What will come of Downtown Los Angeles’s Oceanwide Plaza?

Is Oceanwide Plaza an object lesson? Stalled for more than five years, the project in Downtown Los Angeles stands half-built, filling an entire block across the street from the Crypto.com arena and the L.A. convention center. Tall grasses grow in the gaps between materials and equipment abandoned when it’s bankrupt Beijing-based developer, Oceanwide Holdings, pulled the plug in 2019. This $1.2 billion ruin of global capital sat untended all through the pandemic, quietly emblematic of overreaching speculative development.

Back in 2016, AN reported that the CallisonRTKL-designed complex would include more than 150,000 square feet of commercial space in a multi-level mall wrapped in LED screens. Three towers—two residential and one for a Park Hyatt hotel—rise 40 stories above the podium. CallisonRTKL marketing materials deemed it a showpiece of their Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment District master plan, which includes LA Live!, a giant entertainment complex with more hotel rooms, more shopping, and more dining. From Hudson Yards to West Kowloon, gray, glassy edifices house luxury condos, swank hotels, and acres of airconditioned retail. Oceanwide Plaza was to be no exception. Another entry in the junkspace haze of supermodernism.

Leonid Furmansky Graffitti Towers LA California Web 8
(Leonid Furmansky)

Then came the taggers and base jumpers, who delighted the internet with graffiti-covered towers and daredevil flights. They crept in through holes in the chain-link fence. Floor after floor painted in bright, stylized letters seemed to appear overnight. No balcony facade was spared. The sheer extent of coverage outmatched the legendary 5 Pointz in Long Island City, New York, a group of old factory buildings covered in street art and murals that became a hub for the art community. (It was controversially demolished in 2014 and replaced by a luxury housing development, painfully and ironically named 5 Pointz.)

At Oceanwide Plaza, each mark is expressive of an individual hand, each tag—BOS, TROF, CAZOR, MDR, HUSL—a call sign for a minor rebellion. Taken together, they form a collective resistance to the banal aesthetics of market-rate capitalism and the farce that fancy condominiums in the sky could ever offset the tents lining nearby Skid Row.

As images and drone footage of the colorful towers went viral, an embarrassed city council went to work. Councilman Kevin de León filed a motion to use taxpayer funds to secure the derelict building. $1.1 million for a fence. $2.7 million for security services, fire safety upgrades, and graffiti removal. On a recent drive around the block, perforated steel panels (rusty from all our winter rain) and jersey barriers were layered over the chain link. A few police cars circled the development. The graffiti was wholly intact. Construction netting flapped in the wind, like a cliche from a dystopian video game.

building with graffiti near a train station
(Leonid Furmansky)

Soothsayer Mike Davis warned of a present and future “Fortress L.A.” “Welcome to post-liberal Los Angeles, where the defense of luxury lifestyles is translated into a proliferation of new repressions in space and movement, undergirded by the ubiquitous ‘armed response,’” he wrote in City of Quartz back in 1990. More than three decades later, we know this cruel choreography by heart. Uprisings, marches, encampments, occupations all subject to the policing of bodies in urban space.

And now Oceanwide Plaza is for sale.

Bloomberg reported that the brokerage Colliers and advisory firm Hilco Real Estate are looking for buyers, preferably ones prepared to move quickly. Oceanwide Holdings’ lenders and creditors want to recoup nearly half a billion dollars. The developer is also on the hook to repay the city.

Leonid Furmansky Graffitti Towers LA California Web 9
(Leonid Furmansky)

“We are determined to run a disciplined and orderly process to identify the right developer to finish the project in time for the 2028 Summer Olympics,” Colliers exec Mark Tarczynski told Bloomberg in early May. (The Olympics—looming on the horizon like an imminent disaster in slow motion.)

building with graffiti on it
(Leonid Furmansky)

The market, as always, will determine the fate of the mega-development. Graffiti will be abated, prophets silenced, facades enclosed, and swimming pools filled before a torch is sprinted down Figueroa Boulevard. And Oceanwide Plaza will turn its newly insipid face to Los Angeles.

Mimi Zeiger is a Los Angeles­–based critic and curator.

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