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This Empty, Historic DTLA Building Will Soon Get New Life As Retail And Office Space (Plus A Rooftop Bar)

The former Desmond's department store during construction in Downtown Los Angeles. (Audrey Ngo/LAist)
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Downtown on Broadway stands the former home of one of Los Angeles' most notable high-end department stores.

Built in 1925, Desmond's was one of eight started by Daniel Desmond, a hat manufacturer whose company set roots in L.A. in the mid-19th century. Desmond eventually expanded to men's clothing and opened high-end department stores on Wilshire Boulevard, Broadway and in Westwood.

A 1939 exterior photo of Desmond's at 616 Broadway. (Los Angeles Herald Examiner Photo Collection via LAPL)

Even with its original terracotta storefront, crown-like parapet and art deco awning providing shade to its entrance, the structure hardly stands out now, sitting empty and dilapidated between 6th and 7th streets. But that won't be the case for long.

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The historic building is being revamped as retail and office space by Omgivning, an L.A.-based architecture and design firm. Plus there'll be a restaurant and rooftop bar, which will expand the former Desmond's six stories to eight.

Sarah Cahill, managing director of Omgivning, said careful consideration is being taken to preserve and even bring back portions of Desmond's original splendor, including the bygone thrill of department store window shopping.

"There were these beautiful, curved glass storefronts with these mannequins. It was just high-end fashion," she said. "You didn't even have to walk into the store. You felt like you were a part of the shopping experience just being on the street. That's something we're excited to bring back."

A "D" emblem from the former Desmond's department store will remain as part of the building's revamp. (Audrey Ngo/LAist)

Another detail being preserved are the columns with a capital "D" carved in stone, a feature that wasn't uncommon on structures built in the 1920s. The "D" emblem will remain on the second floor, which will be transformed into office space.

Cahill said it's tough to decide what stays and goes, and that largely depends on the needs of the client. But as she looked at Desmond's archival photos, it's clear that the building's original story can't be erased, no matter how many remodels happen.

"When [the revamping process] starts to come to life for me, is when you see what [the space] was," Cahill said. "And that spirit is still in these buildings."

Editor's note: Listen to the radio version of this story here on KPCC's Take Two.

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