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Sheltering The World
Photo © Keith Collie
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Photo © Eric Staudenmaier

28th Street Apartments

Koning Eizenberg

Los Angeles, CA

Building on History

By Sarah Amelar

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The 28th Street YMCA opened in Los Angeles in 1926 on an upbeat: the Spanish Colonial Revival building offered the African-American community a sparkling recreational facility with an indoor pool and affordable accommodations for young men who were migrating from other regions (and prevented by color barriers from staying at ordinary hotels). Philanthropist Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone, a black entrepreneur who amassed a fortune from hair pomades, was one high-profile donor. And the building's designer was Paul Revere Williams (1894–1980), the first registered African-American architect west of the Mississippi. His celebrated output would eventually range from mansions for Hollywood stars, including Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball, to hospitals, hotels, and even Los Angeles airport's 1961 Jetson-style restaurant building. But the YMCA was an early work, introducing a commitment to affordable housing that would reemerge throughout his career.

This four-story concrete building became a city, state, and national landmark, but by 2009, when the nonprofit developer Clifford Beers Housing (CBH) acquired the property, it was in serious disrepair, the residential quarters shuttered. CBH engaged Santa Monica–based Koning Eizenberg Architecture (KEA) to revive the structure and create quality permanent housing, with supportive services, for low-income tenants, including a mentally ill and chronically homeless population. Monthly rent is one-third of each tenant's income.

Drawing on archival photos and documents with the help of the preservation consultant Historic Resources Group, the firm restored original architectural features and replicated lost elements, such as the facade's balcony and some of its cast-concrete medallions. For the $11.9 million project, financed with tax credits and public funds, the architects cleverly inserted a 14-inch-deep level between the first and second floors to integrate new building systems. Upgrading to ADA standards, they reconfigured the 52 existing single-room-occupancy units into 24 studio apartments, each with its own kitchen and bathroom, and created ground-floor community spaces, as well as a slim new steel-and-wood-framed wing with 25 additional studios, for a total of 38,300 square feet.

KEA deftly played modern against vintage. The roof deck, a lounge that connects the new and old buildings, has a vermilion elastomeric surface—a riff on Williams's terra-cotta roof tiles. And the aluminum sunscreen that shades and visually dematerializes the new wing has a perforated pattern abstracted from the main entrance's 1920s bas-reliefs. The gymnasium has been refurbished, but to accommodate a residents' lounge the architects filled in the pool, leaving its outline and mosaic surrounds visible. Encapsulated in geo-textile and foam board beneath fill with a concrete cap, the pool could someday regain its original use.

With such sustainable features as a solar hot-water system and an electricity-generating 38.7-kilowatt photovoltaic array, the project is on track for LEED Gold certification.

KEA reinterpreted the building's original, and still much-needed, role. “It's not exactly adaptive reuse—it was housing then, and it's housing now,” says firm principal Julie Eizenberg. “You've got to respect what a huge story the place was for this community in its day. We definitely didn't want to lose that.”

Completion Date: January 2013

Gross square footage:
33,680 sq ft (New: 11,000, Rehab: 22,680)

Total construction cost: $11,928,761

Architect:
Koning Eizenberg
1454 25th St
Santa Monica, CA 90404
(310) 828-6131
f(310) 828-0719

March 2013
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