Mother Nature Network

Electric car charging is on the house at L.A. apartment complex

The developers of an office tower-turned-apartment complex near Downtown Los Angeles don’t think you really need to own a car to live there. But if you do, it helps to own an EV.

Thu, Mar 06, 2014 at 7:09 PM

Images: Linear City

After sitting vacant for two decades, a landmark mid-century office tower near Downtown Los Angeles has been reborn as a 96-unit residential complex following an extensive restoration/conversion effort nearly three years in the making.

And while The Elysian is no doubt a remarkable work of adaptive reuse — a work that carefully preserves the handiwork of legendary L.A. architect William Pereira while incorporating a slew of 21st century bells, whistles, and amenities — it’s actually the complex’s car situation that’s garnering a fair amount of buzz.  When it opens later this month, The Elysian will be the first apartment building in the U.S. to include free electric vehicle charging for its tenants. In addition to 20 240-volt charging stations for tenant use, The Elysian will also include an on-site EV car-sharing program.

“The lack of chargers in apartment buildings is one of the biggest obstacles to widespread electric car adoption. If we can prove that our paradigm makes sense in the market place, then we are confident that other developers will follow suit. We want free EV charging for renters to be seen as a standard amenity,” explains Yuval Bar-Zemar, a partner at real estate development firm Linear City. Specializing in the redevelopment of neglected historic buildings and infill projects with an eye toward making EV charging more accessible to urban apartment dwellers, Linear City acquired the down-and-out modernist building in 2011.

Excellent. And there’s an interesting twist.

While complimentary EV charging for tenants is a standard ammenity at The Elysian, parking spaces are, well, not. Linear City is actually discouraging car ownership in a way by tacking on a $100 to $150 monthly charge for parking spots. While many large apartment complexes in L.A. include a tenant parking space with the rent, at The Elysian it’s an optional add-on.

Len Hill, a partner of Bar-Zemar’s at Linear City, elaborates in a press release: “By making parking optional to the lease, we’re broadcasting to residents that it might not make sense to even own a car. By providing easy EV charging and cost efficient ride-share alternatives, we hope to change the way people think about urban living.”

Very interesting — a pro-EV, anti-parking spot kind of joint. I like it.

This all, of course, leads to the question of location.

Completed in 1973, the eight-story glass, steel, and concrete tower that now houses The Elysian served as headquarters for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the largest supplier of treated drinking water in the U.S. before falling into a state of disrepair when the utility left the tower — and an adjacent low-rise building completed in 1963 that’s now a church —for new digs.

Towering above Sunset Blvd. not too far from its southern terminus at Figueroa St., the complex is located in the hilly, peacock-friendly Victor Heights neighborhood — aka “the Forgotten Edge” — east of Echo Park and west Chinatown and adjacent to historic Angelino Heights. If you’re unfamiliar the sprawling geography of L.A., this section of Sunset Blvd. wouldn’t be classified (yet) as mega-trendy. However, for the “mideast” side of L.A., it’s a central spot —”on the confluence” of the aforementioned neighborhoods — with a “very walkable” Walk Score of 88.

So for residents who work — and tend to stay put — in/around Downtown Los Angeles, Echo Park, and Silverlake, Victor Heights is a prime location — and the somewhat lonely stretch of Sunset Blvd. that passes through is evolving. And as the new building’s name would suggest, it’s very close to Elysian Park — the oldest and second largest park in Los Angeles and home to Dodger Stadium.

As for the building itself, it is, as mentioned, the work of William Pereira, the super-prolific, sci-fi-obsessed mid-century powerhouse responsible for the Disneyland Hotel, the Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Los Angeles Zoo, San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid, and countless other buildings in Southern California and beyond. As with many Pereira-designed buildings, the former MWD building boasts exposed pillars (in this case four each on the east and west elevations) that run the entire length of the tower. Other distinguishing features of this futuristic 1960s throwback include wraparound balconies and glass. Lots of glass.

And as The Elysian website points out, the building is a “masterpiece of engineering” designed by Pereira to exceed stringent City Building Code requirements.

The conversion/restoration process was headed by L.A.-based architect David Lawrence Gray. He calls the old MWD building “one of Los Angeles’ most architecturally important buildings from the era and one of Pereira’s few contributions to the downtown L.A.” He adds: “It’s been gratifying to help bring it back to life after such a long, unfortunate dormancy.”

While careful to preserve much of the original building’s original mid-century details (pillars included), Gray brought it up to speed with the addition solar thermal heating, LED lighting throughout, new double-pane windows, and other energy-saving features. He also added 14 bi-level penthouse units with ridiculous panoramic views to the roof, which formerly housed the building’s mechanical systems. The Elysian also now sports a large community garden designed by IIan Dei complete with a yoga deck, fire pit, and BBQ area.

Monthly rents for the luxury live/work units — all equipped with custom Italian cabinetry, motorized shades, high-end appliances, and spacious balconies — will go for between $1,500 and $6,500 (!) for the rooftop penthouses. And, of course, you can throw on a bit more if you opt for a dedicated parking space — but from the sounds of it, sharing an EV with your neighbors or hoofing is the way to go.