Downtown L.A. Life and PacMutual's 'Gift to the Street'

Nelson and Christopher Rising -- the bright guys behind one of the more interesting reuses of a historic building downtown -- have recently made a "gift to the street." Because they're businessmen, as well as bright guys, they intend their gift to better a corporate bottom line, but that doesn't take away from the virtues of their gift.

The Risings are principals in Rising Realty Partners, which bought a complex of three interconnected office buildings next to Pershing Square in 2012 for a reported $60 million. Their property -- the former Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company headquarters -- is a history in terracotta and steel of the rise and fading of downtown. (I touched on that story here.)

The upcoming courtyard at the PacMutual building in downtown L.A. | Photo: Courtesy Nathan Masters

The Risings have now reopened an early 1920s courtyard facing 6th Street but shut sometime after 1945 (most recently covered by a cell phone store). What had been a wall of retail built to the limit line of the sidewalk now opens invitingly to what will soon be a pair of casual dining locations and outdoor seating.

An 80-foot-high planted wall and a pocket park facing the western side of Pershing Square are supposed to be completed by midsummer. More dining options there and on the ground floor of the office complex are planned.

I walked through the project in 2012 when the overlays of several eras of remodeling and modernization where being stripped back to the building's brick walls, 14-foot ceilings, and concrete floors. Today, according to the Risings, tenant occupancy is nearly 90 percent.

The PacMutual building today. | Photo: Courtesy Nathan Masters

The Risings have imaginatively remade the PacMutual Building (as it's now known) into new spaces for a much different downtown. How different? Pedestrians are welcomed. Office tenants can bring their dog to work.

Restoration of the lost courtyard was one of Christopher Rising's goals when I took my tour of PacMutual's ornate lobby and its Parkinson and Parkinson additions. Christopher Rising understood then the street's need for more pedestrian diversity -- the "gift" that assures passersby that the city's space has a social dimension that includes them.

Big patches of that dimension -- such as Grand Park -- are important. But smaller bits -- like those that open and enliven the façade of PacMutual -- are not less important because they have less square footage.

The street has its varied interests and its not-entirely-unpleasant shocks, just as Jane Jacobs said, but the street needs retreats, too. The Risings have got that right by being open to the past.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles," among other books about the social history of Southern California. He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times ...
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