downtown los angeles, financial district
comments 52

Lipstick on a Pig: $7 Million Renovation Planned for Macy’s in Downtown LA

Macy's Plaza is a poorly designed shopping center in Downtown LA that is not only visually deleterious, but impedes pedestrian connections between South Park and the Financial District, impeding Downtown LA's growth potential

A source in the retail industry has informed me that Macy’s in Downtown LA (inside the Big Brown Bunker known as Macy’s Plaza sitting in the most prime location in Downtown LA’s Financial District) will be going through a “$7 million” renovation in the near future. So I checked with the customer service office inside Macy’s Plaza to see if I could dish up some more info. A lady I spoke to at Macy’s Plaza said she could not confirm much about the details but she was aware that “some kind of renovation” would take place “next year.”

Woop dee doo.

What does “$7 million” do anyway for an aging department store housed inside a building that looks like it was meant to be a nuclear bomb shelter in the middle of Downtown LA? Perhaps we’ll get some new floors and bathrooms and maybe some new lighting and mannequins. Oh yeah, and perhaps some new makeup counters right? But they seem to miss the point. What happens inside Macy’s Plaza (and in this case, Macy’s) doesn’t really matter to me or anyone else who cares about Downtown LA’s future as a livable community. The glaring issue with Macy’s Plaza isn’t so much what’s on the inside but what’s NOT on the outside. Nothing you do on the inside will matter if it continues to look the way it does on the outside.

If you’ve ever walked by Macy’s Plaza before in your life, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You want to walk past this thing as fast as you can. Why? Because not only is it ugly but there is zero interaction between Macy’s Plaza and the pedestrians walking on the sidewalks next to it. What should be an experience walking by outdoor dining patios and shops activating the sidewalks, is instead the current dismal reality of a hulking structure clad in dated brown brick from the 1970s. Sadly, just about 575 feet (the length of a north-south block in DTLA) of ugliness.

Macy’s Plaza, owned by Jamison Services Inc, currently sits in the center of Downtown LA (7th/Hope) across the street from the busiest subway station in Los Angeles, surrounded by the most amazing urban revitalization in Los Angeles history. Yet, it continues to turn its back on Downtown LA, ignoring all the wonderful progress that’s been happening over the last decade. Downtown LA was missing for so long and now it’s been found again by a new generation of Angelenos (like me) who yearn for the sophisticated and livable urban center that our counterparts in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco have.

Without fixing the inherent flaws in Macy’s Plaza’s design (the walled off bunker look that’s so passe), it will continue to impede the progress we’ve made along 7th Street (now a bona fide restaurant row) and prevent the full pedestrian connection between South Park and the Financial District, always diluting Downtown LA’s fullest potential. The demand for retail shopping in Downtown LA is also the next logical step in its urban evolution. FIGat7th down the street will jump start that process. Will another property owner and developer with vision see the obvious sign that Macy’s Plaza is sitting on gold and is just screaming to be re-imagined?

For now, unfortunately, the “$7 million” renovation that is planned for Macy’s Plaza is really just lipstick on a pig.

What could have been shops and restaurants lining the sidewalks around the shopping center is nothing more than blank walls with zero pedestrian interaction

Sterile blank walls like this surround the majority of Macy's Plaza giving this "shopping center" the distinction of being the most anti-pedestrian building in the best location in Downtown LA

One day, I hope a developer with vision will purchase Macy's Plaza, re-imagining the poorly designed shopping center into a fully integrated mixed-use project that adds value to the community

52 Comments

  1. David says

    Contrary to the point of this article I don’t see how you can claim it is the renter’s responsibility (in this case Macy’s) to fix up the entire mall structure. I would love for Macy’s Plaza to be brought into the fabric of downtown but let’s not vilify the barer of good news over things to which they have no control. I’m all for Macy’s spending some money to renovate their store downtown, which by the way is also terribly stuck in a past decade.

    • It is just as much Macy’s fault as the owner of Macy’s Plaza (Jamison Services) because both are ignoring the fact that it’s not what’s inside that matters, but that the entire building is inherently flawed from the outside. For Macy’s to invest $7 million into their store is prolonging the inevitable that one day this place will be either significantly remodeled or torn down all together and rebuilt.

      Also, I would like to add that, although I am not 100% sure on Macy’s at Macy’s Plaza, but many department stores have ownership over their own real estate, even in shopping malls. In either case, Macy’s is a powerful force that has much influence. If they cared about Downtown LA, which they don’t, they would put a lot of pressure on Jamison Services to remodel the entire thing.

      But alas, neither Macy’s nor Jamison really cares about what eventually happens to Downtown LA.

  2. Chris says

    100% agreed. Having gone inside, it feels like a ghost town in there. This is outshadowed only by how bad the outside is. Macys is wrong for downtown at this point anyway; a useless middle ground between stores that serve the poorer residents and true high-end retail that more affluent residents crave. The whole thing should be leveled and something else put in its place. There is nothing worth saving here.

  3. For a moment I had hoped that they would make it look more like SF, NY, and other like areas but, guess not. Hopefully one day… sometime sooner rather than later.

  4. Manny Gutierrez says

    Whoever owns and or manages the building, does not seem to be too concerned with the exterior sidewalks. There are more gum blotchs on the sidewalk than can be seen in front of any building downtown . The problem is ongoing and is seldom if ever dealth with.

    Knowing it’s not really managements fault, it’s seems to me that they are obliged to clean up that mess and make it look presentable. Others seem to do it. Why not them ?

    M.G.

  5. I haven’t thought the actual Macy’s store is that bad. If this money was going to the “plaza” area in front of the store, I’d be far happier. Of course the exterior as well — but that’s much more than a $7 million renovation.

    Take the glass roof off the front and make the space into an outdoor plaza in between the two towers with the retail flanking both sides and you’ll have a VAST improvement.

    The back side, where Macy’s actually is, is a much harder beast to handle in terms of a renovation… especially with the way the parking and the store are built into the same box structure.

  6. Lawrence says

    @David – If Macy’s really cared about it’s store it would demand an upgrade to the horrible structure its housed in, which isn’t inviting to its shoppers and does absolutely nothing for downtown. Also, prior to Jamison Properties taking over the complex, Macy’s did have an ownership stake – neither of them have ever invested any sizable amount to re-think this horribly outdated “mall”- and this measly $7 million investment isn’t going to do anything to change that. The store may be stuck in the last decade, but the entire structure is stuck in 1973 when it was constructed. It’s a pedestrian hostile bunker and was an ill conceived attempt to compete with suburban malls in surrounding areas which by the 70’s and 80’s had all but completely sucked the retail life from downtown L.A.

    Most Macy’s stores look like crap these days and this store is no exception. Some new lights and updated bathrooms won’t change what’s generally a lousy store in a very ugly mall. Lipstick on a pig indeed. It would be great if Jamison Properties actually understood the value of this property and the long term value of investing money to re-work it, but Jamison has generally proven to be a pretty clueless landlord. The CRA left the Banco Popular center managed by Jamison a few years back because the building was falling apart. Thankfully it was recently sold and will now become apartments. I can only hope they unload this behemoth property (which has much potential I might add), to a developer or landlord who can create something great on this very prominent and important block.

  7. Take out the center entry to the mall on 7th street and remove the atrium roof, that would make a world of differance. Then knock out some openings to Macys on Flower and you would have a property that could be another centerpiece for downtown. Caruso would know what to do.

  8. sebastian says

    Yeah, where’s Caruso in all this, he provides for Glendale, and West L.A. but leaves downtown in the dark. Caruso we need you to work your magic in Downtown.

    • sebastian: Caruso could definitely do wonderful work Downtown!

      I wrote this a while back and he said he’d “look into it,” though that doesn’t exactly mean anything.

      http://steven-white.com/2012/01/20/the-amerigrove-on-8th/

      He’s a smart guy and I think he will eventually (soon?) see a great opportunity downtown. I think the blocks between 7th/8th from Fig@7th, to the lot I wrote about, to Macy’s plaza could prove to be a great retail district.

  9. sebastian says

    One major improvement would be to have the stores like Express face out into the street with an entrance, and I can see an Entrance into Macy’s on that corner where it says LA Fitness.

  10. brudy says

    It’s the sides other than the front that are the worst offenders, IMO. It’s like a prison on either side (and back) that destroys any feeling of being in a vibrant place. I also think that’s a great idea about removing the atrium roof as well.

    But what’s inside is just as bad as the outside. Other than the dated Macy’s (which I don’t think is awful), the rest of the stores aren’t much of a draw. Maybe with 7th&Fig coming in, this will help draw better tenants. I will say when I moved here, I was surprised to find that Macys at all. Something has to be said for them sticking around. If we could get a do-over, that’d be awesome. But it sounds doubtful, so I think any improvements to the exterior and tenants would be a start.

  11. Daisy says

    Jamison is rather notorious for the lipstick-on-pig approach. It’s how they manage to own so much L.A. real estate, and maintain it just at the margin of functional. Nothing exciting or innovative about what they do. They collect rents rents rents. Vision, aesthetics…not in their DNA unfortunately.

    I agree with MG. Open it up! Then add some living walls or architectural features to the hulking extremes that would liven it up or engage inside with out. It’s such a menacing eyesore I forget it’s got retailers inside. NEVER on my shopping radar.

  12. This Macy’s is one of the worst stores I have ever been to. We were trying to shop for some new bedding and it was so depressing inside and the people working there were so useless that we walked back to our apartment, got in the car, and drove somewhere else for bedding. To me that experience was unforgettable, and shows what a mess that anchor store is. The building as a whole is even worse. The interaction between all of the stores inside make no sense. How are any of those underground restaurants getting customers?????

    I was hoping to read that $7 million would be used to demo the building and build a park.

  13. sebastian says

    I can see them removing the roof and make it into an open mall, with a restaurant in the front or starbucks, and have some tables with chairs for people to sit, and have a drink. Also that Fedex store doesn’t belong in that corner, it should be inviting pedestrians to that corner, maybe it would be better if they had a restaurant in that corner.

  14. Chris Loos says

    The worst part about this is that doing a cheapo renovation now implies that a real full-on renovation won’t occur for many years :(

  15. If it is going to take $7 million to redo the interior of Macy’s – then in today’s market, I can’t see how they could even begin to think of improving the exterior – an exterior that the landlord owns and controls. And with Jamison still dealing with the affects of the decline in the office market during the past few years, they simply don’t have the resources to make any major changes to the property.

    Eventually, when the market for the overall project – including the hotel and office building – improves – then Jamison will likely sell the project and someone else can tackle the major overhaul the entire block needs. The only silver lining in this is that by the time the market improves enough for them to sell the project – that’s about the time it will be financially realistic to do the major reconstruction necessary to fix that block.

  16. Stan says

    I couldn’t agree more, Brigham. I live at Market Lofts and have to look at the wall of brick everyday. There is so much vitality happening all around you in downtown, then this monolith completely breaks the flow. This fortress is so uninviting I have only ventured inside once in three years and I live a block away.
    Integration of the store to the outside world is key to making it a success

  17. lauren says

    That’s not a FedEx store, it’s a Post Office. And it will be one of the few post offices remaining for residents of Downtown once the post office closures begin.

    • Absolutlely true! I’ve found that post office to be one the more convenient for a good portion of Downtown. Certainly wouldn’t want to lose it. It’s got a prime corner location, though, and could be just as functional in one of the other retail spaces.

  18. Christopher says

    I actually welcome the interior changes to Macy’s. And I believe that with the advent of the new serious retail at Fig at 7 and the Korean Air Hotel retail center, along with the new retail scene developing along Broadway, that the owner of Macy’s Plaza will be pressured to make big changes to the site. Don’t forget that the hotel and office building portion of the property is nothing to sneeze at and makes it less likely that any new developer would tear down the entire project. What is more likely is an overhaul of the site akin to what happened with the Century City Shopping Center, a massive success by any measure.

  19. Lisa says

    I really hope it gets renovated. It looks like a prison right now.
    Renovate and they will come!

  20. OMG – I nearly spit out my coffee when someone mentioned Caruso. He could probably put in his own streetcar to connect with the LA Streetcar!

  21. archie says

    All the beautiful former dept. store buildings are all over downtown and looking forlorn. Spectacular buildings.. Too bad Macy’s couldn’t take over the original May. Co bldg. across from the Orpheum on Broadway where the LA Trade Center Swap Meet now fills it’s shell. I walked inside and it looks fairly intact. Marble floors, ceilings hidden. beautiful old railings down to what was the “bargain basement”, multiple entrances with the original marquees on Broadway and around the corner. Another hidden jewel.

    • David says

      That would be the ultimate in “what goes around comes around” since it was The Broadway’s successful move from their iconic store on Broadway that cemented the demise of the big downtown headquarters store in Los Angeles. At the time they built this new store, all the major department stores (Bullock’s, Robinson’s, and May Company) still occupied their grand old stores downtown. It was followed years later by May Co. and Bullock’s moving to the new 7th and Fig development; which in it’s way followed the same formula of disconnection with the street by putting the bunker underground.

  22. I actually have some affection for this building. It may not be a beautiful or welcoming structure, but it tells a profound story about its time and its place.

    When Charles Luckman designed the Broadway Plaza (original name) circa 1973, L.A. Magazine proclaimed that there was only one L.A. neighborhood less desirable than downtown: Vernon. Downtown L.A. had just stood in for hell on earth in “The Omega Man.” It was around this time that a stabbing victim stumbled into services at the Church of the Open Door behind the Central Library and begged for help. The Skid Row Slasher was collecting souls along Main Street.

    A prison-like fortress was a reasonable and responsible choice in commercial development at this time, and the structure tells us a story of a time in this city that a lot of people would like to forget. Many of the problems that inspired this building are still here, just a bit further east. When I look at this building, it talks to me about a very grim moment in our city’s history, and how important that it is that we not hide behind thick walls, but find a way to understand our problems, help each other and make a better city for all Angelenos, not just those who can afford to shop in malls.

  23. Rfgs says

    Any chance someone will reopen the “rotating restaurant” on top of the building?

    • I recall hearing from Sheraton that they have remodeled / will remodel the old rotating restaurant to become a Club Lounge that doesn’t rotate. :-(

  24. DowntownRez says

    @Kim Cooper: Broadway Plaza might tell a profound story, but it’s from another era. Time for progress! This building reminds me of the fortresses on 14th St NW in the Logan/U Street section of Wash, DC after the riots. All of those buildings, which often featured bunker-like bases, are now being opened up at the ground-floor level for retail & restaurants. It is time to move Macy’s Plaza into 2012.

    • Lawrence says

      @DowntownRez – I totally agree. There may be profound reasons why Macy’s Plaza looks the way it does, but that doesn’t mean it should remain that way. Downtown is changing and this structure needs to address the downtown of 2012 not 1973. This is a very critical block that if re-worked properly could be a huge draw in the area and complement the coming Figat7th down the street.

  25. Tom says

    I could not agree more Brigham. This is the ugliest and worst run building in the Financial District and yet it has the most potential…

    • Lawrence says

      @Baddicus – Although a Glendale Galleria re-model is long overdue, I don’t know that it’s a great example to reference for Macy’s Plaza. Early renderings of the refurbishment shared on Curbed show some cosmetic upgrades, but not much else. It’s still an inward facing suburban mall and therein lies the problem. While the Glendale Galleria IS a suburban mall in what is largely a suburban context, Macy’s Plaza is a suburban-style mall complete with a gigantic parking structure (think Beverly Center) in an urban setting, which simply doesn’t work.

      Macy’s Plaza ultimately needs to be turned inside out with stores facing the streets, improved access, and of course an updated look to go with it. This block should be wrapped in retail and/or dining on all sides. Removing the atrium glass roof from the mall as others mentioned would go a long way toward opening things up a bit. Right now it looks like the Men’s Central Jail with two towers growing out of it and a Macy’s attached.

  26. sebastian says

    I think Macy’s should look at the Beverly Centers corner mall, for some inspiration, and look at the Venice Hotel mall in las vegas for inspiration where the Atrium is.

  27. sebastian says

    I think a movie theatre in that corner would enliven it up more.

  28. paul says

    $7million is nothing when you consider Nordstrom at Westside Pavillion is going thru a $30million renovation as we speak, and it is a smaller store than the dt Macy’s. Surprisingly Macy’s in dt LA does very well. They know they are sitting on a sizzling hot location and they will remain. I do admit that it is the ugliest block in dt Los Angeles and something needs to be done.

    • Janelle says

      >> Surprisingly Macy’s in dt LA does very well. <<

      Is your source for that accurate? Or does "very well" mean in comparison to the level of business it did 5 years ago? It seems iffy, no matter what.

      Macy's hasn't spent much money on keeping their downtown store in good shape probably because the amount of business it does isn't too stellar. Compare that with their main store in New York. They said they'll be spending 50 times more than $7 million to renovate that location, or $400 million.

      Macy's Plaza overall is dark and looks like it's stuck in both the 1970s, when it was built, and 1980s, or whenever it has been modestly modified through the years. If the exterior were the only sad thing about it, that wouldn't make it such a sore spot. Even if it was a fortress on the outside, but at least looked totally fashionable and first-class on the inside, that would go a long way to helping its reputation.

      • Lawrence says

        Janelle,

        Even if the inside of the store looked okay, the exterior and attached mall are bad enough to repel many from going inside. If you’re goal is to draw customers in, the outside is equally as important as the interior since it’s the first thing that catches your eye. Also – being in a downtown setting, this store should not take the form of a typical suburban mall store. You have a lot of pedestrian traffic on 7th and the surrounding streets, yet access to the Macy’s plaza fortress is extremely limited and the exterior is pedestrian hostile. On top of that, the structure as it currently exists inhibits pedestrian linkages between South Park and the Financial district.

        When I worked in the building attached to the mall (700 Flower) I would try to walk by the blank brick walls as quickly as possible when going out for lunch or otherwise just to get somewhere more pleasant looking.

        I can’t comment on the performance of this store specifically, but I think it could do a lot better if it actually addressed downtown and looked semi decent, but then again Macy’s has a pretty poor track record of keeping up it’s stores. Their Beverly Center and Century City Stores are almost just as ugly.

        • Well if they are only spending 7mil, they really don’t care if the store does better or not. If the space is currently making money for you why change it? And why would you knock it down now? Why not 10-20 years when the area fully develops and either rebuild or sell it for a lot more than you could get today.

  29. Why should Macys or Jamison care about Downtown LA? Companies can only care about making money for their stockholders. If a CEO tells the board of directors, “Well we didn’t make as much money this year, but we made downtown LA look better”, they’ll get fired.

    The shops on Broadway prove that you don’t have to make things look nice for consumers to spend money. If things look too fancy, it will actually drive consumers with less money away.

    What they have to ask is will $7 mil of upgrades generate more revenue for them. I don’t really see it, but who knows what they’re planning. Maybe it’s just $7mil in repairs. They should probably just gut all the stores and turn it into 1 giant parking lot.

  30. Tesse says

    I last shopped at Macy’s in downtown about 8 years ago (and yes, I work across the street from it and I’m a shopping fan, shall we say). I vowed never to go there again after poor customer service, dark corridors, dingy dressing rooms, and a cashier referring to the store as the “ghetto Macys”. I happily took my money and my wedding registry to the Lake Ave Macys in Pasadena…

    That said, I agree with your article – $7 million won’t do more than some cosmetic enhancements. It won’t connect the complex with the surrounding businesses and residents, and it certainly won’t improve the design issues associated with a bunker.

  31. Hunter says

    This place is such a disgrace to downtown. If it was burned down (somebody with more guts than me please….?) and rebuilt as an incredible luxury mall not only would it be a tourist destination, but its positive effect on the community would be unmeasurable.

  32. DawnC says

    I agree that the whole thing needs to be reworked or torn down and started over. I’m still happy that the Macy’s is getting a remodel anyway. It may not be the best department store in the world but it IS covenant and I’m glad it’s there. The best thing about that Macy’s is it’s the only department store in LA that is less crowded on the weekends. Clearly most people who shop there are folks that work in Downtown. Hopefully that’s starting to change and the new remodel will be more geared toward residents.

  33. al hughes says

    read charles luckman – twice in a lifetime – great book and includes mention of this as i recall. thx kim cooper for the comment above – interesting and very true. i was at sc in the late 80s and the dept store landscape from dt to new hampshire/wil was in flux – still following that hell on earth/dt westbound movement period of the early 70s

  34. It’s interesting to read people’s thoughts on the dull brick façade from the 70’s. So true. My father opened that hotel in August 1973. He was the General Manager and we lived there, on premises, from 73 – 83. One of Hyatt’s premier hotels, a Hyatt Regency it was. Many movie stars were there and I saw the hotel lobby transformed into a nightmare scene for part of the movie ‘Earthquake’. It was built in ’72/’73. I’ve always thought, since the 80’s, that it needed a make-over, perhaps being torn down…..the brick dates it too well and has successfully blocked any sort of diners, patios, etc that could be open and spilling unto the street. It has a prison wall-like non-intruding effect. Bit of trivia: I would skateboard down there, and in the early 70s, there weren’t too many high rises. You had the UCB bank building across from the Hyatt on Wilshire (NW corner) and SW corner had a Desmond’s clothing store. Directly across from the Hyatt on Hope (facing east) was Bullocks and a Scientology building (that I saw torn down with the wrecking ball and all). Where the famous Original Pantry Café was and still is, there was no high rises. Across on the SW corner was a Trophy shop and SE was a little grocery mart run by a friendly Korean family called A-1. NE corner had a parking lot for years and believe it is still there.

  35. Ermalinda (Sophia TheresaMarie) says

    I enjoy Macy’s and the building. The only pig on lipstick is you-r comments.

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