There are no secrets in a loft.
Privacy is elusive. You can duck behind a Chinese screen, crouch in a corner somewhere, camp out in a bathroom, retreat to an upper level. But in terms of a room of one’s own—well, would you settle for a niche?
On the other hand, lofts represent exciting, vibrant and stylish urban living, especially if living in the thick of things, within easy walking distance of life’s abundant entertainments, is what you’re looking for when you’re shopping for a home.
In Long Beach, Downtown is Ground Zero for loft living. The Kress Lofts, where the style started with the completion of its conversion from its long career starting in 1923 as 5-10-25-Cent store to a 49-unit loft building in 1992.
For the Kress, it was a long, slow transformation. The store closed in 1960 at the beginning of Pine Avenue’s long fall into disuse and decay, and it sat there doing nothing except symbolizing Downtown’s demise until a developer with uncertain dreams bought it in 1980, stripped down its exterior and interior and then abandoned it until the Long Beach architecture firm Interstices acquired the building and its leading architect Jonathan Glasgow carved it into lofts.
“When we got it, it was down to concrete. Even the windows were gone,” said Glasgow. It took a long time even to get the city to OK the Kress conversion, he said. “The Planning Department at the time wanted to tear it down and make it a parking lot.”
Further adding to the problems in the early years was just getting people to buy in at the Kress Lofts. “The conversion was one of the first of its kind in the state and buyers had trouble getting financing to buy a loft because there were no comps from similar places,” said Glasgow.
Things went more smoothly in Downtown’s trend toward loft-conversion after Glasgow managed to get the Kress off the ground and got its units sold. (Hot-rod/chopper customizer Jesse James, and Daniel and Suja Lowenthal bought the building’s two penthouse, and others followed). Glasgow/Interstices did loft conversions at the Walker Building just south of Kress, the Courtyard Lofts at 849 Pine Ave. and the Insurance Exchange Lofts at 207 E. Broadway, among others.
Realtor Beatrix Whipple was kind enough to take me on a tour recently of several Downtown lofts. Most are now on the market, and most at relatively low cost (relative, that is, as compared to single-family homes).
Recently sold for just $557,000 in cash (“Probably the lowest price loft for a while,” said Whipple, though we would see one later at the Kress for $20,000 less) was a Courtyard Loft with a two-story-high ceiling and exposed wood beams plus an upper floor with a sleeping area (as opposed to a bedroom, as lofts don’t have rooms in the sense we’ve come to know a room).
Typical of loft life, the 1,239-square-foot place has polished concrete floors and frosted glass windows to let in soft natural light, while keeping out the not-always-enjoyable views of the street on North Pine Avenue, which still hasn’t exploded into the successful district the area has been pushing for over the past six decades. There is, however, a Rose Park Roasters coffee shop across the street, which is a selling point to the extent that you enjoy coffee.
The homeowners association fees are $401 a month.
Walking east, you come to the Temple Lofts, a building sort of notable in that Glasgow wasn’t among the team that converted the former Masonic Temple into lofts, supplemented by two new towers.
We dropped into the loft-opposite of the Courtyard property with a sixth-floor penthouse offering that’s recently dropped in price from a smidgen over $1 million to a smidgen below $1 million (for a total drop of two smidgens) at $995,000. Don’t worry; you’ll hit a million pretty soon with your $655 HOA fees.
It is a pretty spectacular loft, with heavy industrial touches like exposed brick and concrete and ductwork, and it’s a sprawling space you could ride your bike in at 2,970 square feet. It’s listed as a three-bedroom unit, though in loft life, a bedroom is wherever you lay your head. Its niches could be used as an office, a bonus room, a sitting room or a Ping-Pong pavilion.
The unit sports two spiral staircases (which aren’t as much fun as one might imagine) leading to a spacious second level. The kitchen, always a focal point in lofts, comes with a Viking range and a Bosch dishwasher, and those HOA fees include the use of a rooftop Jacuzzi, a clubhouse and an outdoor fire pit and barbecue.
Down the hall on the same floor, you get a drop in price (and square footage) with a loft listed at $750,000. And the good news is you can throw out all your stuff before you move into this unit, which is being sold fully furnished.
You get such nice touches as an elaborate wooden door frame from the 1927 temple’s ballroom. It currently serves as a frame for some artwork. The place has a 25-foot-high ceiling, a spiral staircase leading up to a private master ensuite with a walk-in closet. It’s one of the rare two-bath units in the building.
In addition to saving money on the asking price, you’ll also save on the HOA, which in the Temple Lofts is based on square-footage. For this unit, it’s $505 a month.
Next, we walk closer to the heart of Downtown, on Pine between Fifth and Fourth streets, where the whole loft-living thing started with the Kress.
Architect Glasgow says that the Kress lofts are bare-minimum lofts with less cool materials than its Walker Building neighbor to the south, where different units feature varying pieces of the original department store, including columns with capitals, concrete stairways that just run into walls, fire escape landings bolted onto the walls and “doormats” of escalator steps sunk into concrete.
The Kress loft, priced at $537,000, is sharp looking, with high-gloss laminate flooring (a nice break from all that concrete) and a “bedroom” hidden a bit behind a partition decorated with glass blocks.
The 1,021 square-foot loft features more than the requisite amount of exposed brick and concrete, and its relaxing common-area patio, which Realtor Whipple said is her favorite among all the loft buildings’ patios, offers sweeping and eye-popping views of the city. Your HOA is $414 per month.
By the time we hit the Walker Building, I was in a “seen one loft, you’ve seen ‘em all” frame of mind, but the Walker is a fine and clever conversion, with bits of the former department store scattered around the building as decoration. Turned into industrial art are sculptures fashioned from gears from the store’s escalator, fans from the exhaust system and other fixtures. Very little of the original building has gone unused in some way.
Offered at $589,000, the third-floor, 1,206-square-foot loft is currently a blank canvas, both unfurnished and unstaged, and shows what a sort of desolate place a loft is before its owners throw their creativity around. In fact, if you don’t have an eye for modern and adventuresome decorating, you might as well buy a nice cozy cottage somewhere, otherwise you’re going to feel like you’re back living in your parents’ garage.
As long as you’re thinking about lofts, there are a couple of other inspired conversions in historical buildings in Long Beach that you might want to visit.
The Insurance Exchange Lofts at 207 E. Broadway is another Glasgow conversion. The building was originally a Middoughs’ Boys’ and Men’s shop and now features 14 spacious lofts spread out over the top five of the building’s six floors.
The Ebell Theater Lofts are part of the elegant Ebell Club at 1100 E. Third St. These 11 lofts are brighter and airier than your typical loft, with outdoor private spaces for when you just want to get out of the house.
Tim Grobaty is a columnist and the Opinions Editor for the Long Beach Post. You can reach him at 562-714-2116, email [email protected], @grobaty on Twitter and Grobaty on Facebook.
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