Photos by Brian Addison.
Don’t get me wrong, I get it—the stigma and annoyance and frustration and distaste with City Place. The six blocks of prime urban property in DTLB has been plagued with bad tenants, bad ideas, theme park-y design, a lack of focus and care…
But unlike one author I adore, who speaks of heartbreak after heartbreak with Long Beach development, I am oddly not skeptical about whether the project will cut my heartstrings attached to my hopes for it. I am—for the first time in a while considering this is Long Beach—confident that we’re actually doing the right thing and following through with it rather than just talking about it.
Let’s be honest: the two previous attempts at creating this area as a retail space have been nightmarish. Inauthentic, cheap, and definitively not Long Beach in style, each lacked correspondence to what an urban environment is and what the neighborhood wants.
There. I said it. I feel like this is a good thing, with good intentions and good results.
And y’know what? The most powerful thing about City Place’s revamping isn’t the tenants, of which we proudly welcome (even if served with a dose of acerbic side eye). Nor is it even about the very, very pretty buildings. It isn’t about the wonderfully minimalist aesthetic or the fact that hundreds of architects will be wandering the streets of DTLB. (Though that last point is an incredible if not outright spectacular benefit.)
It’s about a return to what a street is and, simultaneously, what it can be in the context of its surrounding neighborhood. Let us not forget the power of Retail Design Collaborative (RDC, formerly Perkowitz + Ruth Architects) and Studio One Eleven moving out of their above-the-clouds perch near the top floor of Landmark Square at Pine and Ocean to the ground level of 3rd and Promenade.
“As our lease was up in our previous space, our intentions were to not just find a new space, but to use our presence to solve several urban issues as well,” said Alan Pullman, Founding Principal of Studio One Eleven. “In relocating to a vacant retail space in the downtown core, we turned a former space of consumption to one of production, inserting needed mixed uses and showcasing what a 21st century adaptive reuse creative office space could be. Incorporating Well Building Standards, incorporating net zero energy goals, incorporating shared use spaces… This all brings state of the art workspace thinking to Long Beach.”
Can we get an amen to that?
Let’s be honest: the two previous attempts at creating this area as a retail space—the Long Beach Mall, which was dubbed Murder Mall after this infamous and perturbing incident, and most recently, City Place—have been nightmarish. Inauthentic, cheap, and definitively not Long Beach in style, each lacked correspondence to what an urban environment is and what the neighborhood wants.
“In relocating to a vacant retail space in the downtown core, we turned a former space of consumption to one of production.” —Alan Pullman, Studio One Eleven
And dammit, they don’t want The Pike Outlets North. They want something that is for them, something that is a part of their social fabric a la Fingerprints and Berlin Bistro.
“Our approach is about integrating back into an increasingly cool urban environment,” said Michael Bohn, Principal at Studio One Eleven. “This means no themed sidewalks, street lights or facades but rather standard sidewalks with the same streetlights and trees as the adjacent neighborhoods. This means building facades that try to be modern for our time while also accommodating a mix of uses. Blurring the lines of six privately owned blocks and weaving it into the downtown is tantamount.”
Of course, the points I sidelined earlier—such as tenants and building aesthetic—aren’t entirely moot points; they are seamlessly folded into this much larger philosophy about who architects are, what they do, and how they are an integral part of what they create (whether they choose to have their offices in their own development or not).
When it comes to tenants, Studio One Eleven and their partners are carefully choosing tenants to creative a less homogenous space and a more diverse one.
“We aren’t interested in another coffee shop with Recreation Coffee a few buildings away that is already embraced by our firm and the neighborhood,” Bohn said. “The success of retailers around us is just as crucial as the tenants in the project.”
When it comes to aesthetics and design, Studio One Eleven and their partners are eschewing overly decadent or distinctly unique approaches; they are looking around, trying to make people feel at home while also feeling refreshed. That, in terms of design, is no easy feat; most developers prefer to doll out tons of money to fight against anti-gentrifiers or just flat-out ignore their opinions on their own neighborhoods.
Studio One Eleven has opted for something else. And it’s working. And not just for RDC and Studio One Eleven.
It’s working for artists, given that there is a gallery space which will hold exhibits. Currently, Modern Long Beach Through the Lens of Julius Shulman, is on display in the lobby and will run through April 9 and running in tangent with Cal State Long Beach’s Frank Bros: The Store that Modernized Modern exhibit at UAM.
It’s working for nonprofits, given that there are rent-free spaces for them to work out of. Repeat: rent-free spaces, meaning the important work of organizations like We Are The Next—the first nonprofit tenant to take up the space—can save tens of thousands of dollars to do better work for the community.
It’s working. It’s working gorgeously.
“Community space is being created by designing livable streets to accommodate bikes, calming street traffic, and attracting people through sidewalk dining, parklets, and enhancing Harvey Milk Park,” Bohn said. “We strongly believe and have seen that when people are outside, it attracts even more people.”
When people are outside, enjoying their space—their space—more people want to join them. What a concept, Long Beach.
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