‘Round Palms: Hughes Av

In a previous post, I explained why the low-rise and mid-rise development of neighborhoods like Palms is the best development pattern to promote affordability, and a recent article in Design Intelligence confirms that three-to-four story buildings are the most cost efficient. Today we’re going to take a closer look at Hughes Av, which runs from Venice to the intersection of Palms, National, and Exposition.

It’s important to highlight places like Palms as examples of LA density, because this is the way neighborhoods grow when they’re allowed to do so organically. Unlike the contrived density of modern planned districts, high-rises don’t spring up everywhere all at once. Single-family houses and small buildings are gradually replaced with larger structures, resulting in a neighborhood with a wide variety of buildings sizes, types, styles, and ages. This is the natural way that cities develop.

Alright, off we go. Characteristic of Palms diversity, there’s a Korean church (built 1937) just north of Venice.

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This four-story block (built 1981) is one of the taller structures on Hughes, and in Palms in general.

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This block (built 1988) is only three stories tall, but has a larger footprint.

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As you work your way up towards Palms/National/Exposition, single-family residences (SFRs) start to pop up (this one built 1939).

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Here’s another SFR (built 1923), holding its own next to a three-story apartment building (built 1991) with a small footprint.

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And on the other side, there’s an apartment block (built 1986) with a footprint twice the size.

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A couple older style SFRs (built 1924 and 1925).

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Two SFRs (built 1925 and 1931) with three-story apartment building (built 1987) in the background.

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Now, Hughes Av isn’t going to capture many urbanist imaginations. It doesn’t present the uniformity that gives so many old frozen-in-time districts or contrived modern districts immediate curb appeal. But dig out your Jane Jacobs on diversity of buildings, and you’ll find her extolling the virtues of a street that features everything from a one-story Laundromat to a fourteen-story apartment building.

From a more political and pragmatic perspective, Hughes Av should be an easier sell than skyscrapers. So much of the debate about density in the US has been fouled by the equation of density with Manhattan-style development. And as much as I rip on NIMBYs, they do have a point about skyscrapers. Dropping a twenty-story building into a neighborhood of SFRs is going to create a lot of localized impacts. That’s why the headline contrived urban districts, from the Pearl District to the South Boston Waterfront, are all built on former industrial land.

And that’s the real beauty of Palms. No one is being forced out of their SFR, and even decades after upzoning, there are still many SFRs available in Palms. If you want a condo or to rent an apartment, there’s plenty of those too. People who own SFRs didn’t have their property values ruined, because the ability to build an apartment building creates value. Every year, many owners choose to keep their SFR, while others decide to build apartments. In other words, the city is growing and providing people with a  variety of economic opportunities and choices. As it should be.

Note: the buildings I selected on Hughes Av date to two eras (20s-30s, 80s-90s) but as we’ll see in future posts, other decades are well represented in Palms as well.

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7 thoughts on “‘Round Palms: Hughes Av

  1. Alon Levy

    There’s a lot to be said for dumping a couple of twenty-story buildings on a subway transfer station. (Those already exist near Wilshire/Vermont, however, as far as I remember.)

    But in LA’s specific context, mid-rises in the style of 1900 are better than the spiky development of late-20th century transit cities, because the construction costs of earthquake-safe mid-rise buildings are reasonable whereas the construction costs of earthquake-safe high-rise buildings are not. Because of LA’s higher skyscraper construction costs, it’s unlikely that developers who are given free reins will build them except in the most desirable spots.

    Reply
    1. letsgola Post author

      Yeah, it’s big money to go from wood to concrete & steel construction. With LA’s building codes, 6 stories is about all you can get out of wood. There’s probably a “profitability gap” where buildings 6 stories or less are profitable, and buildings of say 20 stories or more are profitable, but those in between are not. (No math behind the 20, just throwing out a number.) And from a walkability/transit perspective, is it a huge penalty to go from one 20-story building to four adjacent 5-story buildings with the same total SF? Probably not.

      (Side note, yes there are towers near Wilshire/Vermont, with a couple more under construction.)

      Reply
  2. calwatch

    You have to get the type of SFR homeowners that aren’t concerned about apartment dwellers being “transients” and “having no stake in the community”. This happens quite often in many parts of southern California. In addition, once you get a group of properties which are coherently over 50 years old, they can be considered historic and city councils will be persuaded to zone them against higher density development in the future.

    Reply
    1. letsgola Post author

      From my time in Boston, those concerns about apartment dwellers seem pretty common in New England as well. Part of what I’m hoping to show with these posts is that apartments and SFRs can coexist, so SFR owners would realize it’s not the end of the world (quixotic as that goal may be).

      Reply
  3. Henry Fung (@calwatch)

    Once you hit a tipping point, then the neighborhood starts becoming more rental quickly. It’s almost like blockbusting. I wonder what the percentage of properties on Hughes which are owner occupied are (you would have to do a search in MetroScan or one of the pay real estate services), but I doubt it’s more than one quarter when all units are considered. Never mind that there are always hidden rentals with the folks renting out rooms or entire homes, but it feels less like a renter occupied community.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: ‘Round Palms – Hannum Drive | Let's Go LA

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