The Velvet Turtle

Chinatown's long-derelict Velvet Turtle restaurant was razed in March.

The Velvet Turtle, a long-shuttered and crumbling eyesore in the heart of Chinatown, has been razed. In its place? An empty lot.

But perhaps, not for long.

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The restaurant at 708 N. Hill St. was demolished last month. Property co-owner Charlie Woo, of the family that owns toy wholesaler Megatoys and numerous properties in the Toy District, said in an email to Los Angeles Downtown News that he is studying different development options, though a plan announced in 2012 remains the main focus. At the time, that was a $25 million effort that would erect apartments above commercial space.

The Woos purchased the property at Hill and Ord streets in 1996 for $1.1 million, according to property tax records. Woo previously told Downtown News that he saw “tremendous potential” in the site, though plans to develop it were repeatedly thwarted due to changes in the marketplace.

The Velvet Turtle’s demolition comes as the $93 million Jia Apartments, visible from the former restaurant’s empty, fenced-off lot, opened in January. The six-story complex at 639 N. Broadway has 280 residential units and has altered the southern entrance to Chinatown.

Also underway in Chinatown is Blossom Plaza, a $100 million mixed-use development. The project from developer Forest City broke ground last year. It will create 240 apartments, along with 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, and a 17,000-square-foot plaza connecting to the Chinatown Gold Line station.

Noting that a “rising tide raises all boats,” Frank Frallicciardi, vice president of Forest City, said, “We’re always excited about any new development and revitalization in the neighborhood. It’s great to see Blossom Plaza be a catalyst for new development.”

Given the upswing in development in Chinatown, it is perhaps fitting that the Velvet Turtle’s blighted building has become a thing of the past.

“We’re finally on our way to joining the rest of Downtown in terms of renewed interest in development,” said George Yu, executive director of the Los Angeles Chinatown Business Improvement District. “Suffering through the down years has actually given us a better perspective in terms of what we want to see and what we don’t want to see in our community.”

Although the dining room and kitchen are gone, one thing folks can still see on the Velvet Turtle property is a sign, standing sentry over the site, with an image of a turtle wearing a top hat and bowtie.

         donna@downtownnews.com

Twitter: @donnadowntown

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2014