Mention the “Coca-Cola building” in Los Angeles, and the Streamline Moderne building resembling an ocean liner often comes to mind.
But another landmark Coca-Cola facility, a preserved brick structure that served as the company's West Coast headquarters in the early 20th century, also sits nearby, at the center of a dynamic and fast-growing neighborhood known as the Los Angeles Arts District.
Once an industrial and transportation hub that grew around citrus groves and vineyards, the Arts District has evolved over the past decade into a vibrant enclave for artists, entrepreneurs and anyone looking for a unique space to work and live. Loft apartments, trendy boutiques, cafes and art galleries have taken over many of the warehouses and factories that dominated the area a century ago.
As post-World War II industrial needs shifted, many of these companies closed or moved to larger facilities outside of Los Angeles. In the 1970s, artists began moving in, attracted to the inexpensive rents and potential of the unique buildings. In the mid-1990s, a local business owner petitioned the city to designate the area the “Arts District."
Coke eventually closed its Arts District syrup plant and moved all production to the newer, ocean-liner facility on Central Avenue. A toy company known as T.T. Toys took over the property in the 1990s, but left the signature Coca-Cola lettering etched above its entrance. The insignia remains there today, and the structure is still widely known as the Coca-Cola building.
One of the building's most distinguishing characteristics is the nameplate above the door, notes Adrian Scott Fine, director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy, a nonprofit historic preservation group.
"The font is instantly recognizable," he points out. “It tells a story, and it's the touchstone for the history of Coca-Cola in Los Angeles."
Now the building is poised to take on a new persona conservationists hope will embrace the neighborhood's creative vibe without forgetting the building's iconic history and architecture. It was bought earlier this year by Hudson Pacific Properties, a real estate development trust specializing in high-end office, media and entertainment properties in Southern California. The firm has not yet revealed its plans for the building.
One thing is clear, however: the Coca-Cola building, and many other vintage Arts Districts properties, have unique architectural touches that can't be found in most modern office buildings.
"That's the appeal of these buildings – many of their qualities are part of the reason they’re so desirable now," Fine says. "All the things that were drawing factors for a factory — high ceilings, minimal use of columns, natural lighting, and big windows — are also advantageous to today's creative office workers."
In 1915, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Coca-Cola Co. was constructing a "commodious" new home for its operations, replacing an older facility on San Pedro Street. Syrup was produced at the plant and shipped out to Coke bottling plants or soda fountains. "This is to be the headquarters for the company's Pacific Coast business and for its export trade in the Hawaiian Islands and Old Mexico," the paper reported.
In 1900, 14 years after its humble beginnings in Atlanta, Candler proudly claimed that Coca-Cola was sold in every U.S. state, said Coca-Cola Archivist Ted Ryan.
"To keep up with the increasing demand, syrup plants were built across the United States," he said.
Black-and-white photos of the Los Angeles plant from the Coca-Cola Co. archives reveal large, high-ceilinged rooms anchored by 400-gallon turbo-powered mixing tanks and large assembly lines of one-gallon syrup bottles labeled Coca-Cola on one side and "Chill before using" on the other.
Even after the vintage building takes on a new purpose in the revitalized neighborhood, its role in the early history of the Coca-Cola Co. and Los Angeles manufacturing remains significant.
"Sitting on the far coast from Atlanta," Ryan said, "the L.A. plant signified that Coca-Cola was truly a national drink."
Even after the vintage building takes on new tenants, observers say, it will still have a place in the early history of Los Angeles manufacturing and the vibrant, revitalized neighborhood it has called home for a century.
Coca-Cola manufacturing is a part of its history, says the Los Angeles Conservancy's Fine. "That's what it was built for,” he said, “and it tells a story."
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