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Curiosity for Rent: '80s Pop in Koreatown

December 14, 2011 |  8:14 am

At first glance, the playful apartment building, above, in Los Angeles' Koreatown seems a ripoff of Stephen Kanner’s award-winning 1992 Harvard Apartments, below, about a half-mile southeast. But the 16-unit building above was originally built in 1957, the year the Russians launched Sputnik. How is that possible?

“We basically put a whole new face on the building,” said Stan Davis, owner of the apartments at 686 S. St. Andrews Place. He said it was his idea to remake the building like the Harvard. Davis had commissioned Stephen Kanner to design the Harvard Apartments in 1992, and shortly thereafter Davis hired the architect to redesign what he described as the Dingbat-style "drab '50s building" bought in the mid-1980s.

Steven Kanner apartmentsCompared side by side, the two buildings are similar, punched with circular windows and boxed on both ends with sloped faces. The Harvard, built from the ground up, is a more masterful design. Even Winston Chappell, vice president of Santa Monica-based Kanner Architects, thought the second building seemed a bit “awkward.” But he added that Kanner, who died of cancer in 2010, had been working within the limitations of an existing building, a dour one at that.

“Stephen clearly didn’t want to remove the wall bangers,” Chappell said, referring to the air conditioning units. “At first it looked like someone had done a riff on the Harvard. People do that all the time.”

0-St-Andrews-addressDavis said he keeps his rents reasonable (about $1,025 a month) for the one-bedroom units. A whimsical Pop Art iron gate, designed by Danny’s Ornamental Iron Shop on Venice Boulevard, leads to a narrow courtyard with lush banana trees.

A towering address marker skyrockets above the building. The city initially balked at the sign “because the mailman couldn’t read it,” Davis said. He placed another set of address numbers below. Now Davis is repainting the skewed, diamond-shaped patterns scored on the building’s cinnamon and turquoise facade.

Annie Reyes has lived in the building with husband Eugene and daughter Gianne for two years. “My friends call it the cheese building,” said Gianne, an eighth-grader who attends Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic School nearby.  “I’d rather live here than anywhere else.”

-- R. Daniel Foster

Curiosity for Rent is our series on novel and notorious apartment complexes. Suggestions for future installments welcome: home@latimes.com.


Annie Reyes and her daughter, Gianne.


An interior window: A circle within the square.


Moorish castle in the Hollywood Hills

Snow White cottages in Silver Lake

Hopi-style bungalows in Echo Park

Photos:  R. Daniel Foster