DTLA revitalization through lens of the Los Angeles Athletic Club

Los Angeles /
Apr.April 12, 2016 04:30 PM

The narrative of Downtown Los Angeles has survived many twists and turns, and the Los Angeles Athletic Club (LAAC), a twelve-story Beaux-Arts style members-only clubhouse, has witnessed it all.

The club, which was founded in 1880 and has been located at 431 West Seventh Street since 1912, is in the second phase of a three-part, multi-million-dollar renovation slated for completion in November. It will soon compete with rising stars like Soho House, which is opening an Arts District location this year, and a new planned club by Est4te Four.

The LACC has certainly survived many cycles of change Downtown. It was around when DTLA, circa 1920, was a booming hub for retail and theatre, when Seventh Street and Broadway was one of the busiest intersections in the entire country. It was around when suburban sprawl hit and the artsy vibe shifted to something of a more corporate choke, with Bunker Hill’s branded towers quieting the once-regal entertainment energy.

It’s still around as the area rises again to embrace the creative class. Theatres, art galleries, restaurants, bars, boutique hotels, retail spaces —  hello, Whole Foods — are revitalizing a pocket of Los Angeles that was once discarded. While it may not yet be #Brooklyn, #DTLA is developing an identity that extends beyond the confines of its geographic borders.

The Real Deal sat down with LAAC’s assistant general manager Cory Hathaway, the great-great-grandson of one of the clubhouse’s founding members — and the first groom to marry his bride in the renovated historic space — to chat about the changes in DTLA and what they mean for the club.

The LAAC has seen many cycles of change Downtown. What is different this time around?

The cycles typically last for 25 to 40 years, and in this one we’re really feeling the boom. We’ve always adjusted to the interests and needs of the community here more so than a hotel or restaurant ever could.

How has the club adjusted recently?

On the simplest level, we’ve got rooms dedicated right now to pilates. That room was a billiard room 30 years ago, and a barbershop 50 years ago. Our rooms change with the times, a reflection of what is happening right outside of our doors and what our members are into and find convenient in this moment in time.

How is the area’s economic growth reflected in the club?

Well, we’re not a discount membership and we don’t aspire to be. But if you compare our membership dues to the dues of an unlimited Crossfit membership, we are less expensive. Fifty years ago, no one would believe they would pay more than our rates for such an experience, a bare warehouse with tires. We can accommodate that style of workout plus a whole lot more. It doesn’t seem like the fitness industry is super in tune with hipsters, millennials, or creatives like we are. Equinox doesn’t strike me as the place that is perfectly set up for them. It doesn’t have the vibe for those who want to drink cocktails and coffee, socialize, workout, conduct business and more.

How does a club like Soho House expanding to a Downtown location affect LAAC?

Their presence actually helps us. There aren’t a lot of clubs in DTLA that are social-focused for this new downtown creative class. You have the Jonathan Club and the California Club, which are both amazing clubs, but aren’t [appealing] to creative people, like say, a graphic designer. Soho House gets the idea out there that maybe you should join a social club.  People then say, “Let me look at Soho House, and then why not look at other clubs?” Soho starts that thinking process. It’s not competition. It’s about where you feel most comfortable.

How is the vibe different here?

Our vibe is really relaxed. There won’t be a party going on at the pool here, it’s for exercise.

What’s different in terms of facilities?

They don’t have our three biggest sports — swimming, basketball and squash — which is a big part of our membership. They don’t have a true exercise pool. I don’t think they will ever have basketball and they definitely won’t ever have squash. We also have niche sports like racquetball and handball and dedicated studios for yoga, cycling, aerobics and pilates, where Soho has more multi-use spaces.

How many of your members are DTLA residents?

Most of our new members are Downtown residents. Eighth and Grand just opened above Whole Foods and a lot of people have joined the clubhouse from that building. When the whole redevelopment started we began tracking which buildings our members were coming from and how much to justify our future renovations.

When did you see that proof?

The Staples Center was the beginning of the renaissance for DTLA and the community, but we started to take things seriously with the opening of the Standard Downtown. That showcased a boutique hotel working down here as well as proof that a cool bar and restaurant could work. We started renovating about six years ago. When the critical mass of residents reached 30,000 people living in downtown, that was when we were able to say, we can support bigger investment based on a population of people being down here 24/7 vs. the previous 9 to 5. Meanwhile, (we saw developers) take advantage of the adaptive reuse ordinance.

So you saw the development as proof you’d have new members?

It enabled us to justify this three-phase, three-year big renovation. We were at first fully able to justify the start of smaller renovations, first to our guest rooms. That renovation supported the case to then renovate the third floor, but it wasn’t until two years ago that we decided to renovate the fourth and fifth floors and a big chunk of the sixth floors to put in the spa, a barbershop, new locker-rooms, treatment rooms. Our business has doubled since we began renovating.

How does the development in the Arts District affect you?

We have a lot of members who live over there. It will be interesting to see how many new ones we get as they expand because downtown is so big and at a certain point it will be… more like a sister city. But hopefully they will bridge the two areas so it will be more walkable. That would help us.

Any chance you will open another location over there?

Not Downtown. We’re in talks about opening something else. It would be great to create a collection of clubs in L.A., whether it be through partnerships or some other route. Right now we have a sister club that is the California Yacht Club and we work with the La Canada Flintridge Country Club.

What development are you most excited about now?

We think the NoMad Hotel across the street and the Freehand Hotel down the street will be an even bigger deal for us than the giant Wilshire Grand project.  

Where do you live?

I live in Highland Park, which is a cool area. We live in a mid-century modern house. My wife’s family has a loft Downtown. They live in Temecula but the loft is for their business use, which means they rarely use it. I stay Downtown a lot. The loft is near Pershing Square.

What’s that area like?

Downtown is very block-by-block. Living on one block is much different than living on another and the particular block the loft is on is pretty intense!  

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