Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - office buildings

Designers: Haley, Arthur L., Architect (firm); Martin, Albert C., Sr., Architect (firm); Arthur L. Haley (architect); Albert Carey Martin Sr. (architect)

Dates: constructed 1908-1910

10 stories

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108 West 2nd Street
Downtown, Los Angeles, CA 90014

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The Higgins Building stood on the southwest corner of West 2nd and South Main Streets.

Overview

The Higgins Block was originally designed to stand eight stories tall, but two were added to make it the tallest concrete building in Downtown Los Angeles when it was completed in 1910.

Building History

Erected by the copper magnate, Thomas Patrick Higgins (1844-1920), the Higgins Building has housed a number of high-profile tenants, including the lawyer Clarence Darrow (1857-1938) and local architect/engineer, A.C. Martin, Sr. (1876-1960) Martin, along with architect Arthur L. Haley (b. 1865), were responsible for the building's design. Haley had worked with Higgins on an earlier building project, the Bisbee Hotel (1905), and collaborated with the rising local star Martin on this design. Higgins made his fortune digging a 650-foot-deep copper mine near Bisbee, AZ, during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. (See Cecilia Rasmussen, Los Angeles Times.com, "Higgins Building was a shining showpiece," published 11/19/2006.) The Los Angeles Times reported in 06/1909: "The block was designed and planned by A.L. Haley, architect, incorporated. A.C. Martin is the consulting engineer. The style of the architecture is after the French Renaissance." (See "Half Million Dollar Block at Second and Main," Los Angeles Times, 06/27/1909, pt. V, p. 24.)

Willing to spend $500,000 on the erection new office tower, Higgins had ambitions to make it one of the most modern in the city. The huge basement and sub-basement of the building accommodated a cafe in the former, and, in the latter, Higgins's own private, electric-power generator, the first in the city. It was originally set to be eight stories or 120 feet tall, the Los Angeles limit for concrete buildings in 1908. As the project proceeded, Haley and Martin succeeded in lobbying the city to increase its height limit to 133 feet, enabling them to add two extra stories. The Los Angeles Times reported in late 1909: "That the Thomas Higgins building now under way at the southwest [sic] corner of Second and Main streets will be constructed to a height of ten stories rather than eight, as originally planned, was made probable last week by the determination of Mr. Higgins to stiffen the wall of the structure from the fourth story upward to accommodate two additional stories. The proposed modification in walls will cost about $10,000. A.L. Haley, the architect, is drawing plans for both the alteration and additions." (Higgins would add two floors to his previous Bisbee Hotel during the design process in 1904. See "Among Owners and Dealers: Fair Share of Sales Noted During Week, Los Angeles Times, 12/18/1904, p. D1.)

This 1909 Los Angeles Times article on the Higgins Block continued: "A contract for $70,000 to cover the interior trim of the building has been awarded to the San Francisco Cornice Company. The specifications call for kalamine metal window frames and interior work to be grained mahogany throughout. The contract is said to be the largest of the kind ever awarded on the coast." (See "May Reach Ten Stories," Los Angeles Times, 12/26/1909, pt. V, p. 1.)

Construction began during the spring of 1909, with retaining walls and foundations being fashioned by 06/1909. The process of building it would take about 10 months. At eight stories it would contain approximately 150,096 square feet and at ten, 187,620. Members of the design and construction team included Haley and Martin, as well as M.A. Rowland and Kenneth Pruess (concrete contractors), A. Barmann (steel contractor), the San Francisco Cornice Company (installer of doors and windows), B.V. Collins (installer of tile and marble) and H.J. McGuire (excavation contractor).

Developers Andrew Meieran and Marc Smith bought the building in 1998 after it had remained vacant since 1977. Squatters had used the building and water filled its two-floor basement. The early highrise became updated to become the Higgins Building Lofts in 2003, with 135 units.

Building Notes

The Higgins Block stood just to the south of the Wilcox Building (1896) standing on the southeast corner of South Spring Street and West 2nd Street. As orginally planned, the Higgins Building had 14 storefronts. The building was served by three passenger elevators and a service elevator capable of lifting 9,000 pounds. As conceived originally, "One of the these lifts [elevators] will be extended to the roof, and it is intended that later a roof garden will be made a feature of the building." (See "Half Million Dollar Block at Second and Main, Los Angeles Times, 06/27/1909, pt. V, p. 24.)

In 1917, the architect A.C. Martin occupied Office #430 in the Higgins Building. He located his very successful architecture and engineering firm in it for 35 years.

The General Petroleum Company maintained its Los Angeles headquarters in the Higgins Building between 1911 and 1949. In 1913, General Petroleum maintained its West Coast headquarters at 310 Sansome Street in San Francisco, CA. Other West Coast operations were located in the Higgins Building, and in Seattle, WA, (1710 16th Avenue, SW), and San Pedro, CA, (22nd and Front Streets). (See Auke Visser's Other Esso Related Tankers Site.nl, "General Petroleum Co. of California--History in Short," accessed 01/10/2019.)

Following the departure of General Petroleum, the Los Angeles County Engineering Department occupied space in the Higgins Block from 1952 until 1977. Writing for the City of Los Angeles, historian Taylor Lowe said of the Engineering Department's stay: "Although the building managed to regain its high level of occupancy once the Los Angeles County Bureau of Engineers assumed General Petroleum’s space, the success of a single building could not brook the neighborhood’s deteriorating trend. A condemning seismic survey following the 1971 earthquake, enjoining prospective companies to avoid structures built prior to 1934, was perhaps a motivating factor in the Engineering Bureau’s decision to vacate the property in 1977." (See Taylor Lowe, City of Los Angeles, Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, in cooperation with the Los Angeles Conservancy, "Higgins Building Historical Information," published in 2004, accessed 01/04/2019.)

In 2019, the Higgins Building occupied a 19,153-square-foot (0.44-acre) site.

Los Angeles Times writer Cecilia Rasmussen wrote of the building: "The elegant Higgins Building towered over surrounding structures and was said to be 'absolutely fire- and earthquake-proof.' Embracing modern technology, Higgins installed one of the city's first electrical generating stations in the basement -- six years before L.A.'s first power pole was erected in Highland Park." (See Cecilia Rasmussen, Los Angeles Times.com, "Higgins Building was a shining showpiece," published 11/19/2006.)

Alterations

Los Angeles entrpreneurs Jeremy Davey of Albion Pacific Property Resources, LLC, renovated the upper floor offices into rental lofts, opening them in 07/2003. (See Roger Vincent and Marla Dickerson, Los Angeles Times.com, "Rebirth of Core Values," published 07/12/2003, accessed 01/04/2019.) The building became a condominium in 2005. Some sources credited the developer Barry Shy with renovating the upper floors into condos.

Meiran and Smith renovated the basement into a "steampunk" nightclub, The Edison, that opened in 12/2007.

Los Angeles Historical-Cultural Monument (Listed 2007): 873

Los Angeles County Assessor Number: 5149006131

PCAD id: 11790