Preservationists Try to Put Brakes on Onni’s Revamp of Former LAT Headquarters


Onni Group’s plans to turn the former Los Angeles Times’ headquarters into a high-rise residential and retail complex has hit a potential snag, with a preservationist group filing an application to secure city monument status for three of the five structures, The L.A. Times reported earlier this week.

The Cultural Heritage Commission filed the application with the City Council last week to officially recognize the buildings as historic-cultural monuments, temporarily halt demolition. The council will begin considering the application, which will likely be on the commission agenda during the second scheduled meeting of the month on July 19. (Though the formal agenda has not been announced.)

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If approved by the City Council, such a designation would not necessarily derail the project, but could complicate the city approval process and delay any demolition for as much as a year.

Onni, a Canadian real estate developer, announced in late 2016 its intention to demolish some structures in the block formerly known as Times Mirror Square to make way for a high-rise residential and retail complex. Renderings of the developer’s plans were published in 2017 by Urbanize LA and Curbed LA. Onni did not respond to requests for comment.

The Times properties—five interconnected structures near City Hall surrounded by Broadway and First, Second and Spring Streets—were acquired by Onni from the The Tribune Company, currently known as Tronc, for $105 million in September 2016, according to CoStar (CSGP) Group.

Onni’s proposal calls for retaining the oldest of the structures—two Art Deco-style buildings that were constructed on the east side of the block along Spring Street in the 1930s and 1940s. The upper-floor offices would be refurbished, with the ground floors converted to restaurants, shops and a grocery store.

The three structures on the western half—a parking garage, a former printing plant and a modern office building—would be demolished to make way for two apartment towers of 37 and 53 stories containing a total of more than 1,100 apartments, a swimming pool and other luxury amenities, as well as ground-floor shops.

The focus of the preservation campaign is the office building, a 1973 structure designed by the late William Pereira, who also designed the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, CBS Television City in L.A.’s Fairfax district and the futuristic Theme Building in the heart of Los Angeles International Airport.

Los Angeles preservationist and cultural historian Richard Schave, who is leading the effort, told the Times, that he does not care if Onni tears down the parking garage at 2nd and Broadway, which also dates from the 1970s — but he draws the line at the Pereira building.

“The Pereira building is the crux of this nomination,” Schave said. “It’s very significant because his building is the least appreciated of the three, and he is a giant of California design.”

If the L.A. Times buildings are declared city monuments, the Cultural Heritage Commission can block demolition for as long as six months with a majority vote of its members. The City Council can then extend the ban for another six months.

Delays would give the city time to consider alternate uses for the buildings or to encourage developers to keep parts of historic structures intact.

The new owner of the L.A. Times, Patrick Soon-Shiong declined to renew the $1-million-a-month lease at the newspaper’s historic home, which expired on June 30. The paper is currently a tenant of Onni’s until moving to a building in El Segundo owned by Soon-Shiong later this month, Commercial Observer previously reported.