How Canadian Developer Onni Group “Preserved” the Art Deco Seattle Times Building

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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before:

A venerable local newspaper, fallen on hard times in the aftermath of the financial crisis, sells its architecturally-significant, centrally-located Art Deco headquarters and two attached buildings, comprising an entire city block, to a multi-national development company. The developer expresses affection for the site’s history, and makes preservation of the main newspaper building the centerpiece of a proposed project. The twin-tower mixed-use residential, retail and public plaza project is vastly out of scale and requires zoning changes. When preservationists express concern about protection of the historic resources, they’re assured that the developer is a good steward with the best intentions. Besides, we’re in a housing crisis, so build, baby, build!

Sound familiar? If you’re a Californian, you might recognize the beats of the recent history of the Los Angeles Times, with the paper’s real estate split off under Tribune’s ownership and its historic headquarters sold to Vancouver-based Onni Group.

But the story you just read is actually about the landmarked Seattle Times ( Robert C. Reamer, 1931), which Onni Group purchased in 2013 and neglected so profoundly that the normal rules for protected buildings were waived: in February 2016, Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections approved (archive link) immediate demolition of the landmark for reasons of public safety.

November 2015: “Squatters leave the old Seattle Times building at 1120 John St., after waking up during Thursday’s fire” (Steve Ringman / Seattle Times)

During the first three years of Onni’s ownership, the Seattle Times became a squatter’s den (archive link), home to hundreds of homeless people, their pets and their troubles. Metal thieves operated openly, stripping the landmark of its historic artifacts and plumbing. The squatters were rousted, but immediately returned, prying off the thin plywood panels Onni Group installed to keep them out. When the police ordered the landlord to properly secure the building, Onni Group missed the deadline. Taxpayers covered the costs of constant police and paramedic calls. There were fires, overdoses, gas leaks and suffering that can’t be quantified.

Then came the wrecking ball and bulldozers, spelling the end of the Seattle Times and a clearing a nearly clean slate for a massive development, recently changed from housing to office towers, in the shadow of the Amazon.com headquarters.

February 2017: An old press that once printed the Sunday color comics section is partially exposed. (Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)

(But before the walls came down, the newspaper building told one last story. Up on the roof, a hand-made banner went up the flagpole. The Times printed a photo and reported on the common ¢ents activists who were calling for Seattle’s hundreds of vacant buildings to be made available to serve the city’s homeless population. That’s a conversation Los Angeles should be having, too.)

Demolition began in October 2016. Today, just a couple of sad walls from the landmark Seattle Times building survive, and Onni Group is busily building upward.

The Art Deco Los Angeles Times Building is not a protected city landmark like the Seattle Times Building was. We believe it should be a landmark, which is why we’ve filed an Historic-Cultural Monument application, which is now under consideration, with a hearing on July 19 (Update: the second hearing is Thursday, September 20 and we still need your comments and emails!). At the direction of the Office of Historic Resources, our application includes all three entwined historic structures on the site: Gordon B. Kaufmann’s 1935 Times Building (including the Globe Lobby and its fixtures), Rowland H. Crawford’s 1948 Mirror tower and William L. Pereira’s 1973 corporate headquarters. These three buildings together tell the story of the Los Angeles Times and Southern California.

Some people believe that it’s only Pereira’s building that is threatened by Onni Group’s plans. But the Pereira can’t be demolished without tearing a giant hole in the Art Deco Kaufmann building’s west facade. And the Pereira is a good, if unfashionable, building that deserves to be considered on its architectural merits, which are largely invisible from street level, but reveal themselves when you step inside.

As Harry Chandler told the Los Angeles Times, “Developers are wont to change their minds based on market conditions, not preservation needs. [Onni] is not an L.A. company and they don’t have credentials for caring for historic buildings in our city. We shouldn’t leave that to chance.”

He’s right.

Onni Group might prove to be a better steward of our great newspaper’s home than they were in Seattle. It would be hard to be a worse one.

But let’s not just take their word for it. Please join us at the Cultural Heritage Commission on Thursday, July 19 and speak for the stone, the neon, the glass and the Globe. (Update: the second hearing is Thursday, September 20 and we still need your comments and emails!) These buildings shaped the Southern California we love, and they deserve to be preserved.

Workmanship of such poor quality is not acceptable.

Bullwinkle J. Moose lets it all hang out on the Sunset Strip

Once upon a time, in a sillier city, Jay Ward thought it would be fun to open a store at 8200 Sunset Boulevard, next to his animation studio at the eastern terminus of the Sunset Strip.

From 1972 through 2004, Dudley Do-Right’s Emporium was the place the find oddball items in the likeness of such timeless cartoon characters as Superchicken, Boris and Natasha, Snidely, Nell, George of the Jungle, Shep, Ape and Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Was it really a retail shop, or an elaborate, conceptual advertisement for Jay Ward’s animation services? When I lived half a block down on Havenhurst in the early 1990s, it was exceedingly rare to see an “open” sign in the window. And even in 1972, Jay Ward’s son Ron admitted to the L.A. Times that “we all like to take off early sometimes and go to the racetrack.”

Even before opening the store, Ward took advantage of his studio’s prime location along one of the world’s great advertising boulevards. The wonderful, and only recently removed, 14’ statue of Bullwinkle and Rocky parodied a long-forgotten Sahara Casino Hotel showgirl sign.

And then there was Jay Ward’s own low-rise billboard.

At first, Ward used the sign to poke fun at a competitor: a familiar, if moose-horned, rodent with the text “Mickey Mouse Wears A Bullwinkle Wristwatch.”

Tired of litigation threats, in summer 1972 the billboard was changed to parody Burt Reynolds’ April Cosmopolitan centerfold, a taboo busting, and career making, image that presaged a whole genre of exhibitionist celebrity nudeniks.

And now, in its only internet appearance, you can see this rare, delightful and rarely photographed artifact of Sunset Strip advertising culture. Just like Burt, but twice as hairy, Bullwinkle J. Moose is confidently sprawled across a bearskin rug with a chunky glass ashtray conveniently close, should anyone require a post-coital puff. “Eat Your Heart Out Burt Reynolds!” says the moose. If he ever saw this amazing thing, I bet he did.

Now here comes the mystery: this photograph was discovered loose in a largely uncatalogued collection of Los Angeles-related images at UCLA Special Collections. A handwritten, penciled notation on back identifies the location (legible), date of 11/72 (legible) and the photographer (not legible).

Is it Eudra Bohew? Eadie Bohein? There is a pair of tickets on the regularly scheduled Esotouric bus adventure of your choice for the first person who correctly identifies the artist. Update July 27: reader Lisa Lazoff has deciphered the name on the back of the photo as that of screenwriter-producer Endre Bohem. Congrats, Lisa, and see you on the bus!