Suzanne Whang, Rescue Me!If buying a house was as easy as an episode of House Hunters makes it look, I'd be a very happy girl. Of course, the reality is much more complicated. You might as well grab a beverage, this is a long post even though I've edited it considerably.
It’s been a week now since I made appointments with a couple realtors and looked at eight condos in the LBC. Seven of these eight were in downtown Long Beach in four pre-war buildings, now designated historic, that were constructed in the 1920s. To top it off, the realtor who showed me around these buildings is a preservation enthusiast like I am and had a lot of useful knowledge to impart, both historically and practically as a potential buyer in an old building. I’ll give you a tour of the buildings, all but one photo from multiple listings.
The Lafayette – The Lafayette is a complex of three adjoining buildings (the Lafayette, the Campbell, and the Broadway) that sits in the heart of the trendy East Village Arts District of town. The realtor I mentioned above is actually the president of the Lafayette Historical Preservation Group, and he keeps a business office in the commercial section of the complex. Of the three buildings in the complex, the unit I looked at was in the original Lafayette hotel which is the central portion of the complex and boasts an incredible Art Deco facade and detailing throughout. There is a gorgeous rooftop solarium in the adjacent Spanish Renaissance/Baroque-styled building called the Campbell (I’d have access).
The unit itself was a 1 bedroom just under 500 square feet and had original Deco tiles in the living room and bathroom. It had large windows in the front of the building overlooking the action on the street. The downside is that the kitchenette needed to be completely renovated. I don’t mind that it was small or that the appliances were the size of my Barbie playhouse when I was a kid, but the refrigerator and oven/stove are going to need replacing probably two nanoseconds after the deed is signed over to the new owner. There was also some other aesthetic work I would need to do, for example, one wall in the living room was completely mirrored. God, I hate mirrored walls. Otherwise, it was clean and bright and offered at a fair price.
This photo was taken from the solarium in the Lafayette on a gorgeous, sunny, Southern California day. Yes, the view is to freaking die for.
The Sovereign – I didn’t expect to like this Renaissance Revival building as much as I did. Although it has an extremely desirable Ocean Blvd. address, it always paled in comparison to the neighboring Villa Riviera along the Ocean Blvd. corridor, so I never gave it much more than mild curiosity at best. So The Sovereign turned out to be a treat for me. It has a fantastic rooftop solarium with ocean and city views. The lobby is quite grand and features an original Batchelder tile fireplace. I looked at two units here, one of which I hated and needs no further description.
The one I liked is up on a high floor in the corner with huge wraparound windows and million dollar views of the ocean, the Pike, the bridges, and the grande dame herself, the Queen Mary. It was the largest condo I saw that day at nearly 800 square feet with a huge main room featuring hardwood floors, high ceilings, and sort of a New York apartment feel (the bathroom window actually opens to an air shaft). There was a separate bedroom that adjoined to a wonderful old school dressing area and huge walk-in closet with access into the bathroom (think Carrie Bradshaw’s closet space). The kitchen had new appliances, but otherwise needed some cosmetic work. Other than the kitchen, it was awesome. It was also the most expensive place I looked at and is possibly a little bit outside of my budget.
Here's the view on a gloomy day from the unit I like in the Sovereign. Angelenos - If the camera was moved an inch to the right, you'd see that the rest of the view includes the sunset over Palos Verdes. I'm seriously in love with this place.
This photo is of the Sovereign's solarium. The view is similar to the picture above, but grander because it's a 270-degree ocean view.
The California – The California is the least impressive of the historical buildings I saw, but one that is still completely livable. I saw two units, both small one bedroom/one bath properties. Both were cute, but one really stood out because it had old school exposed brick and an updated kitchen and bathroom. They were the same price, and although I think they are too small for me, I’d definitely choose the one with the great kitchen, exposed brick, and stained glass details. I'd just have to sell all my furniture and start over with new, small-scale pieces. Right next door to the California is my favorite building of all...
The Willmore –I had high expectations for the Willmore, and frankly, the building was even grander than I had imagined. If you want to read about its architecture, I’ve provided the description from the Long Beach Historical Society in italics below. It’s lengthy but describes its palatial Italian styling better than I ever could.
To a layperson like me, it was simply stunning, and best of all, it was impeccably maintained. Hallways in these old buildings tend to be pretty cavernous and stuffy. In the Willmore, the hallways are freshly painted, clean, and brightly lit. The elevators are updated and not scary (the elevator in the California is terrifying). Like the rest, there’s a happy rooftop solarium. The downside? This building started life as a hotel, and therefore, most of the units are studios. They are largish studios, they have tremendous storage, but they don’t have a separate bedroom. Keep in mind that I work at home; that would mean my life would exist – working, sleeping, living – in a single room. I saw two identical units, one vacant, and one owner-occupied. The vacant one has been for sale for more than a year, it needs updating, and is priced to sell at a significant 20 percent reduction in price from the owner-occupied space. The owner-occupied unit was beautifully appointed and updated, and it is brilliant example of efficient living. Seriously, it should be featured on HGTV’s show “Small Space, Big Style.”
Here's the solarium at the Willmore. Obviously, the city solarium was de rigueur to gracious living in the 20s and 30s. What the heck, let's look at one more view of it.
Yeah, it's sweet in the extreme. And now for something completely different...
After my tour of the downtown buildings, I went and saw a "newer" condo, and by newer I mean 25 years old instead of 85 years old. It was nice if not somewhat generic. It had popcorn ceilings and beige carpet instead of hardwood floors and plaster walls. It's in a nice bedroom community instead of the urban scene. It also had a boatload of amenities which are really attractive including central air, an in-unit washer and dryer, a dishwasher, travertine floors and counters in the bathroom, underground parking without an additional fee, a fireplace, a skylight, and a private balcony.
Therein lies the crux of my dilemma, one I'm no closer to solving than before the day began. Do I want the charm and culture of the urban address (pictured here is the Sovereign unit with the million dollar views) or do I want the amenities and easy living of the burbs (see interior photo in last paragraph)? I don't freaking have the answer!
If you've made it this far, here's the info on the Willmore from the Long Beach Historical Society and even more pictures of this fantastic building.
Description of the Willmore - Architects in the early twentieth century were confronted with a major dilemma when designing buildings in classical style: How could they use the historical forms originally meant for one- to three-story public and religious buildings in the tall modern structures meant for contemporary functions? The Willmore offers an example of the solution: A careful copying of a fifteenth century Italian palace, with the middle heightened to accommodate the required stories.
The first two floors of the Willmore tower serve as the palace base, with the heavy stone foundation - quoining - and large windows terminated by the molding above the second floor windows. The third through the eleventh floors are the body of the palace, relatively devoid of ornament to strongly state the height of the building. At the top there is an implied entablature and cornice at the parapet wall. Here, in plaster, the cornice ledge is held up by braces fastened with three bronze rivets. Befitting a palace, surfaces between the braces are decorated with shields and fleur-de-lis above a hound's tooth border.
The colonnade, an attractive feature of Italian architecture, is used at the lobby entrance and again at the solarium at the top of the building. The lobby colonnade is in actual scale and gives an accurate replication of an Italian building. Featured are a tiled plaza, a fountain with mosaic decoration, and arched openings into the base of the tower. At the top is a smaller scale colonnade repeated as windows and balcony for the solarium.
Italian palace ornamentation is used on the friezes at the base and lower molding, typical balconies at the third and seventh floors, and on the complex cornice at the top of the tower. The required mechanical enclosures on the roof are housed in a replication of a typical Italian village - small white houses randomly ordered with small windows and rustic tile roofs.
Palace scale ornaments and furniture are used inside the lobby and faithfully preserved to this day. The terrazzo floor, a priceless example of 1920's craftsmanship, is black and white squares set diagonally to the building grid - a hallmark of Italian style. Balconied windows and a grand fireplace with a black onyx facing reinforce the style. The ceiling of a palace is reproduced in plaster and decorated in colors typical of Mediterranean style during the Renaissance. At the center of the lobby is a huge amber glass skylight which floods the room with light during the day. Residential rooms are finished in generous wall base molding, clean wall surface, and well detailed trim at the ceiling.
In summary, the Willmore is a significant architectural landmark because it is a good representation of Italian Renaissance palace style, it is rich in palatial detailing, and it is a well preserved example of a luxury residential hotel in Long Beach in the 1920's.