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Transformed LA Athletic Club epitomizes downtown renaissances Comment on this post ↓
July 18th, 2013 by Warren Swil

Revamped historic building now

trendy locale for urban hipsters

Designer Tracy Beckmann, center, explains her renovations of the Centennial Ballroom at the LACC. Los Angeles Times Desk Editor, my friend Steve Devol, is on the left. Click image to enlarge © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.

LIKE MANY OTHER CITIES around the globe, downtown Los Angeles in experiencing a renaissance.
One of the most historic buildings in the city’s core, the exclusive Los Angeles Athletic Club – hangout for some famous sports figures like former UCLA basketball Coach John Wooden – is a prime example.
Designer Tracy Beckmann, who has been working on revamping the once dowdy interior for eight years, gave a guided tour of the renovations to a small group of about 25 on Tuesday evening. The event was organized by DLAB – Design East of La Brea.
“It is a life project,” said Beckmann, a vivacious, energetic entrepreneur.
“I’ll probably still be working on it when I am 60 years old.”

 

Deisgner Beckmann shows the new chairs and old but renovated island bar in the Invention Bar, her latest project. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

THE 125-YEAR-OLD STRUCTURE had been allowed to decay for decades, and was little used by non-athletes. Now it is a trendy – but still exclusive ­ – social and business oriented destination for the professional and athletic alike, featuring the Inventions Bar, Centennial Ballroom, three floors of hotel rooms and the Famous Players restaurant – plus, of course, a gym, basketball court and swimming pool.
While the club has an intimate atmosphere of exclusivity, it’s membership dues are not prohibitive.
According to Melissa Brady, the initiation fee for full membership is $500; the monthly club fee is $169. The LACC is now offering a “Social membership” with an initiation fee of $250 and monthly dues of $83, comparable to many workout gyms with far less flair and ambiance.
“For over 125 years, the LAAC has remained dedicated to its mission of providing for the body, mind and spirit of its members,” its web site says.
Designer Beckmann, who has a second career as a hotelier in Desert Hot Springs, about 100 miles from Los Angeles, explained to the group of mostly design professionals that she has been a designer of all sorts since she was 14 years old.

The basketball court was Beckmann’s first design project for the LACC. A group plays a picukup game Tuesday evening. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.

Her first project for the LAAC was a barter arrangement: eight years ago, she was given a free membership as “payment” for redesigning its N.R. Wooden Award basketball court.
She has been a devotee of both the club and the redesign project ever since.
“She is sassy, fresh and has a great presence,” said Melissa Mahoney, owner if Indigo Creative Studio in Santa Monica, Calif., after the presentation. “Tracy is great!”

VISITORS ARRIVING at the LAAC at 431 W. Seventh Street cannot help but be awestruck as they walk through the reception area.
On the left is the LAAC Hall of Fame trophy, with many world-renowned names on its plaques.
The walls are lined with memorabilia of well known club members – past and present.
As she led the intimate group into the Centennial Ballroom on the third floor, Beckmann said: “The third floor looked really sad and defeated (before).”
But the club and its members have a strong sense of their history and many wanted to retain much of the original paneling, light fixtures and other elements. “So I hit upon the concept of creating a ‘weird uncle’s house,’ ” Beckmann explained.
The result is eclectic, charming and effective – a combination of traditional, antique, funky and trendy.
“I wasn’t allowed to change the chandeliers,” Beckman explained. So they were polished and restored to their former glory.
The floor-to-ceiling drapes in the Centennial Ballroom are, however, new. The previous ones had been a “donation” from a major film studio that wanted to use the room for a location shoot many years ago.
However, the director knew the camera would capture only the lower portion of the windows (the ceiling is at least 20 feet above the floor) and offered to “donate” new drapes. They rose only half way to the ceiling!
“It’s (now) a great location foe weddings aimed at the hip new-urban residents flocking into downtown,” said Beckmann, enthusiastically. The carpeting is “punk-rock, with traditional feelings about it.”

The Famous Players restaurant is still a redesign “work in progress,” Beckmann explained to the small tour group. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.

THE BALLROOM CEILING had a special problem. The club’s Olympic sized swimming pool is on the floor above, and it is “always leaking,” Beckmann said. So she went to Home Depot for the ceiling tiles and molding; they are cheap because they will have to be replaced frequently.
The ostensible reason for the tour at this time was the unveiling of the Invention Bar, Beckmann’s latest project. This intimate watering hole reeks of exclusivity.
It celebrates the many creative inventions of club members over the years; one wall is adorned with tennis rackets, another basketball hoops.
“We wanted to celebrate the heritage of club members,” Beckman explained. “[The bar] pays tribute to all the cool LAAC members and the things they invented.”
The serving bar, a rectangular dark wooden island, “was the best thing, so we kept it,” Beckmann said. The chairs, however, she custom designed and flew to China to have them inexpensively made. “The effect is like a mini-Soho house,” Beckmann said. “[The bar] is one of the club’s biggest draws.”
Next door is the Famous Players restaurant, now serving breakfast, lunch and dinner for hotel guests and, increasingly, professionals. It retains many of its original features, like face brick walls and terra cotta flooring, but the chairs were reupholstered and Beckmann will be adding bone China plates to cover parts of the brick walls in the future.
The overall effect is an unusual combination of avant garde and traditional. Old and new. Antique and modern.
Just like your “weird uncle’s house.”

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Your raconteur at work, reporting on Tracy Beckmann. Photo by Steve Devol.

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2 Responses  
  • Bjorn Palenius writes:
    July 18th, 2013

    Gorgeous building! It’s so nice to see adaptive reuse of older buildings, rather than having them demolished! This historic building is not 125 years old though,it’s from 1912 so it’s 101 years old. The club is much older, dating back to 1880 when it was founded in LA

  • Warren writes:
    July 18th, 2013

    What an intelligent observation.
    Your clearly appreciate historical preservation.
    It’s so uncommon in Southern California, where so much of historical value has been lost as unscrupulous developers rape the landscape.
    Please forward this to Michael E.


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