At least one Lee is talkative.
Brian Lee, one of four children of press-shy landlord Dr. David Lee, will gladly articulate how art frees people to take needed risks and live successful professional lives. His mission of art for the masses is taking shape in the form of a school-themed art gallery/bar — essentially a grown-up playspace with libations — on the Mariposa Avenue side of Jamison’s Equitable Life Building at 3435 Wilshire Boulevard in Koreatown. He has signed a 10-year lease for the 1,400-square-foot space.
The venue is called Art Major, and Lee will operate it with longtime friend Jessica Pak. He thinks the fusty offices upstairs will clamor for workday breaks there. The tower is 96 percent occupied by tenants that include several government agencies, including Fair Employment & Housing, according to CoStar. Lee believes the employees that fill its 34 floors all want a little throwback.
“A lot of it really stems from this notion of nostalgia,” Lee told The Real Deal. “What were the snacks that you ate after school? Remembering how fool-hearted you were. You didn’t care about failing.”
In their school days redux, patrons will be able to grab a snack from vending machines and play with nano puzzles, giant scrabble, and oversized coloring books. They can also get a beer from special beer fridges.
The youngest Lee’s role as Arts Consultant for Jamison, a post he’s held since 2009, involves augmenting lobbies in commercial properties and offering design ideas. He is also charged with curating art for Jamison’s coming residential properties — including hanging some of his own work.
“You’re actually dealing with the tenant and their homes,” he said, making a contrast between Jamison’s office portfolio. “Part of that requires us to be a little bit more on the edge of culture, and what people are looking for.”
Art Major is the second of Lee’s gallery ventures. He and Pak operated Hold Up Art at another Jamison Property, Brunswig Square on Second Street in Little Tokyo, from 2009 to 2014.
The liquor license for Art Major, which will be open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., was recently approved. Despite its kid-like elements, it will be restricted to ages 21 and over during all operating hours.
Plans for the experiential workday hang changed over time. It hit a few snags in the permitting process due to Koreatown’s alcohol density restrictions. Alcohol will only be served until midnight, a forced compromise after the Los Angeles Police Department initially recommended the city deny the conditional use application, based on the local concentration of bars and liquor stores.
Lee also agreed to develop a designated driver program and to provide food, showing food vendor contracts to the city in order to secure the five-year liquor license.
Elizabeth Peterson of the Downtown lobbying firm Peterson Group worked to secure the license. In the alcohol permit application, she described Art Major as beneficial to the community, “a spot where friends can share a drink, enjoy interactive art, attend shows, and engage in a rich cultural setting.”
Peterson is a specialist in clearing alcohol permits for bars and restaurants, having applied to the city on behalf of hotspots Library Bar, the Association, and Bar Covell. Her push was assisted by local city councilman Herb Wesson.
Also called Equitable Plaza and Equitable Tower, the Equitable Life Building was once the site of the original Brown Derby and the Chapman Hotel.
Jamison Services, once known for letting its office properties fall to disrepair, has made some strides to change that image in recent years. In The Real Deal’s August print issue, industry insiders spoke of a shift as Jaime Lee, Brian’s sister, steps into a larger role.
“Before, they had institutional or government tenants. Now they are courting tech and media tenants,” Mark Fluent of Deutsche Bank told The Real Deal. “They are well- positioned to take advantage of the changes in Koreatown and Downtown Los Angeles.”
Brian Lee said the company is indeed shifting along with the gentrifying area.
“Koreatown is really becoming an important center in Los Angeles, no longer the place to go to find cheap rent,” Lee told TRD. “That, I think, requires, a different [iteration] of Jamison as a company to recognize those things.”