom apartments, there will be 3,800 square feet of retail space on the street level.

A landscaped, 2,200-square-foot courtyard will serve as a tranquil assembly area, and patio space with resident gardens will highlight the fourth and fifth levels. Vase management spaces are also being designed to allow for more individualized meetings, while the community rooms and outdoor spaces are comfortable for group gatherings and social activities.

Brick, tile and plaster are being used on the exterior. ?The Secretary of the Interior?s Standards for Historic Preservation require that additions be distinct but sympathetic to the original historic fabric,? says Killefer. ?We are using a porcelain tile in the courtyard and plaster for the exterior walls above the old roof. No contemporary materials will be apparent.?

The $15 million project is being funded through an assortment of financing sources, including low-income housing tax credits. Construction began in early May and is expected to take about a year to complete. Killefer notes that the project is being built to LEED Gold criteria.

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