LA County chooses developer to turn iconic General Hospital into housing, retail The 90-year-old landmark will keep its facade and offer affordable housing in a restorative village


The vision of transforming the vacant yet iconic L.A. County General Hospital building in Boyle Heights into housing and healthcare facilities for working-class and homeless residents took a giant step toward reality Tuesday, with the county’s selection of a developer.

Centennial Partners, consisting of Primestor and Bayspring Development, was chosen by the Board of Supervisors to build between 800 and 1,000 housing units, new retail space, a hotel, medical offices and laboratories in the architecturally significant building — and on its surrounding 25 acres.

“This is a historic moment for our community,” said First District L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who has worked on the project since 2017. “The need for affordable housing in Los Angeles County, especially the Eastside, is greater than ever. I am proud to take this next step to repurpose a historic county landmark to meet our greatest need.”


A year ago, the county hosted 55 developers at the site in hopes of attracting a private partner. Tuesday, Dec. 19 marked the first time a development team was chosen for the project. The developer has completed more than 50 urban impact projects, according to the county’s Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO).

In a letter from DEO Director Kelly Lobianco to the board, the developer proposed the following uses in the 1.68 million square foot General Hospital project: About 885 residential units, at least 30% of them affordable; 166,000 square feet of hotel uses; 168,000 square feet of retail; 65,000 square feet of laboratory and medical offices; 85,000 square feet of community and general services; and 531,000 square feet of parking.

Many who spoke before the board said they’d like to see a higher percentage of affordable units and less market-rate housing.

“As an organizer of tenants, I also see the need for affordable housing and we don’t want just 30% we want 80% because our community needs it,” said Eva Garcia, an organizer with the nonprofit Community Power Collective based on the Eastside of Los Angeles.

The area has been impacted by gentrification, resulting in escalating rents and leaving many out on the streets, according to the county. Further details have to address the percentage of housing offered below market rate, and what retail uses will be built.

“We would like a restaurant with healthy food,” said Alicia Godinez, a resident from the Boyle Heights area.

The shuttered, 19-story, Art Deco structure, completed in December of 1933, hasn’t seen a patient in about two decades. It was featured in the opening credits of the long-running TV soap opera “General Hospital.”

Most of the 1.2 million square feet of interior space lays vacant after sustaining damage from the 1994 Northridge earthquake. A new hospital was built in 2008, formerly called LAC + USC Medical Center, and recently renamed Los Angeles General Medical Center.

Restoration of the old building will require quake retrofits, new windows and other improvements. The building’s hulking presence on a Boyle Heights hilltop just a few miles east of Downtown L.A. can be seen by passengers flying into LAX, said Solis.

The hospital is decorated with historical benchmarks, including its significant advances in emergency medicine and for being the place where Marilyn Monroe was born. In its second chapter, it will become part of a conglomerate of spaces that can ease the burden on emergency rooms across the county and rescue people off the streets, getting them into care and housing, said Solis.

In a separate motion, the Board of Supervisors approved the development of a mental health urgent care center, a residential withdrawal and management facility with 32 beds to treat homeless individuals with substance abuse issues, and a mental health rehabilitation center containing 128 beds.

Those facilities would add 160 treatment beds to the “restorative village” complex proposed on the campus —  which already has 96 beds for patients with chronic health needs including unhoused residents — plus 64 beds for more acute, crisis residential treatment, Solis said.

The supervisor said the added mental health and substance abuse treatment beds will be drop-off points for first responders, instead of the Men’s Central Jail or county hospital ERs.

“Today’s motion upholds people’s rights to dignity, while bringing an iconic, county asset back to life,” said the actor, director and producer, Edward James Olmos, during the board meeting.

“The causes of homelessness are complex; the solutions need to be comprehensive,” said Karen Law, a member of the Chinatown Community Land Trust.

An adaptive reuse of the Beaux-Arts building was supported by the Los Angeles Conservancy. The first floor of the building features many works of art, including a mural in the foyer depicting the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius, created by artist Hugo Ballin, who also painted the interior of the Griffith Observatory.

“Historic buildings are incredibly adaptable for new, humane uses,” said Adrian Scott Fine, with the L.A.  Conservancy.

The cost of the redevelopment project is currently estimated at $1 billion and will be in a public-private partnership, according to Solis’ Office. The state granted the county $50 million and the county also received $55 million in federal dollars for the project. Supervisor Solis has secured $129 million for the General Hospital project, according to Solis’ Office.

Solis wants to see more than 30% affordable housing but that must be negotiated with the developer, along with design elements.

“Housing on the site will directly address our homelessness crisis and it ties in with the services at the restorative village,” she said. “We must do our part in lowering the cost of housing.”

Article Date: 
Friday, December 22, 2023