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Thirty Years Ago Today: Jewelry Exchange Opened Amid Local Industry Boom

By Eric Richardson
Published: Friday, November 14, 2008, at 02:15PM
2008-11-14 08:54:26 -0800 Eric Richardson [Flickr]

The New York Jewelers Exchange at 629 S. Spring opened for business on 11/14/1978.

Hailed as the "largest retail jewelry exchange in the world," the New York Jewelers Exchange opened on November 14, 1978. For thirty years the Exchange has occupied the ground floor and mezzanine of the Los Angeles Jewelry Center at 629 S. Hill, offering ninety booths where jewelers can cut costs by sharing rent and utilities.

The opening came at a boom time for Downtown's jewelry trade. Between 1974 and 1979, jewelry sales Downtown ballooned from $150 million to $500 million.

The late 1970s saw multiple proposals for large jewelry facilities. In 1977, a group led by the Wholesale Jewelers Association of Los Angeles tried to build a $40 million center on the Bunker Hill site now occupied by California Plaza. The Community Redevelopment Agency nixed those plans, saying that it didn't want to see the jewelry uses elsewhere in Downtown all shift to Bunker Hill.

The group then proposed a center just west of the 110 freeway, with a footprint quite similar to the complex eventually built as Beaudry Center. A tower would be constructed in the triangle created by Beaudry, 3rd and 4th, and a large parking structure would rise to the north of the tower, across 3rd street. While the jewelry center plans fell through, the Beaudry Center project was constructed in the early 1980s.

At the same time, a separate group proposed the International Jewelry Center, which now sits on the east side of Pershing Square. The 16-story, 410,000 square foot complex opened in 1981 and features a distinctive zig-zag design created to give as many offices as possible access to north light, preferred by jewelers for judging the color of stones.

In 1983, work began on a project to convert the original Bullocks department store building at 7th and Hill into the St. Vincent Jewelry Center, which today houses 500 jewelry merchants.

Historic information compiled from L.A. Times stories.

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