History Lesson: Evolution of the Merritt Building
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES —
There are a lot of odd buildings on Broadway, and each has arrived at its look via a unique path. The Merritt Building sits on the northwest corner of 8th and Broadway, and today is quite an odd sight, seemingly missing its second floor.
The Merritt, in fact, looks like someone took a Roman-style building and plopped it on top of a 50-foot tall marble box. It didn't used to look like that, though.
When the Merritt Building opened in 1915 it looked quite nice. Hullet Merritt, the building's owner, has wanted to construct a 23-story edifice but was turned down by the City Council. He scaled back his plans and ended up with a ten-story design that set a rendition of Minerva's Temple on top of a three-story base.
The building housed various retail stores on its ground floor and offices above, with the top floor set aside for Mr. Merritt himself. You can see a great shot of the building from Jan. 8, 1957, from the Herald-Examiner archives.
Home Savings Remodel
That same year the building would change, though, as the Home Savings & Loan Association had bought the building in December of 1956 and had plans for a redesign. They took out many of the building's lower windows and created an ornate entrance on Broadway.
The new look was designed by artist Millard Sheets, the man responsible for the look of many Home Savings branches over the years (now Washington Mutuals).
Once you understand the Home Savings redesign it isn't too hard to see how the building ended up looking like it does today. As Broadway evolved into a street of smaller retail wth gaudy fronts the starkly ornate nature of the Home Savings look got trashed for tacky signage.
It's the story of so many of Broadway's buildings: an ornate beginning, a questionable remodel, and then finally the de-evolution into a tacky mess. Broadway as it exists today simply has no incentive to take care of old structures or to look after their aesthetics. The upper floors of these buildings are rotting as store owners only care for their high-rent ground-floor retail. That's what needs to change.
I'm not one to call for the current Broadway retail to be kicked out and some new higher-end ideas brought in -- that would be an instant failure. But it's just a tragedy that there's nothing being done to save and make use of these great old buildings as Downtown grows up around them.