Los Angeles Hotels Blog

August 12, 2010

A Historical Look at Building and Construction in Los Angeles

The City of Los Angeles, situated on the nation’s West Coast, surrounded by the San Bernardino Mountain Range, is the largest city in California. The city has undergone a major transformation since it was established in 1781 by Spanish governor Felipe de Neve. Building and construction has proceeded at a somewhat haphazard pace over the years. LA’s downtown, in particular, is currently undergoing something of a renaissance, with many historic buildings being converted into expensive lofts.

The majority of major downtown department stores once operated out of independent buildings in the area. Many were closed in the 1970’s and 80’s, as there was a movement away from stand-alones and into modern office parks and shopping complexes. With the city’s westward shift of the commercial center, downtown LA was lacking much nightlife until more recent times.

Despite the fact that the building and construction process proceeded relatively quickly, the LA City Council sped things up by enacting a reuse ordinance, thus making it simpler for developers to convert vacant old office buildings to high-class lofts and exclusive apartment complexes. A slew of professionals, fed up with the city’s notorious rush-hour gridlock problems, were quick to move in.

The number of residents in downtown LA has blossomed since the early 2000’s, in part due to all the building and construction, with a greater than 15 percent increase to approximately 28,000 persons. This amount surpassed estimates and, with a higher number of housing units being built, has pushed the total count to potentially be more than 40,000 by the end of 2008. However, the number of available jobs in the area has fallen to 418,000, down from an estimated 605,000 a decade ago.

In 2007, the City Council approved major changes to the downtown’s zoning rules. Muchly desired by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the changes facilitate more building and construction by allowing bigger and more closely-packed developments. In addition, builders who withhold 15 percent of their units for low-income residents are not governed by certain code requirements and living spaces can be constructed that are over 30 percent larger than current zoning laws call for.

Interestingly, a number of the core downtown buildings were built way back in the turn of the century. Between then and the late 1050’s, a rigid zoning law kept building heights at under 150 feet, causing a fairly homogenous skyline. Reportedly, it was done not for fear of earthquakes, but to maintain a uniform height in the area and to avoid New York City style congestion. None of these laws are in effect today, as a skyline filled with tall office buildings bears evidence to.

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