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History Lesson: Downtown's Sunkist Building

By Eric Richardson
Published: Monday, November 20, 2006, at 09:27AM
Sunkist Building California Historical Society / USC Digital Archives

There's really no end to the fascinating things you can find when you start digging into the history of Downtown Los Angeles. Yesterday I was wandering through photos in the USC Digital Archives and came across one that showed the Sunkist Building.

The building, which sat at the corner of Flower and 5th, was built in 1935 by the Sunkist Corporation as their headquarters. Less than four decades later it was torn down, paying the price for Downtown's skyscraper boom.

The Sunkist building cost $482,000 to build and was one of Downtown's first earthquake-reinforced structures. The company bought the land on the northeast corner of 5th and Flower in September of 1934 from the Temple Baptist Church. The cornerstone was laid on September 11th, 1935, and the building opened for occupancy later that year. The 68,000 sq. ft. structure was designed by Walker and Eisen and built by the William Simpson Construction Company.

It was just thirty-three years later that the property was acquired by the Dillingham Corporation and plans were announced to tear it down and build a high-rise office building. The Bunker Hill redevelopment project was in full swing and the company wanted to capitalize on the site, just next door to the redevelopment area.

But then the market softened and Dillingham scrapped plans to build a 53-story building. In March of 1971 they announced that they would renovate the Sunkist structure, lease it out, and "put up a new building at some later date." Those plans too were scrapped, and in November they announced plans to tear the building down.

Simpson Construction, the same company that had erected the Sunkist building, tore it down in January of 1972. At the time Dillingham announced plans for a pair of 20-story office buildings, but those too never materialized.

The site stood empty until 1978, when Arco announced that they would build a 40-story tower for $90 million. Construction finally started in 1980.

Differing Paths

That block of 5th between Grand and Flower offers an interesting snapshot from 1972. As mentioned, in January of that year demolition started on the 1935 Sunkist Building. That same month it was announced that the Edison Building, built in 1931 on the corner of Grand and 5th, had new ownership that planned to lease the structure out to office tenants.

The two buildings were very similar in location, visual style and age, but one was torn down and one was saved. Today the Edison Building, now more commonly known as One Bunker Hill, is considered one of Downtown's gems and is part of tours by Angel's Walk and the Conservancy.

Should the Sunkist building have been similarly saved? I don't know. I'm not about to argue that all of Downtown's historic buildings could have or should have been saved. I guess what strikes me more is just how the fact that so many of Downtown's old buildings do remain is largely the work of chance. If the coin had bounced a bit differently perhaps the One Bunker Hill would have been bought and torn down in a similar deal. I'm quite glad that's not what happened.

Information was compiled from various articles that ran in the LA Times.

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