Looking at it just a few years ago, you might have had a hard time believing that the Boyle Hotel in Boyle Heights, a community located just east of downtown Los Angeles, was once the grandest structure in the neighborhood.
When it was built in 1889, the four-story, Italianate-style hotel signaled the city’s growth. The farmland once surrounding the city center was being transformed into new suburban neighborhoods, like Boyle Heights, and the red brick and elegant turret made the new building a popular gathering place for the community.
Over time, it became home to mariachis, who congregated across the street at Mariachi Plaza, playing music and waiting for work.
But by the time the nonprofit East Los Angeles Community Corporation (ELACC) purchased the building in 2006, much of the building’s original splendor had been lost. It had been turned into an apartment complex, and its tenants were living in deplorable conditions, sharing communal kitchens and bathrooms in a building cited for numerous health and safety violations: rodent and pest infestations; missing or broken doors and windows; illegal kitchens, bathrooms, and other conversions; and out-dated or inoperative fire and other safety systems.
A mariachi band practices in one of the storefronts.
“It’s one of the worst buildings I’ve ever been in,” says Jenna Snow, a principal associate at Chattel, Inc., a historic preservation consulting firm.
But not saving the building wasn’t an option.
“Honestly, we fell in love with the building before we had any idea what we were going to do with it,” says Ernesto Espinoza, director of real estate development at ELACC, whose offices are located just three blocks away from the former hotel. “And if we didn’t buy it, we were afraid that it was going to continue deteriorating, or some big developer would come in and tear it down and put up condos.”
Working with Chattel, Inc., and architect Richard Barron, ELACC began the more-than-$20 million restoration in 2010, with plans to turn the building into low-income housing. Funding came from a number of local, state, and federal sources.
The team returned the exterior back to its 1889 appearance, repairing the brick façade and restoring the corner cupola and cap.
Inside, many original features were restored, like the grand staircase and foyer. Other historic elements, such as original wood trim and molding, were uncovered during construction and restored, as well. The entire building was outfitted with new safety systems and seismic retrofits.
The renovated Boyle Hotel.
Work was completed in August, and today, the intersection of First Street and Boyle Avenue is home to the Boyle Hotel -- Cummings Block Apartments, a 51-unit affordable housing project with three commercial spaces on the ground floor. One of those spaces houses the Mariachi Cultural Center, a space for the local mariachis to gather and practice.
Espinoza says feedback from the community has been positive, with many residents grateful to have the local landmark back to its original grandeur.
“It was such a longstanding eyesore,” says Espinoza, a Boyle Heights native. “It’s weird to call it that, because it was so beautiful, but that’s what it was: an eyesore. Something needed to happen to it. [...] It’s like the gateway into the neighborhood.”