Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Thomas P. Cox who is the CEO of TCA Architects (formerly Thomas P. Cox Architects, Inc.). I met him and his colleagues at their Downtown LA corporate office located on the 10th floor of the Chase Plaza tower with stunning skyline views of Downtown LA. It was the perfect setting and vantage point to sit down and talk about how TCA views urbanism and the future of Downtown LA, and more importantly, how have they been directly involved with the revitalization process.
Cox is a local Angeleno who grew up in San Marino in the 1950s and remembers a time when it was still “chic and glamorous” to come downtown with his parents for shopping and entertainment. Cox fondly reminisces that even his first date was downtown. Over time, however, Downtown LA became the victim of suburbanization. We all know the story by now: Downtown LA went from the hub of activity in the late 1800s to early 1900s — the hustle-bustle we all love in an exciting urban center — to a veritable ghost town after the mid-1900s. Some jobs remained downtown in still largely empty skyscrapers, but the mass exodus of office workers after 5pm left behind a sad forgotten place — what was once the urban heart of LA.
Luckily, times are changing in favor of urbanism again. The last decade of Downtown LA revitalization has helped LA’s urban center regain the symbolic crown of our vast metropolitan region. As believers of the urban renaissance happening in Downtown LA, TCA opened their LA office in 2007 inside the Chase Plaza at the corner of 8th and Grand (across the street from Carmel Partner’s 700-unit mixed-use project). At the time TCA moved in, paint was still drying on the new Ralphs Fresh Fare market two blocks away and the ever-popular Bottega Louie, now a block up the street, would not be open for another two years (on April 6, 2009).
Nevertheless, their new office location was perfect. Centrally located to everything new happening in Downtown LA, but was also just as symbolic of the firm’s core belief of focusing on urban infill projects and urban revitalization. The 1985 Chase Plaza tower is one of LA’s first modern adaptive-reuse projects where the entire upper half of the 22-story building, from the 11th floor and up, was converted in 2006 by CIM Group to 132 luxury condos known as the Sky Lofts.
And that’s exactly what Cox told me his firm believes in: “Contributing to the exciting urban revitalization happening in Downtown LA.” Two of the most successful new mixed-use projects in Downtown LA, designed by TCA, are located in Little Tokyo, Sakura Crossing and Hikari, which have helped transform Little Tokyo into a bustling residential district with one of the most robust and exciting dining and retail scenes in Downtown LA. Once-desolate surface parking lots devoid of life have been developed into high-density apartments over restaurants and retail (the renowned Lazy Ox Canteen, for example, is at Sakura Crossing), which has helped activate the sidewalks with pedestrian activity. Another mixed-use project designed by TCA called Ava Matsu broke ground late last year adjacent to Sakura Crossing, which will continue to help bolster Little Tokyo.
Now the next urban infill project designed by TCA is slated to break ground in the first quarter of 2013 in the northeastern portion of South Park, which is an area of Downtown LA most associate with the Staples Center and LA Live. However, being located at Olympic and Hill, this new 7-story mixed-use project — to be developed by Texas-based Hanover (717 Olympic) — will also be convenient to the Fashion District and the Historic Core.
Currently, the Hanover site is yet another desolate surface parking lot devoid of life (akin to those aforementioned in Little Tokyo). The new Hanover project will help create a new urban neighborhood where really none exists right now with 287 market rate units (studios, one and two bedroom units). It will also add much needed density (urban infill) into the area, which will help reconnect South Park with the Historic Core and Fashion District. The project will have 16,000 square feet of retail space at the corner of Olympic and Hill and will also have 6 live/work lofts back-to-back along Hill Street that could become activated with independently-owned businesses.
All these urban mixed-use projects have contributed to the renaissance of Downtown LA. Angelenos, once relegated to a strict suburban lifestyle, now have the option to live the “urban dream.” And that’s exactly the kind of excitement and new found “LA pride” that TCA continues to be an active part of.