Transformation underway at Boyle Heights landmark

Photo courtesy East L.A. Community Corp.

The red brick walls of the Boyle Hotel – known to many in Boyle Heights as the Mariachi Hotel – have been shrouded under scaffolding and a black veil for several months now.  Under that black screen, designed to keep down dust, construction workers are transforming the interior of the 1889  Boyle Heights landmark into  31 affordable apartments that will overlook Mariachi Plaza at First Street and Boyle Avenue.

What does the old hotel, built by George Cummings, look like under the veil? Ernesto Espinoza,  Director of Real Estate Development for The East Los Angeles Community Corp., the nonprofit developer in charge of the $24.6 million project, gave The Eastsider a tour of the Victorian Italianate-style building, which is scheduled to once again house residents by  May 2012.

The project,  which includes the construction of  a new apartment building  attached to the hotel,  features a new shell of reinforced concrete behind existing brick walls to help the three-story building withstand earthquakes. There is also, of course, all new electrical, plumbing and heating systems.  All that work and more has to be done while protecting historic features – including  decorative cast iron columns, wood stairway posts and rails and even old graffiti carved into bricks by decades of tenants.

The restoration also included the challenging job of restoring the barrel-shaped turret and cupola that jutted out from the top of the building above First and Boyle.   “It’s going to be a great little room,” Espinoza said.

The semi-circular room in the turret  is part of what the project teams calls “Tea Room.”  Most likely used as a gathering space for hotel guests, the Tea Room was eventually transformed into an apartment, Espinoza said.  As part of the restoration, workers had to rebuild a platform that tied the semi-circular room and cupola above to the main structure.

On the exterior, a portion of the decorative sheet metal  that wraps around the turret had to be temporarily removed during the construction.  Curved wood windows, which are being made on site, will be installed in the turret, framing views down First Street and Boyle Avenue.  The cupola, which had been removed years ago, will be replaced with a replica created out of light-weight material, Espinoza said.  But, unlike the original cupola shown in the vintage photo,  residents won’t be able to walk to the very top to enjoy the view (sorry).

When the Boyle Hotel is reopened,  The Tea room will once again serve as a communal meeting space. Espinoza said that perhaps even mariachis, who once resided in the hotel, will be able to practice in the room overlooking Mariachi Plaza, where musicians-for-hire roam the square.

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  1. just for the record, it’s a four story structure. the retail spaces along boyle are two stories in height, but the western half of the building is four stories tall above ground. there is also a basement.

  2. Wow – that calculates out to $794,000 for each low income unit. Does that seem like a good use of scarce resources?

  3. So glad they are doing a resto and not a demo!

  4. @Cliff_Dweller: I believe that price includes an additional building with 20 more apartments, as well as ground floor retail and community spaces.

    Anyway, historic preservation ain’t cheap… but I’m glad the LAHD is helping communities restore older buildings (Boyle Hotel, Vendome Palms, Hollywood/Western Bricker, etc.) as the alternative would probably just be money-minded developers knocking them down and replacing them with cheap stucco crap or pricey condos.

    Look at what used to be on Bunker Hill (before slumlords and the CRA knocked it all down): http://onbunkerhill.org/adrivethroughbunkerhill

  5. Awesome post! Every time I’ve been by that place I’ve crossed my fingers hoping it would be restored.

  6. @corner soul, slumlords? I don’t think. Big city development for sure. I don’t know if there was CRA then. Good taste of downtown, “Ask the Dust” John Fante.

  7. Bo, I don’t think storefront vestibules are counted as stories traditionally.

    With all that concrete, this may be one of the few brick buildings left standing after the next major earthquake.

  8. Er, mezzanines, not vestibules.

  9. @ekirby, I think what corner soul is referring to by Bunker Hill “slumlords” are those property owners who turned many of the once-stately hotels into rundown flophouses and a share of the Victorian manors into poorly maintained multi-unit dwellings. By doing so they in effect contributed to the area’s downfall that allowed its razing and redevelopment.

  10. If anyone wants to see the Bunker Hill area in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s, check out the movie “The Exiles.” It’s a quasi-documentary that follows a group of Native Americans who live in the Bunker Hill area and hang out in the bars on Main Street around 2nd and 3rd Street. It was filmed in 1958 and was recently re-released. At one point in the movie, they head to a gas station on Sunset Blvd.; I think it’s the same spot where a minimall w. a Baskin Robbins and a Cuban restaurant now stands. (I read “Ask the Dust” this summer and wasn’t impressed, though it did give me a good feel of downtown L.A. and even the San Fernando Valley.) If you like “The Exiles,” check out “Killer of Sheep” as well. Trust me on these two recommendations.

  11. @James: I loved The Exiles… I’ll have to check out Killer of Sheep!

    @Will: Yup, although I think you did a better job of elaborating.

    @ekirby: I believe the CRA/LA was setup through a voter referendum (prop c) in the early 50’s to address blighted neighborhoods (Bunker Hill being first on the list).

  12. Not that James needs seconding but I’m gonna anyway. “The Exiles” and “Killer of Sheep” are absolute treasures.

  13. I was just there today. I’m glad the building is being restored. The whole area looks great, with the renovation of the Mariachi Plaza, the Metro line and now the restoration of this beautiful building. Thanks to whoever is responsible for this.

  14. kevin, the eastern half of the building has two commercial spaces along boyle that are two stories tall with no mezzanines. above them there are two stories of studio apartments and below a basement. the western half of the building, along first street, has two single story commercial spaces with three stories of apartments above. no basement. this is a four story building. trust me.

    cliff_dweller: you’re right. there is a new addition that’s almost twice as long as the original building that consists of three bedroom apartments, mostly. and as you say there are four commercial spaces in the project. and restoration is certainly not cheap.

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