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36 Years Ago: Broadway Moves to 7th Street

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, November 17, 2009, at 10:38AM
Broadway Plaza Eric Richardson [Flickr]

While architect Charles Luckman intended the structure's brick to add "warmth," the parking garage instead has the feel of a medieval fortress.

On November 17, 1973, Broadway department store opened the doors of the chain's new flagship, centerpiece of the massive, mixed-use Broadway Plaza. Described by its architect as a "totally integrated environment," the complex really did have a little something for everyone.

36 years and a name change later, Macy's Plaza is better known as a dated brick fortress. Perhaps, though, the structure isn't quite the tear-down many Downtowners would like to make it.

The $85-million project ($408 million in today's dollars) was quite the marvel when it opened. Situated on 4.5 acres bounded by 7th, 8th, Flower and Hope, the complex housed the 250,000-square-foot Broadway store, a 500-room Hyatt Regency, the 32-story 700 Flower office tower, a two-level shopping "Galleria" and 2,000 parking spaces.

It was designed by architect Charles Luckman, who also headed the firm that developed the site. In a piece that ran as part of a special L.A. Times section devoted to the opening, Luckman wrote that the complex created a "wonderfully human environment, where people can work, sleep, shop and eat, all in one exciting urban center."

While it may not look it today, the complex was unquestionably a success and has had remarkably little retail turnover in its 36 years. Broadway became Macy's in 1995, but occupies its original 250,000-square-foot space. The Carl's Jr. in the Galleria's lower level is original, as is the Hallmark store. Walden Books became Borders' Express as part of a corporate takeover, but is original.

The run-down state of today's Macy's belies the upscale nature of the Broadway store, where in 1980 a shopper could browse Gucci, Cartier and Ferragamo boutiques. The spartan Galleria also lacks for no longer having the water feature and sculptures that once gave it a little life.

But what of today? What does the future hold for the complex?

It would not be at all a shock to see someone swoop in to purchase the structure from current owner Jamison Services. One could imagine a renovation that would take the Galleria's current and either make it all glass -- something Luckman was prevented from doing by contemporary building codes -- or find a way to remove it. Dated 1970s tile work needs to go, but the bones of the space are sound.

Harder to solve is the massive parking garage, built around the department store. Its impenetrable brick faces kill the structure's street presence on all but 7th street. Even here, though, one could imagine that a few creative cuts and a bit of lively color could create something bearable.

Perhaps there's life in the megastructure after all.


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