On Wednesday, jewelry designer Tarina Tarantino and her business partner and husband, Alfonso Campos, unveiled ambitious plans for a historic seven-story building in downtown Los Angeles.
If and when fully realized, the building at 908 S. Broadway that housed L.L. Burns’ Western Costume Co. nearly a century ago will be reborn as Tarantino’s “Sparkle Factory,” a mixed-use space that will be home base for the jewelry and accessory brand, including its design and production facilities, a 3,000 square-foot boutique, an art gallery/photo studio, and three floors of office space the pair hopes can be filled with like-minded fashion art and media tenants.
It will be the third home for a label that launched out of the couple’s apartment in 1995 and moved to a West Hollywood studio in 1997 before relocating to a downtown loft space in 2003, the same year they opened a showroom at the New Mart building in the downtown Los Angeles Fashion District.
“We love downtown – and the Fashion District -- and it’s important for us to be down here,” Tarantino said, “because it’s convenient for our buyers and our vendors and we see so much potential for this area.”
Once they moved downtown, the couple noticed the vacant 23,800-square-foot building. “We’ve parked in the parking lot next to that building for many, many years," Tarantino said. “We would always pull into the parking lot and say: ‘What a neat little building that is -- look how cute it is.’ Also it has this Gothic Revival façade, and right at the very top there’s a part that makes it look like it’s wearing a crown, and I remember thinking: ‘How appropriate is that?’
"I’d always had this fantasy of having our own factory where we could do whatever we wanted –- where we could make all of our creative dreams come true – and one day we’re pulling into the parking lot and they’re literally putting the For Sale sign on the building and we just jumped at it.”
That was in 2007. Now, four years later, Tarantino and Campos are ready to sketch out their vision. “We went into it kind of naively,” Tarantino said. “There was a lot of red tape because this is a historical building and we discovered all the things we needed to upgrade, all the codes. There were a lot of road blocks and a lot of hurdles, but now we’re finally at the point where all of that is ironed out and we’re ready to start.”
"But we both love history and living in a city that under-appreciates history, it's a real treasure. That's why I think [the city's] Bringing Back Broadway initiative is fantastic --they’re been supportive of what we’re doing once they found out what we intended to do with the building, they sat down with us and asked how they could help."
(Other projects under the aegis of the Bringing Back Broadway initiative include the recently announced plans to put an Ace Hotel in the United Artists Theatre building across the street from the future Sparkle Factory.)
Tarantino said the company plans to move its headquarters, design and light production facilities into the building’s top two floors in July, with the ground-floor boutique bowing sometime in the fall. “We’ve been talking to different art galleries about doing something on the second floor,” she said. “Because we’re both lovers of art and the second floor is a perfect gallery space with two long windowless walls and a higher ceiling than on the rest of the floors. And since there’s a Banksy on the side of the building that makes it all the more appropriate.”
Finding out that the spray-painted image of a girl on a swing was the work of the underground street artist (Tarantino said there’s a picture of it posted on Banksy’s website) is but one of the myriad surprises the building has served up so far. Built in 1914, it was designed by Meyer and Holler, Architects (the same firm responsible for Grauman’s Chinese and Egyptian theaters) and was best known as an early home of the Western Costume Co. (faded evidence can still be seen on the back of the building in the form of a ghostly logo.
“One of the cool things we found out is that scenes from the silent film “Safety Last” with Harold Lloyd were filmed on our building –- including that famous scene where he’s hanging from the clock -- and we were just blown away,” Tarantino said.
“This building keeps on giving and giving.”
-- Adam Tschorn
Photos: At top left, jewelry and accessories designer Tarina Tarantino, right, with husband and business partner Alfonso Campos. (Credit: Tarina Tarantino). At top right, the seven-story building at 908 S. Broadway where Tarantino plans to move her business by July. Credit: Adam Tschorn / Los Angeles Times. Middle, an artist's rendering of the completed Sparkle Factory on dispaly at the Feb. 1 press conference.(courtesy of Tarina Tarantino)