Redevelopment is rearing its ugly head yet again in Los Angeles, this time threatening a historic Miracle Mile storefront that the L.A. Conservancy notes is “one of the city’s last remaining examples of programmatic architecture.” The style, also known as mimetic or novelty architecture, classifies properties with a façade built to resemble whatever particular wares were sold inside. Wildly popular in the 1920s and ‘30s, the movement gifted the SoCal landscape with such whimsical structures as The Brown Derby, the California Piano Supply Company, The Donut Hole, Fleetwood Square and Mother Goose Pantry, among countless others, most long since lost to the wrecking ball. And now, another shining example faces an uncertain future.
As announced by The Real Deal last week, Canadian-based development company Onni Group just inked a deal to purchase a stretch of buildings located from 5350 to 5376 Wilshire Blvd. for an undisclosed amount. The small span of structures, currently occupied by a post office, a wig boutique, a salon, a print shop and a handful of restaurants, is largely unremarkable, save for one tiny storefront situated mid-block at 5370 Wilshire.
Fashioned to resemble a 1930s-era camera in honor of the photo supply shop it originally housed, known as The Darkroom, the scant frontage has miraculously remained intact for nearly a century despite a slew of subsequent occupants. It has become such an iconic piece of Americana, in fact, that replicas have been erected everywhere from Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida to Walt Disney Studios Park to Universal Studios Orlando. Considering the Onni Group’s plans to redevelop the block into a large-scale apartment complex, though, the fanciful façade could soon be a thing of the past.
The 1.4-acre parcel, which was represented by Kadie Presley Wilson and Laurie Lustig-Bower of CBRE, first hit the market in 2020 and generated quite a bit of attention. With its adjacency to the future La Brea Wilshire Purple Metro Station (set to be completed next year), lack of height restrictions and prime Mid-City location, the block proved highly attractive to developers. Wilson explained to the Connect CRE website, “We took the site to market at the height of the pandemic and generated 20 offers, despite rising construction costs. Demand for multifamily housing in the Greater Los Angeles area, especially with proximity to mass transit, remains at all-time highs, making development opportunities such as this highly sought after.”