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Fire ravages builder Geoff Palmer's newest downtown Italian-aint apartment house

by John Rabe and Marc Haefele | Off-Ramp®

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Firefighters spray down smoldering scaffolding after an early-morning fire consumed a seven-story apartment complex that was still under construction in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, Dec. 8, 2014. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

There's no question, says Off-Ramp commentator Marc Haefele, that developer Geoff Palmer hit the sweet spot with his apartment blocks. Long before downtown LA became hip, he started building the Italian-looking apartment buildings with the  Italian-sounding names: the Orsini, the Piero, the Visconti, and the Medici. And he did it on land that wasn't considered developable.

Monday, fire did $10m damage to part of the DaVinci complex, just a few days after Marc filed a long report for Los Angeles Magazine on the storied developer:

 For Palmer ... the Italianate buildings also honor the city’s founders. “The Italians actually settled L.A. before the Spanish and Chinese,” he says. That may be a rather unusual reading of the area’s history, which typically maintains that Spanish settlers founded L.A. in 1781, but Palmer has long demonstrated a tendency to go his own way. 

-- Marc Haefele in December's Los Angeles Magazine

Marc says Palmer successfully fought laws requiring builders like him to include affordable housing in their developments, and proved the point in court. "So basically, he eliminated those laws as far as the city of Los Angeles is concerned, they no longer exist. Housing advocates say there's no political will now to build affordable housing downtown. This isn't all Palmer's fault, but the he's the guy who actually legalized the elimination of the affordable housing element."

MORE on Palmer from Ben Bergman in the KPCC blog, The Breakdown

Click on the audio at left to hear both my conversation with Marc this week, and our report from the site of the 1887 Geise House, which Palmer's workers destroyed in 2003.

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