KRKD Radio Tower

The Spring Arcade Building's radio towers, once slated for demolition, are getting a makeover. 

Gary Leonard

People don’t generally look up when walking in the Historic Core, but those who have done so recently in the environs of Fifth Street and Broadway might have noticed something unexpected: workers giving a pair of 220-foot high, defunct radio towers a makeover.

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The KRKD radio towers, which for 82 years have sat atop the Spring Arcade Building, were set to be destroyed, and a permit for their demolition was secured, said Greg Martin, vice president of Downtown Management, a firm helmed by Spring Arcade Building owner Joseph Hellen. The razing of the towers was slated to coincide with a renovation of parts of the building— an outpost of Guisado’s tacos and gelato shop Gelateria Uli are among the businesses coming to the ground floor arcade portion of the complex.

The towers reflect a bygone era in Downtown Los Angeles. Radio station KMIC started in Inglewood in 1927. It moved to the Spring Arcade Building in 1932 and changed the call letters to KRKD. The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, founded by Los Angeles televangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, purchased the station in 1960, after which KRKD broadcast weekly sermons, according to the website socalradiohistory.com. Over the years, KRKD had AM and FM stations that played show tunes and popular music, the website states.

The structures have not been used to transmit radio waves in decades, and they did not comply with modern requirements mandated by the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration. Hence the decision to dismantle them.

Word of the impending destruction made its way to the Department of City Planning’s Office of Historic Resources and historic preservation architect Lambert Giessinger. Although not designated a historical monument, the towers’ importance, in part, stems from the fact that they are among the last remaining examples of a “hammock” style antenna in the 
country, he said. The term refers to the way a series of horizontal wires are suspended between two towers in a manner that resembles a hammock, explained Morgan Sykes Jaybush, an architect with the firm Omgivning.

The outcry over the towers and their historic significance garnered the attention of Hellen. Hellen, who spends much of the year attending to business matters in Melbourne, Australia, met with Giessinger last October during one of his visits to Los Angeles. He was persuaded to save the towers.

Bringing the towers up to modern standards required several steps, among them satisfying FCC and FAA regulations by painting them orange and white and adding illuminated beacons. The lighting circuits for the beacons have to run to the emergency generator in the building’s basement, because if the building loses power, the beacons still must work, Martin said. The full restoration price is estimated at $60,000 to $80,000, he said.

 “It’s quite a process to get everything in line,” Martin said. “Personally, I’m happy the towers are staying. They’re not necessarily artwork, but we can see the significant historical contribution they make.”

 Equally pleased is Adrian Scott Fine, the director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy. Fine believes the radio towers contribute to the historic fabric of Downtown and Broadway.

 “Radio towers like the KRKD tower are significant because they were once common, but are becoming increasingly rare,” he said.

 The work on the towers is expected to be complete by the end of February.

         donna@downtownnews.com

Twitter: @donnadowntown

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2013