Changes at Wells Fargo Court, and Concern From Preservationists

At the end of December, crews started a remodeling of the Wells Fargo Court, removing original elements designed by famed landscape architect Lawrence Halprin.

DTLA - An overhaul is coming to the Wells Fargo Court. The atrium at the base of the Wells Fargo Center on Bunker Hill is being partially remodeled, with initial work underway on the two-story structure and the parking levels underneath it. 

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The atrium, with a series of granite fountains and vegetation designed by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, has been a part of the complex since 1983. The destruction of portions of Halprin’s work, however, has caught the attention of local preservationists who are critical of how construction kicked off. 

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Starting in late December, the garden and tree areas were blocked off by a dark green tarp barrier, covering up deconstructed water features and spaces where statues used to be. Today, yellow caution tape surrounds where the fountain used to be, though pedestrian access within the court has been maintained. Beneath the atrium, on the first parking level, workers have stripped down walls near the elevator banks. 

Property owner Brookfield is planning to demolish interior walls on the two levels of the atrium and three levels of below-ground parking. Work is also being done to move mechanical, electrical and plumbing elements, as well as change floor and ceiling finishes. 

Brookfield applied for the construction permit on Dec. 18, and the Department of Building and Safety issued it two days later. Work began quickly afterward, with statues from artist Robert Graham being removed and some of the stone water features demolished. Planted trees and benches remain in place.

In a statement to Los Angeles Downtown News, a Brookfield spokesperson said that the company is finalizing plans to upgrade the Wells Fargo Center and make it “amenity rich.” 

“We are beginning pre-construction and site preparation work and are committed to making this work as smooth and unobtrusive as possible for our tenants and our neighbors,” the statement continued. “We are receiving advice from fine arts experts on how to handle and protect both atrium and plaza art pieces.”

Brookfield did not specify the extent of, or schedule for, the renovations. 

Despite the statement noting Brookfield is consulting art experts, the swift demolition sparked concern from preservationists in the city, notably the Los Angeles Conservancy. 

In a Dec. 21 post on its Facebook page, the Conservancy called the destruction of parts of Wells Fargo Court an “outrage” and said that the action is another example of how fragile historic landscapes are. 

“It was a surprise to us, as much as it was to anyone else,” Cindy Olnick, communications director for the Conservancy, said. “We had just had the last of our special walking tours of the work of Lawrence Halprin that previous Sunday. We hadn’t heard anything about anything going on.” 

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Halprin’s design of Wells Fargo Court is unique for one reason: It’s the artist’s one and only atrium.

Originally called Crocker Court, the Wells Fargo Court is part of the Los Angeles Open Spaces Network, a series of public spaces designed by Halprin for Maguire Thomas Partners, who developed Wells Fargo Center and other Bunker Hill high-rises (including the Gas Company Tower and U.S. Bank Tower). 

The network comprises the Wells Fargo Court, Grand Hope Park, the Bunker Hill Steps and the Maguire Gardens. Completed in the mid-1990s, the spaces were designed with a kind of continuity and flow, with similar aesthetics and elements linking them. 

Halprin’s designs helped build a coherent aesthetic for Bunker Hill in the previous two decades. He was honored with an exhibition in October 2017 at the Arts District’s A+D Museum. 

Olnick said that the Conservancy is trying to connect with Brookfield to learn more about the project and determine the extent to which the atrium will be changed. 

The Conservancy is also concerned about the statues that were previously in Wells Fargo Court. The pieces made by Robert Graham, Joan Miró and Jean Dubuffet are no longer in the space. Olnick noted there is a public art requirement for buildings on Bunker Hill, and the Conservancy is investigating whether they will be returned when the construction is complete.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2018