Iconic LA Tours: The Dunbar Hotel
February 21, 11:00AM
The Dunbar Hotel - 4225 S. Central Ave.
Iconic LA Tours: The Dunbar Hotel

Sunday, February 21st, 2016. 11AM. 
The Dunbar Hotel - 4225 S. Central Ave.
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Whether you're interested in learning more about the rich cultural contributions African Americans have made to LA, or solutions to complex challenges during the adaptive reuse process, this special AIA|LA tour scheduled during Black History Month is for you. 

During the heyday of Los Angeles' jazz scene, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Bessie Smith played at or stayed at the Dunbar Hotel. Built in 1928, when LA was officially segregated, the hotel provided first class amenities to African-Americans denied similar accommodations elsewhere. Its guest list included such luminaries as Thurgood Marshall. 

Today, the storied spot offers 83-units of affordable housing, forty-one of it for seniors, modern mechanicals, and a sensitively restored lobby in a building on the National Register that has been brought into compliance with today's code.

Project Overview
Located in an historic but economically challenged neighborhood in South Los Angeles, the recently renovated Dunbar Hotel is a cornerstone in the revitalization of the area. Significantly funded by federal stimulus dollars as part of the neighborhood’s stabilization project, the storied Dunbar Hotel and two housing complexes, Somerville South and Somerville North provide a combined total of 83 affordable apartments with first-rate amenities and vital community services for seniors and low-income families. The meticulous renovation of the Dunbar Hotel for seniors 55 and older includes 41 tax-credit apartments, including 7 studio, 30 one-bedroom, and 4 two-bedroom units. 

The multigenerational community, the successful result of a partnership between the developer, the Los Angeles City Councilwoman representing the district, the Los Angeles Housing Department, the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, and the Coalition for Responsible Community Development, provides exceptional, affordable housing.  By combining and rehabilitating the historic and cultural landmark Dunbar Hotel and surrounding buildings, the project catalyzes and supports stabilization and economic revitalization in its South Los Angeles neighborhood, and serves as a model housing development for the country.

Design Challenges and Solutions
Over the years the Dunbar had suffered serious neglect following several ill-conceived renovations. The original art deco design featured a central open-air courtyard that had been covered. The new design reopens the atrium and introduces a glass roof, creating an inviting gathering place for residents and space for a public restaurant. The restored open atrium allows borrowed daylight into the lobby, which presents fresh opportunities for developing commercial space.  

The approach to the atrium was the beginning of a design strategy to bring in more natural light. The architects took the dark and narrow interior corridor and flipped it to the inside of the atrium. By using transom glass above the doors all units were able to borrow light from the newly opened atrium.

Because of its designation as an historical resource, changes were not allowed on the façade therefore window openings could not be relocated. Further complicating the renovation instead of stacking, each floor was built with columns and beams in different locations.  By redesigning and enlarging the units, the architects were able to negotiate the challenges of these seemingly ad hoc structural arrangements. Once the structural anomalies were uncovered the architects also worked with engineers to do a complete structural retrofit. 

The unused basement was converted into a large gym, laundry room and now houses the maintenance facilities. Former commercial spaces were converted into community spaces.  A large patio was incorporated adjacent to the main community room by repurposing the existing alley.  As the Dunbar had no on-site parking, the developer purchased two homes behind the project and created secure resident parking linked to the building by the repurposed alley and patio space. 

Interior finishes were selected to recall the Dunbar’s heyday and to maintain the grandeur of key spaces like the lobby. It was here that three murals were discovered, which had been painted over and are now restored. The design also anticipated the possible inclusion of a signature restaurant at street level— space that opens directly to the newly sky lit atrium area.  There is also room for potential retail to reactivate this stretch along the 4200 block of South Central Avenue that was once one of the most vibrant parts of the city.

The project is beautifully landscaped, elegantly appointed, and includes amenities and community services tailored to meet the needs of today’s seniors. Each beautiful, non-smoking unit features new wall-to-wall carpeting, vinyl flooring and a modern kitchen, complete with appliances, and a bathroom with a bathtub/shower combination. In the Dunbar Hotel, the units have been carefully designed to extend the independence of the senior residents, with some units equipped with special accessibility features. Outside, the landscaped grounds feature barbeques and lush gardens.

Community Impact
The transformation of Dunbar Village serves as a model housing development, accomplished through a partnership of private, government and community entities all dedicated to reviving the immediate neighborhood and important cultural legacy of the Dunbar Hotel, which had been the only first-class hotel in Los Angeles for African Americans in the 1930s and 1940s and was especially known for being frequented by the leading jazz musicians and performers of the era. 

With the opening of Dunbar Village, and the recent addition of two new, full-service grocery stores and a neighborhood city hall, the Central Avenue community is enjoying a renaissance, complete with increased safety measures, enhanced community engagement and restored civic pride. The Dunbar Hotel now provides a secure, comfortable home for seniors where they can be part of meaningful, multigenerational change