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Crescent Heights: A Canyon of Towers or a Home for New Urbanism … or Both?

LOS ANGELES

DEEGAN ON LA-A mega-development on Sunset Boulevard and a big project on Wilshire Boulevard are being erected in what could be seen as northern and southern anchors for the “towering” of Crescent Heights Boulevard, a secondary highway that runs through the heart of well-established, charming neighborhoods west of Fairfax Avenue. Will these two projects, UDR at Wilshire Crescent Heights (photo rendering above) and 8150 Sunset Blvd become bookends, making the 2.5 mile stretch of Crescent Heights Boulevard between them the next “canyon of towers”? 

Lots of people in the neighborhoods surrounding these two projects are uneasy. Is it possible that more of Crescent Heights Boulevard will be dotted with similar mixed-use towers? Will there be a north-south canyon of tall buildings strategically placed at key intersections like Wilshire, Third, Beverly, Melrose, Santa Monica, and Sunset? The upside could be that these major east-west major streets intersecting with north-south Crescent Heights could become the spokes connected to the Crescent Heights spine, helping to create a pocket of hubs for “new urbanism” communities in Beverly Grove, West Fairfax and parts of West Hollywood. 

The goal of “new urbanism” is to live, work, shop and play all within the same neighborhood, enabling residents to rely less on cars and use alternative forms of transportation, like walking, biking and mass transit to get around. Considering its central location, these attributes could make the increased development along Crescent Heights attractive. 

Some very good north-south rapid transit lines (the 780 express, the 217 local and the DASH Fairfax) run on Fairfax, just a couple blocks east of Crescent Heights. And each of the major intersecting boulevards has its own rapid transit routes, providing east-west mobility. 

That kind of mass transit access is one of the criteria for Transit Oriented Development (TOD), the development model for creating a mixed-use tower of residential and retail close to a transit route, reducing reliance on automobiles. 

The twenty-four possible corners of Crescent Heights on six major cross streets that can be targeted as ideal spots for towers could have great allure for developers. That would provide lots of mixed use housing, retail and gentrification for the thirty streets between glamorous Sunset Strip and commercial Wilshire Boulevard. The fact that most TOD projects offer minimal affordable housing, with tenants still relying on their cars, has not stopped planners and politicos from approving these projects. They continue to justify them by pointing to the convenience of adjacent mass transit, a useful fiction to keep the buildings coming. 

Right now, Koreatown, Silver Lake, Boyle Heights, Highland Park and South Los Angeles are receiving a lot of gentrifying, towering attention. Vermont, La Cienega, La Brea, Vine, Highland, and Western are some of the major north-South streets that are currently being “towered.” Add on to that Crescent Heights? 

In an era when no community is an island it’s open season for developers. Can it be long before Fairfax, one of the really badly traffic-snarled transportation corridors on the west side of town, is skipped over in favor of Crescent Heights? Are the developers already mapping this out? Only those that protect themselves with Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) status can feel safe. 

Of these tracts, Beverly Grove (with boundaries of Wilshire-San Vicente on the South, West Hollywood on the north and northwest, Beverly Hills on the west and Fairfax on the east) may be at risk. With the exception of a few protected residences and small apartment buildings, it has very little city-backed historic cultural monument status, or HPOZ protection, that would block tearing down houses. 

However, neighborhood activists have been successful at modifying what goes up by using other measures to control development, implementing solutions like Interim Control Ordinances, the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance, Floor Area Ratio (FAR) ranges, and the prospective Neighborhood Conservation Initiative. While these efforts may affect what might go up, it does not stop the wrecking ball from bringing structures down the way historic cultural monument status does. 

If there is to be growth in this area of town, coveted for its central location and attractive housing and close-by amenities, Crescent Heights and adjacent neighborhoods may be a sleeping giant waiting to be woken by developers. The neighborhoods along Crescent Heights could be caught by surprise, with cranes and work crews arriving sooner than anyone expects. The city’s out-the-window zoning codes are no match for aggressive developers who see enterprise potential where others see charm and community. 

Ideally situated in old neighborhoods with lots of 1920’s era Spanish-Mediterranean houses, this tract of less than two square miles along Crescent Heights could be transformed into clusters of “new urbanism” that are easily accessible to the clubs, shopping, restaurants and the nightlife of West Hollywood and the Sunset Strip; to the historic Farmers Market; to the Grove dining, shopping and entertainment complex; and to the multiple cultural offerings of Museum Row, which itself is undergoing a huge transformation. Having a Metro Purple Line Subway stop at Wilshire and Fairfax will add to the allure of living in the Crescent Heights pocket. You could live here as a “new urbanist” and not have to go very far for most everything you desire. It might be just what a future, younger demographic will want. It could easily be styled as the Echo Park or Silver Lake of the west side. 

The two and a half mile distance between 8150 Sunset and UDR at Wilshire Crescent Heights is very low-density right now. Is that a good thing? Or, rather, is it a good sign that the area is ripe for growth into “new urbanism communities” that will be anchored by mixed use towers and all the amenities that drive transformation? 

(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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