Sunday Nibble #84: The One, Ten Thousand, and other L.A. horror stories

How over-priced apartments for TikTok influencers and a ridiculously oversized house in foreclosure exemplify L.A.’s big property problems.

This is a story that starts and ends with property, but in particular with one address in Los Angeles that I will always associate with architecture.

That address is 10000 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90067 and, at the time I first new it, my father worked there for an architectural firm called Welton Becket & Associates.

I know. “Welton Becket” sounds like its already an association of two, but it’s not. He was an actual person, born in 1902, and who was in the business long before my father took up the profession. In fact, it wasn’t all that long after my father joined their firm that Becket died in 1969.

It was a company with a lot of legacies. The landmark Capital Records Building , the Cinerama Dome, and the Los Angeles Music Center were a trio of famous Welton Becket designs, and my father worked as a structural engineer on all of them.

He did it from a three-story office building at 10000 Santa Monica, which was right on the border line between the cities of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills — although Los Angeles is this weird literal fruitcake of towns and cities, so the Los Angeles that Beverly Hills bordered was just a continuation that wrapped around the smaller city and covered most of the county.

The fruits and nuts in the huge lump of dough that is L.A. are various unincorporated areas with their own names but which are still part of the City of L.A. — Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Hollywood, Los Feliz, etc.

Others are their own, independent cities with their own municipal governments and police departments — Malibu, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Culver City, and Burbank, to name a few. While none of these fall under the jurisdiction of the City of L.A., all of them are part of the County of L.A.

Note: If you’re from out of town — especially if you’re from out of town — please call it L.A. We much prefer that to hearing it butchered as “low sanjaylees” or “la sanjulees” or any other abomination that ends with a long “E.”

Anyway… Welton Becket & Associates sat on the border of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, but it was also directly south of a place called Century City which was not itself a city, but rather a large, mixed-use development designed and built by Welton Becket & Associates.

It was quite an idea for its time, and still exists in mostly in its same original form, albeit with more buildings shoved in around the edges.

It featured both high-density, high-rise apartments and condos right next to office towers, two of the most famous having triangular footprints. The whole thing came about — and got its name — because it sits right behind what was then 20th Century Fox Studios, and they had a lot of backlot they weren’t using, so the studio head decided to go into real estate development.

Apparently, it was revolutionary for its time, and the design was so futuristic that it was used many times over the years for film and TV shoots, particularly for science fiction.

In fact, the famous Nakatomi Plaza from Die Hard was actually the nearly-constructed but not-yet-open Fox Plaza, within the confines of Century City and owned by 20th Century Fox. Rumor has it that the company was able to make a small fortune renting the building to its own construction, as well as demolishing bits on unfinished floors to take the write-off. Hey, why not? It was still under construction.

Anyway, growing up, I had a rather personal connection to 10000 Santa Monica as well as Century City — as a kid, it really was the coolest, most “This Is the Future!” place I’d ever been outside of Disneyland, and I got to take the bus after school over there all the time when I was old enough to meet up with dad and see a movie.

So it was some shock that I only just recently learned about Ten Thousand, which is a building located exactly where my father’s office used to be — a building that became the ESPN headquarters, by the way, after Welton Becket eventually shut down.

It’s at least 13 years old, going by Google Street View’s archive function, and it’s a forty-story monstrosity tucked into the same footprint as my father’s office, which was low but wide. Now, that wouldn’t be so unusual for L.A. — we have plenty of high-rise apartment buildings, especially in the area from Hollywood west through Beverly Hills, Westwood, and beyond.

No, what makes Ten Thousand unusual is that it recently changed its target audience from the super-rich, foreign business-people, and various celebs to the new kids in town: TikTok Influencers.

Apparently, if you know what to look for, you can spot TikTok videos that were made there just by what the apartments look like inside — sorry, no filming allowed in common areas.

The place is overloaded with services and amenities. You can read all about those in the original article I found them in. Unfortunately, it’s only available to subscribers to Graydon Carter’s Air Mail email newsletter, so I understand if you don’t want to bother with that — although it’s not that intrusive but is a news aggregator that does not tread the same grounds and everyone else.

Indeed, it was hard to find specific mention of the TikTok angle although I can find plenty on the Ten Thousand Building, such as why it’s called that, and it’s not just the address.

Nope. Read that number as $10K, which is the minimum rent on the smallest studio in the place, with rents going all the way up to $65K. Yes, that’s per month.

Now, this isn’t the first location catering to social media influencers. Hype House, founded in 2019, is both the name of a collective of influencers making videos together, as well as a mansion in Southern California where many of them live and work together.

And let’s not forget Jake Paul’s infamous Team 10 Mansion in Calabasas, which became the focus of neighborhood ire once it turned into an out-of-control party palace. Of course, back in the summer of 2020, the FBI raided the mansion and found firearms connected to riots in Arizona.

Paul’s star had already fallen by that time, but he did wind up selling the place at a huge loss in 2021, heading off to Miami.

But let’s not let the TikTok angle distract from the real issue here: High-rise apartment buildings in Los Angeles that get away with charging rents that would make New Yorkers blush.

Keep in mind that the average rent in Los Angeles is $2,518, with the average unit size being 791 square feet. That figure reflects both people who are paying below market because they’re lived in rent controlled units for a long time as well as new renters paying market value and the super-rich paying whatever “change” they find in their sofa cushions for luxury units that would be a really nice mortgage payment on the average house.

Yes, the change in the cushions was a joke. Still, the most expensive areas to rent in in Los Angeles hit the top at $4,054 per month in Oakwood. This neighborhood is right next to the more bohemian Venice — yes, it has canals, too — where average rents are $2,498.

This is another great example of gentrification. Once upon a time, Venice, along with Hollywood, was a cheap neighborhood with older apartments where hippies, artists, and musicians could afford to live. That demographic has definitely been developed right out of Hollywood, which is one of the worst examples of out-of-control growth in the city.

So, in answer to the question: How can Ten Thousand get away with charging those kinds of rents, which are way above the already inflated rents in the rest of the city?

Simple. Dog’s balls. I.E., because they can. And you can bet that they have absolutely zero units set aside for low-income housing, as developers are supposed to do.

There’s one big problem in Los Angeles when it comes to affordable housing. Well, fifteen, and they are called the City Council, although locals have a more colorful name for them that I’m sure you can figure out.

The simple problem is that they tend to be as corrupt as hell. The latest example is Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has been indicted on corruption charges for, among other things, getting his son into USC and then assigned to a professorship in exchange for shady favors, and all this right around the time he was on the County Board of Supervisors, voting with others to tear down the Los Angeles County Museum of Art because… rea$on$.

Note: The County Board of Supervisors is just as corrupt as the L.A. City Council. They’re just a lot more expensive.

But when it comes to affordable housing, the City Council dance goes like this. Developers submit plans that will basically tear up and destroy neighborhoods — but look! More housing!

Residents in those neighborhoods, homeowners and renters alike, show up at hearings on proposals and permits, and express their strong objections. The more enterprising will go directly to their City Council Member in person and get their ear.

City Council Member will show up at neighborhood association meetings, listen to their side, promise to save the character of the neighborhood and push back on the scale and/or location of the development, and maybe even make a speech or two against it in a planning session hearing or open City Council meeting.

And then… they will get very quiet and a couple of votes sneak by. Maybe there are a couple of modifications on the project, but not a lot, and then your City Council Member goes ahead and votes for it and stops answering calls from the neighborhood leaders that had been working with them.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Now, while my current district has, historically, had the smallest number of Council Members  — only eight in just under a century — we did boot out a long-time incumbent, Tom LaBonge, in 2015, because it was clear he was working for the developers, replaced him with David Ryu, who promised the world to renters and homeowners alike, and then abandoned both as soon as he got into office. We turned him into a one-term wonder, and the jury is still out on the current member, Nithya Raman, although like many elected officials, she did get really quiet after the election.

There was already a failed recall effort against her, but that was backed by someone I can best describe as a wee bit… unstable.

But, unfortunately, places like Ten Thousand have become the rule, not the exception, and complicate this with developers now diving into the market to buy up single family homes, tear them down and then jam eight tiny and expensive rental units on the lot, parking not included.

Also, affordable housing not included.

This has also made it very difficult for legitimate home buyers because, while they can and do make an offer, sometimes against asking price, it’s with a down-payment and mortgage, but developers will swoop in with an all-cash offer, and a lot of motivated sellers just can’t resist that. Meanwhile, the average homebuyer cannot compete.

It’s destroying the housing market, plain and simple.

About the only good mixed-use developments I can think of are the ones that they’ve been building on top of Metro Stations that include commercial, business, and rental properties — but they still need to make the housing much more affordable.

I can think of a few quick solutions off the top of my head, although don’t hold your breath, because this would require governments to pass laws unfriendly to developers. But here we go.

  1. Ban corporate ownership of single-family residences. The only exception: brief ownership by the bank or lender if the place goes into foreclosure, but it must be sold at the cost of the balance of the loan, and only to an individual buyer.
  2. Single-family residences can only be occupied by the owner, family, or boarders/lodgers in designated rooms or outbuildings. No such residence can ever be dedicated entirely as a vacation rental, like AirBnB, or partially for more than 90 days within any one calendar year. Owners must be in residence during vacation rental occupancies.
  3. Units within multi-family buildings can only be occupied by individuals who are signed to a lease. They may not be used as corporate housing for, for example, flight crews on layover, visiting executives or employees, or other occupational transients. Such people can only take up residence in contracted or owned commercial residential units, see below.
  4. Corporations can buy multi-family housing buildings, such as apartments, duplexes, or townhouses. However, if any of the units is occupied upon sale, the new owners are barred from evicting those tenants for ten years for any reason other than criminal behavior which results in felony conviction and/or imprisonment, and cannot perform major renovations on unoccupied units without the written consent of all existing tenants.
  5. Any residential rental units that have remained vacant for more than six months, whether or not the owner or management company showed due diligence in trying to rent them out, shall be put onto the market with the City as broker at one-half their current market value rent, subject to all of the same rent controls with that as the base rent. All income shall still incur to the owners, but at a new, fixed rate.
  6. Any commercial residential units, like hotels, motels, transient hotels, or the like, that have remained vacant for more than a year shall remain in the owner’s possession but shall be administered by the City as transitional housing for the homeless, with the City reimbursing the owners on a per tenant/per room basis each month.
  7. Any commercial property, like office buildings, malls, or the like, that cannot sustain 20% occupancy for more than five years or which fall below 10% occupancy at any time shall be seized by the City by public domain, with the owners compensated at the rate of one quarter of current monthly square foot rental cost times five — or 4/5ths the current square footage cost. Take it or leave it. These buildings would be converted into more of that mixed-use housing that developers seem to love so much, except owned by the city, or possibly a city-county-state combo, and could provide both housing and services to the homeless, battered woman seeking shelter, abandoned or runaway kids, and college students.
  8. Every new unit constructed must include one parking space per bedroom within the square footage of the entire lot, whether exterior to the units or placed underground or in a structure. Every new multi-family construction must include 25% low-cost units priced at an amount equal to 25% of the current median household income in the county, limited to people who make less than the median.

I call this my “How to Make a Developer Shit” list, but it’s long past time that we do it. L.A. technically has plenty of land and square acreage to see that everyone is housed affordably, There are no excuses to developers to be buying up single family homes and converting them into tiny, market-rate units with no parking, or for corporations to be renting out apartments in multi-family homes when hotels are available.

There’s also no excuse for so much vacant commercial property sitting around unused, and especially no excuse for mega-developments in suburbs or on known earthquake fault-lines. (Fortunately, the permits for that last one were recently revoked by the city.)

There’s also no excuse for a place called The One, a 105,000 square foot monstrosity located in Bel Air. It has 21 bedrooms, 42 bathrooms, a 50-space parking garage, a movie theatre, nightclub, cigar room, 10,000 bottle wine cellar, salon, bowling alley, a movie theatre to rival any multiplex black box, and more.

Developed by film producer Nile Niami, creator of such well-known “classics” as Galaxis, DNA, Resurrection, and Tart. In other words, a lot of direct-to-video material, but his films made him enough money overseas that he started investing in real estate here, culminating in his construction of The One, for which he originally estimated would sell for $500 million.

However, he defaulted on the loans used to develop and build it, so it’s now going on sale via receivership and the asking price is now a mere $225 million.

If any single-family home in Los Angeles should be torn down to put up a ton of units in its place, this is the ideal candidate. Or just throw a couple of apartment towers on top of it, move all of the TikTok kids from Ten Thousand in and give them the amenities, then turn Ten Thousand itself into low-cost single-family housing.

After all, the TikTok influencers don’t really need to go anywhere but they probably all own really expensive cars anyway, so being on a hill a few miles away from stuff shouldn’t be a problem.

Meanwhile, people who need a rent break and may not even have cars could sure use an affordable place to live next to Century City, which is close to a lot of transit lines and will be sitting on top of the L.A. Metro system one day soon.

I’d call this trade a great example of sustainable development, actually.

Image source: BDS2006 (talk)., (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

Time of the signs

As I’ve mentioned here many times before, I spend a lot of time working and performing in North Hollywood, which has really sort of become the de facto downtown of the San Fernando Valley even though Van Nuys is where all of the L.A. City Government stuff is and Burbank is considered the hub of the entertainment industry, although only one of the Big 5 movie studios is actually there. That’s because most of the smaller production companies and post-production houses are in that city.

But North Hollywood, along with Universal City (guess which studio is there, even if one word in their official name is a lie), are the two Valley communities that are directly connected by the L.A. Metro Red Line to Hollywood and Downtown L.A. (DTLA) themselves. In fact, it was the opening of the North Hollywood Red Line Metro Station on June 24, 2000 that jump-started the process of North Hollywood rapidly changing (some would say gentrifying) from a place that you would not have wanted to be after sunset to a place that has a thriving night-life and a rich artistic culture. There are theaters both live and film, art galleries, several escape rooms, educational spaces, coffee shops, tons of restaurants, and tons of actors and artists who live here.. It’s also home to the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, i.e. the Emmy People.

Despite the gentrification, it still has some of the cheaper apartments and housing available in the Valley, all conveniently within walking distance of those theaters and performance spaces and the subway. And while it was long known as North Hollywood, sometime during this whole process it was rebranded as NoHo. To be honest, that’s an expression I first used in an unproduced play of mine years before anyone else said it, and in my take it was a put down — emphasis on “No,” but I’m not bitter, and that’s not the point here.

But that’s just background to this piece, and the TL;DR is that at one point in time, up to about twenty years ago, NoHo was a shithole of a place. Once the arts started to flourish here, so did the neighborhood itself, and it’s still great. But it is starting to show some cracks. For one thing, there has been a sudden, recent influx of homeless people in the area. Here’s a paradox, though. Winding up with a lot of homeless people is actually a sign of success of an area, not failure. That’s because people without the security of a place to live are not going to risk trying to survive on the streets in a place in which it is not even safe to live inside. Homeless people don’t flock to Detroit, or the South Side of Chicago, or South Central L.A.

Fortunately, voters in the city of Los Angeles passed things like Proposition HHH and Measure H, designed to help the homeless, and we’re starting to see the benefits. (Ironically, the big hold up to making this happen isn’t government red tape. It’s the inevitable NIMBYs who want to help… unless they think it will affect them directly.)

So, back to the original point and reason for this article. One of the projects that popped up after NoHo started to recover was a place called NoHo Commons, a mixed-use development that combines living and commercial space, as in apartments and condos on top of commercial businesses and next to office space, all of it on top of or adjacent to public transportation hubs, like the Metro Red Line NoHo Station which connects to a ton of bus lines, as well as the Orange Line that crosses the Valley from east to west.

And, oddly enough, it’s been a big success. Or maybe not oddly at all. Hey — connect a transportation hub to housing, arts, places with jobs, several schools, thriving nightlife, and places with some sort of tourist interest, and you are going to have to make a concerted effort to fail. (Update: As I was working on this article, I found out that the Art Institute of California-Hollywood, across the street from the theater I work at, was abruptly shut down due to alleged fraud on the part of administrators. So I guess that some people did make a concerted effort to fail, which kind of proves my point.)

So the easy success in a community like this is what makes me so curious about the phenomenon documented in the photo up above. That LED sign is officially called “Drive By.” It’s 240 feet (73.2 meters) long and six feet (1.83 meters) tall, and at one point was activated by passing traffic. Apparently, it used to alternate between displaying famous movie quotes and showing abstract patterns based on cars driving below, replacing approaching yellow blocks with red splats when one lane passed another in the opposite direction. It was created by the City of L.A.’s public arts program in 2007. Ironically, it was shut down not long after by an ordinance from the city’s own Department of Building & Safety because it was (wait for it) classified as advertising. To be fair, though, it may have been more the result of ambiguous wording in that law rather than malice, and the sign was brought back in 2011.

But I’ve been hanging out in NoHo for a while now, and the one thing that has struck me all during that time is how obviously “Drive By” is in bad repair. A lot of the quotes are not readable because of missing or burnt-out LEDS, and there are times when the display itself stutters into jiggly blocks of nothing before tossing up another quote with many missing letters or words. And I have to wonder, what’s going on?

I contacted the city’s public arts program to ask who is responsible for the sign’s upkeep now — is it still the city, or is it now a private entity? And is its current state of repair due to a lack of funding? If so, is there any way that concerned citizens can help. Unfortunately, I haven’t received a reply yet but I’d like to get this story up, so I will update that part if I do get some answers.

I suspect that it’s most likely that the public arts program is spread thin at the moment, because there’s just so much public art in Los Angeles, so maybe they just haven’t noticed yet. It may not be a funding issue, because the programs derive their money in two ways: a one percent levy on the cost of construction, improvement, or renovation jobs done by the city, and an assessment on owners of private development with projected values over half a million dollars, based on either a per-square foot fee or one percent of the project’s Building and Safety valuation, whichever is less. Given all the development and construction going on in the city right now, these are probably not trivial amounts.

And it’s not like NoHo Commons is hurting. Their ground floor storefronts along Weddington, Lankershim, and Chandler are full of thriving businesses, most of them some sort of fast casual restaurant, and they have Wells Fargo Bank as a corner anchor, plus 24 Hour Fitness as the upper floor tenant. The two apartment buildings attached, The Gallery and The Lofts, seem to be well-occupied as well. There’s never been a time that I’ve been in the area that it hasn’t been crowded with people.

So the sad state of repair of “Drive By” is still somewhat of a mystery to me, but probably emblematic of the natural dichotomy that is a part of every major urban area: The good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the pristine and the decayed, all jam together in the same public space in an endless waltz between two partners who, while mismatched, brought each other to the dance, and so are destined to keep on spinning around together forever, neither one of them sure who’s leading.

Photo credit: Jon Bastian

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