Blog: Updates on Urbanology

A Year in Urbanology, 2016

Jack Skelley and JSPR thank colleagues, clients and cohorts for another inspiring year. For a 20-second highlight reel click below...

One Santa Fe Offers a Home for Artists in DTLA

ABC 7 TV recently visited the Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles. The growing neighborhood's most significant new landmark is One Santa Fe, the new community designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture. It's not only the longest building in L.A., it offers new homes for artists and an alternative transportation program with a fleet of 50 bikes.

A Year of Urbanology

Jack Skelley and JSPR thank colleagues, clients and cohorts for another inspiring year. May 2015 be even more awesome! This super-speed video grabs just some of the highlights of the year. 

Does Downtown Need Frank Gehry?

Originally published on Huffington Post, 3.5.14

Walt Disney Concert Hall. Photo by Debbie Zeitman

Walt Disney Concert Hall. Photo by Debbie Zeitman

City watchers embraced the recent news that Frank Gehry has been rehired as designer of the Grand Avenue project. This is the $650 million stack of towers and plazas long-planned next to Disney Hall, also designed by Gehry.

Grand Avenue has been on the drawing board for nearly a decade.  Like downtown itself, its fortunes have risen and fallen with the economy, and with planning decisions good and bad.

No one wants this key part of Downtown to remain barren parking lots. And Gehry’s exuberant designs are sure to boost L.A.’s reputation as the capital of creativity. So let’s applaud the progress.

But let’s also remember the problem that Grand Avenue was supposed to solve. Presently, the Music Center and Disney Hall preside over dead streets. For a cultural complex, it sadly lacks the street activity such a landmark should enjoy. Instead, concert-goers drive into underground garages, escalator up to the theaters, and scoot back to their cars to return home.

It’s a one-stop destination that walls off patrons from surrounding neighborhoods. (The same selfishness, symptomatic of L.A. planning, afflicts The Getty Center and Dodger Stadium.) The root of the problem is the Bunker Hill area where it sits. In a fit of misguided 1960s urban renewal, the hill’s Victorian homes were sheared off to make way for the Music Center. If even just a few of those homes were saved, the place might have retained an authentic vibe.

Like the rest of Downtown has.

For while Grand Avenue plans gathered dust, other neighborhoods thrived. The old banks and theaters now teem with lofts and cafes. The residential market can’t keep pace with demand. Hipster havens like Ace Hotel are reviving faded landmarks. Every week there’s another cool, new restaurant. In 2013 alone, 64 retail establishments opened – most by independent proprietors – according to the Downtown Center Improvement District.

These neighborhoods grow organically from a porous street grid, with narrow alleys, wide sidewalks, multiple storefronts, and pleasingly mis-matched facades. They do it without a starchitect.

As Downtown’s tide has turned, Grand Avenue is not the only mega project to resurface. After 27 years in a coma, Metropolis – the $1 billion plan near L.A. LIVE – has been revived by China’s Greenland Group and a Gensler design. Also near L.A. LIVE, developer Mack Urban will build a $750 million set of highrises. The Wilshire Grand’s 73 floors will make it the tallest building on the West Coast. And more big deals are lining up.

They will all include residences. They will all have brand-new buildings. They will all be ginormous!

The question is whether Gehry and the other mega projects can, starting from scratch, capture the magic Downtown is already generating. Will they selfishly corral pedestrians? Will they be bunkers and monoliths? Will L.A. commit the same old errors?

Rick Cole, Deputy Mayor for Budget & Innovation in Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, is one of those who hopes for results that draw on traditional design principles like the ones sparking revival of Downtown's old core. Without prejudging Gehry's new conceptual design, Cole is skeptical of designers known for splashy architecture and not for attending to mundane details like the real-life experience of the pedestrian.

“Getting streets right isn't rocket science and it doesn't require ‘creativity,’ ” says Cole, the former Mayor of Pasadena who helped revive street life in Old Pasadena. “In fact, most 'creative' solutions have fallen abysmally flat because they ignore time-tested principles of how people behave. With Photoshop, you can show a space full of people in an illustration. But in the real world, you can't fix dead wall space at the ground floor with decorative pavement and landscaping. 'Door/window/door' is the science of engaging the pedestrian.  We know how to do it in malls.  We've forgotten how to do it on city streets.  More grand plazas and gardens aren't the answer.  Success comes from wide sidewalks and human-scale street activity.”

Let’s continue to succeed.

A Spiritualized Baptism for Ace Hotel


The long-awaited birth of Downtown’s Ace Hotel will get a musical baptism with a just-announced performance by Spiritualized. The psychedelic English group will offer a grandiose performance of its album Ladies and Gentlemen, We are Floating in Space – replete with 30-piece orchestra and gospel choir. It will happen February 13, 2014 in the also grandiose United Artists Theater, part of the new Ace Hotel.

Spiritualized recently toured promoting their 2012 album Sweet Heart Sweet Light, but the Ace show marks the first Los Angeles performance of the entirety of Floating in Space. Its extended grooves and sparkly choruses recall The Rolling Stones to the 13th Floor Elevators while remaining uniquely Spiritualized.

The Ace Hotel chain has important place in urban revitalization. The hipsterish company – in the best sense of that word – is headquartered in Portland, and restores properties in urban cores, weaving its operations closely with surrounding communities and merchants. The Palm Springs version is a favorite of 20-somethings who flock to its DJ’d pool lounge all year round. Ace Hotel founder Alex Calderwood passed away last month at the age of 47.

The 1927 ornate theater and 18-story landmark descend from Hollywood’s Golden Age. The United Artists motion picture company was founded by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffith and and Douglas Fairbanks in rebellion against the studio system. In the 1990s the theater was purchased and restored by oddball televangelist Dr. Gene Scott, who used it for his services. At that time, it became the most polished of Downtown’s classic movie palaces, which together constitute one of finest collections of such gems in the country. Dr. Gene Scott was the subject of a somewhat disturbing 1981 biography, God’s Angry Man, by German filmmaker Werner Herzog.

Surviving Was a Big Deal for Downtown’s Poet Broker

Ed Rosenthal closeup.jpg

Just over three years ago, after making a wrong turn on a hike, Ed Rosenthal, The Poet Broker of Downtown L.A., was lost for 6 days in Joshua Tree National Park. He was (and is) a close friend and hiking buddy of mine. It was a desperate, anguishing 6 days for all who knew Ed. Millions of others learned of “the missing hiker” on TV news. The temperature climbed above 100 degrees every day that week. Miraculously, Ed survived.

Upon his rescue, I hastily called a press conference to satisfy the clamoring media. (The event was held at Downtown L.A.’s Clifton’s Cafeteria, as Ed had just brokered the sale of the building prior to his ill-fated trip.) Dozens of reporters – local to international – heard Ed’s amazing story, though he had barely processed the ordeal himself.

Now, three years later, he has processed the experience. Beautifully. Ed has just published The Desert Hat, Survival Poems (Moonrise Press). And reading it is an astonishing experience in its own right.

If Ed has just recounted his dramatic story, that would have been a good read. But Ed is a poet. He gropes for elusive meanings in his transformational desert suffering.

Recurring images broaden into symbols, link, and elevate the book into, essentially, one extended poem. At times – perhaps regressing to childhood memories – he comes close to the mystery of self… such as this section from “Elizabeth B. Moon Canyon”:


You left me branded with a wish to return
to your heart. After a week in a furnace
bookended by unsafe vertices, cruel precipices,
a last minute door of death rescue, the rush
to the emergency room and a miraculous family reunion,
I was left only crying for you,


We are all better for Ed having survived.


(photo of Ed Rosenthal by Gary Leonard)