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With Purchase of Three Hotels, Izek Shomof Tries to Build a Better Block - Los Angeles Downtown News - For Everything Downtown L.A.!: News

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News With Purchase of Three Hotels, Izek Shomof Tries to Build a Better Block

Veteran Developer Faces His Biggest Challenge Yet, Buying Three Aged Skid Row Hotels

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Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 6:00 am | Updated: 12:10 pm, Tue Feb 19, 2013.

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - On a recent weekday morning inside the lobby of the Hotel Baltimore, Rusty Lugo slumped in an unforgiving chair and stared blankly out the window.

His view was of Fifth and Los Angeles streets, a busy gateway between Skid Row and the Historic Core. The intersection crawled with Toy District shoppers. Weary morning patrons of the King Eddy Saloon wandered in and out of the dark watering hole. A stream of people rushed to and from a nearby bus stop. 

Lugo, who has rented rooms in several single-room occupancy hotels in the area, now lives at the Baltimore, a faded 102-year-old edifice that he described only as “livable.” Asked how the Baltimore compares to other cheap Skid Row hotels, he offered no distinction. 

“Same,” he said. “Livable.”

By next year, however, the Baltimore may prove better than just livable. Last month, a group of investors led by developer Izek Shomof acquired the 265-unit complex as part of a $9.8 million deal that includes the 150-room King Edward Hotel and the Leland Hotel, which was built separately but later adjoined to the Baltimore. 

The Israel-born Shomof may be best known for developing four buildings on the once gritty 600 block of South Spring Street — Premier Towers, Spring Tower Lofts, City Lofts and the Hotel Hayward. By offering inexpensive rents, he filled the retail spaces of those buildings with bars, cafes and shops. They played a key role in transforming the block into a thriving residential and commercial hub that helped spawn further growth in the Historic Core.

Shomof, 52, plans to apply the same formula to the Fifth Street hotels, while maintaining city-mandated affordability levels for the properties.  

Already, Shomof’s management company has added security guards to the Baltimore and Kind Edward. Under the previous owners, who had been navigating Chapter 11 bankruptcy since 2010, the hotels staffed only a desk clerk. Soon, musty old carpets will be ripped up. Apartments, unpainted for years, will get fresh new coats. The Baltimore’s thick layers of seal gray paint will be removed to reveal the once stately property’s original façade. Plywood that has long covered derelict storefronts is already being removed.

“Our goal is to open them up and revive them, light up the street, put in nice storefronts and enhance the lifestyle of the residents,” Shomof said.

Renovations are expected to take about a year. Shomof said the cost of the upgrades are not clear because the plans are not yet final.

Lessons From the Hayward

In the early years, the King Edward and Baltimore hotels were destinations. The King Edward, built in 1906, was designed and developed by prominent Los Angeles architect John Parkinson (whose work includes City Hall and Union Station). 

The Baltimore opened in 1910, soon after the hotel sold its former location at Seventh and Olive streets to the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

In recent decades, the hotels deteriorated. Along with an array of fixed-income residents who came simply for affordable rent, they attracted drug dealers and prostitutes. The criminal element is still present, but much of the residential population is comprised of peaceful retirees, said Baltimore resident Rodney Cortez.

“Many of these decent people didn’t plan for retirement, so Miami is out and they have had to settle for this,” Cortez said.

Shomof said he is intent on improving conditions and making life better for those residents. Upgrades to modern loft specs are out of the question — due to a 55-year moratorium on market rate conversions of residential hotels, the Baltimore, Edward and Leland must remain as affordable housing at least through 2063. Other city housing laws would forbid a renovation to, say, shrink the number of units to make them larger.

Affordable housing is not foreign territory for Shomof. Last year, he completed a renovation of the formerly blighted Bristol Hotel at 423 W. Eighth St. The building remains reserved for low-income tenants, and now includes a brightly lit D-Town Burger Bar restaurant in the ground-floor retail spot that had been long vacant. 

“We’re not going to force anyone out of the Baltimore and King Edward,” Shomof said. “The only ones we’ll force out are the ones selling drugs. The criminal ones.”

Shomof faced the same task of rooting out nuisance tenants with his first affordable housing investment when he bought the Hotel Hayward in 2002. At the time it was a crime magnet, and he viewed its acquisition primarily as protection for his two market rate buildings. He added security cameras to crack down on drug dealing, brought in ground floor retail and focused on keeping the property clean. 

“We’re going to do the same thing here,” he said of the Fifth Street buildings. 

Today, anyone can walk freely into the lobby of the Baltimore and King Edward. Soon, residents will need a key card for access. 

About the Bar

As the new owners set out to spruce up the block, they face a question that could burn hot in the gullets of dedicated barflies and cultural history devotees: What will happen to the King Eddy Saloon? 

The pre-Prohibition bar, on the ground floor of the hotel at the northwest corner of Fifth and Los Angeles streets, is a breathing relic of the area’s history as a working class haunt. It’s a place where laborers came via rail in search of a day’s work, cheap lodging and a reliable nightcap, said Richard Schave, whose tour company Esotouric highlights the King Eddy when schooling visitors on old Downtown. 

Charles Bukowski is known to have occupied a barstool at the King Eddy, decades after one of his literary heroes, John Fante, featured the saloon in his novel Ask the Dust

When Shomof took over the Hayward, one of his first moves was to evict a ground floor liquor store that was attracting boozehounds, addicts and crime. At the Bristol, he plans to replace El Gaucho, a hostess bar that occupies a basement commercial space, when its lease expires later this year. 

The King Eddy, Shomof said, doesn’t have a lease. If Shomof’s recent business model seems like a threat to the King Eddy, the developer said there is no plan to do away with the bar — as long as management partners in the effort to emphasize neighborhood security. 

So far, the bar seems safe. King Eddy owner Dustin Croick said he supports any changes that would improve safety and bring more customers to the bar.

“I’ve taken this whole thing as a complete positive thing, a way to clean up the area ourselves,” Croick said. “I’ve been wanting to make some changes to the area as well, and I’ve kind of needed a fresh face and help to do that. I think I’ve got that now.”

Contact Ryan Vaillancourt at ryan@downtownnews.com.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2011

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Welcome to the discussion.

8 comments:

  • Tom Bell posted at 1:56 pm on Thu, Jun 28, 2012.

    Tom B Posts: 2

    Forgot to mention that during Prohibition the mayor and other city officials would take the underground tunnel network to the speakeasy in the basement of King Eddie's (it's still there!) to go imbibe in some tasty libations and intoxicants. Lastly, it 's the very last of the old school Skid Row dive bars, and it must be saved and preserved.

     
  • Tom Bell posted at 12:52 am on Thu, Jun 28, 2012.

    Tom B Posts: 2

    I really hope he's not planning on closing down the historical King Eddy's Saloon? Way too much LA history there, dating back to Prohibition and earlier. I believe even Teddy Roosevelt drank there when he was a guest at the King Edward! I can see cleaning it up a little and making some improvements, but NOT CLOSING IT DOWN. One can only hope.

     
  • Travis Sky posted at 9:23 pm on Thu, Mar 15, 2012.

    October Posts: 8

    This is wonderful news! The upgrades to the Hotel Bristol are top-notch. Turning more crusty old SRO hotels into modern, comfortable homes is praiseworthy.

    Mr. Shomof sold the Hotel Bristol last year, several months after it opened. Either there is a typo or he misspoke when he was quoted as saying, "We're not going to force anyone out of the Bristol and King Edward." I think 'Baltimore' should be in that line instead of 'Bristol.'

    I'm a bit confused by, "At the Bristol, he plans to replace El Gaucho... later this year." Did Mr. Shomof retain ownership of the club beneath the building, and only sell off the apartments?"

     
  • General Jeff posted at 3:35 am on Thu, Mar 15, 2012.

    General Jeff Posts: 40

    Just a thought.......Why didn't the "Home For Good" folks (think United Way, L.A. Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles Business Leaders Task Force on Homelessness) buy these buildings since they claim to be "Ending ALL homelessness in L.A. in 5 years" ....they only have less than four years to do it now.....what are they waiting for????....Obvious opportunities such as these purchases here would have made perfect sense which lets me continue to think that they don't know what they're doing!!!!!Here's to Mr. Shomof for attempting to do what they obviously cannot!!...Hopefully he can pull this huge task off!!!!

    Edited by staff.

     
  • Tim Yee posted at 9:30 pm on Wed, Mar 14, 2012.

    LApastor Posts: 6

    Great news to better the community for all of downtown. Let's encourage more developers like this with a vision for all people in the neighborhood.

     
  • Hal McMath posted at 9:28 am on Wed, Mar 14, 2012.

    Hal McMath Posts: 3

    Mr. Shomof's acquisition of these 3 properties looks to be a big win-win for area residents and stakeholders. His past projects have demonstrated a sensitivity for managing downtown's continuing evolution. Handsome turn-of-the-century buildings are upgraded, accommodation for lower income residents is preserved, criminal elements are chased away, and a diverse mix of street life is encouraged by activating long dormant retail spaces. With grass roots greening and street cleaning efforts afoot on Skid Row (Trees on San Pedro Street and Operation Face-Lift 2012 respectively), these projects should help Skid Row and the Historic Core re-integrate to create a safe and vibrant neighborhood that accommodates all current and future residents (including the homeless). Mr. Shomof's history in downtown charts a welcome middle ground between the status quo and out-and-out gentrification and should help preserve the ethnic and socio-economic diversity that makes downtown such a fascinating place to live and visit.

     
  • General Jeff posted at 4:38 pm on Tue, Mar 13, 2012.

    General Jeff Posts: 40

    Seeing that these buildings are in Skid Row, I am pleased that someone other than the same typical "Skid Row landlords" is getting a shot at providing quality low-income housing in Downtown Los Angeles!!!

    Something that our community needs more of in order to move Skid Row and all of Downtown forward!!!...It's unfortunate that I say this, but I am left with no choice after all the "decades" of unsatisfactory ownership and operations of the majority of the affordable housing in Skid Row...Now, there just may be hope for a better Skid Row community at last.

    Good luck to Mr. Shamof,,,may his efforts equal the Skid Row community's hopes and dreams for a respectful and professional owner/ operator!!!!!!

     
  • Bettie Miner posted at 2:17 pm on Tue, Mar 13, 2012.

    BigPhatCatLover Posts: 46

    If anyone can turn that area around, it's Izek Shomof. I've lived in one of his buildings for eight years, and though it's rarely said, if ever - but I love my landlord! He is a decent, honest, compassionate man and his buildings are something for downtown Los Angeles to be proud of. When I first moved to Spring Street, there were hookers and drug dealers operating in front of our building. But with all the retail changes (that he implemented) and the diligent security, this street has undergone a massive, positive change. There are jobs, places to shop and dine, and most importantly some wonderful places to live and work. If I had my way, Izek would own ALL the residential buildings in DTLA. You go ahead, Izek. If there's anything I can do to help, just knock on my door.