Category: Darryl Holter, Shammas Group
One of Downtown Los Angeles' largest landholders has unveiled plans to turn a portion
of the Figueroa Corridor into a major auto sales center. Although the $16.5 million
proposal could mean increased foot traffic for the neighborhood and tax revenues for the
Darryl Holter is building a $16.5 million, 75,000-squarefoot
auto dealership at Figueroa Street and Washington
Boulevard. He hopes the Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche
dealerships will help create an auto row in the Figueroa
Corridor. Photo by Gary Leonard.
city, some observers are
questioning its overall benefit
for the community.
, the CEO of
Shammas Group, which owns
numerous car dealerships and
nearly 20 acres of property in
the Figueroa Corridor, said he
is creating a project called the
"Downtown Auto Center" on a
triangular portion of land
bounded by Figueroa Street,
the 110 Freeway and the 10
Freeway. The development,
modeled after suburban auto
malls, could cause the number
of dealerships in the area to
jump from the current four to
11 by 2006.
"The idea is to capture the
advantages of the suburban auto mall and implant that in an urban setting," Darryl Holter said.
The plan would capitalize on a car dealership and real estate empire that Shammas Group
has been building for decades (see sidebar). It would involve moving some auto
dealerships Shammas already owns near USC, and luring other car makers to open
From a consumer perspective, Darryl Holter
said it would mean numerous dealerships, within
walking distance of each other and close to freeway exits.
Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche
Darryl Holter's plan abuts the Downtown LA Mercedes-Benz dealership his father-in-law,
Nick Shammas, founded 36 years ago on the northwest corner of Figueroa Street and
Washington Boulevard. On the southwest corner, Shammas owns Nissan of Downtown
LA. Also in the vicinity are Kaiser Bros. Oldsmobile-Honda at 1540 S. Figueroa St. and
Toyota Central at 1600 S. Figueroa St.
Last November, crews started building a 75,000-square-foot facility on the southeast
corner of the intersection. Plans by Whitfield Associates call for three identical two-story
The space will be filled by Shammas-owned Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche dealerships
that now sit a dozen blocks south at Figueroa Street and Jefferson Boulevard, said
facilities manager Jason Chang (the Felix Auto Center at Figueroa and Jefferson will stay
put). The new auto centers will have rooftop space to display cars, cutting back on
expensive storage costs, Holter said.
The concept is already proving fruitful, according to Holter, as prospective car sellers
want to be in a locale that thousands pass every day. He said a Volvo dealer has signed a
lease for a plot on the west side of Figueroa Street, and that talks are being held to bring
in Chrysler Jeep and Dodge.
It's a process made possible by Shammas' vast holdings. Holter estimated that the
company owns about 40% of the land near where the freeways intersect. The company
also controls many vacant commercial buildings and open lots.
"Land and buildings that haven't been used are being filled in," Darryl Holter said.
Once the Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche dealerships leave their current homes, their
buildings will be razed. As previously reported, they will be replaced by a $130 million
mixed-use residential center for USC undergrads called University Gateway. Developed
by Urban Partners, the project will house 1,658 students in 421 units and include 83,000
square feet of ground-floor retail space.
While Holter touts the jobs and tax revenues to be created by the concentration of
dealerships, some contend it does not fit with the area's trends or potential.
"It's a somewhat dubious strategy in the long term for Figueroa to have auto-oriented uses
all along there," said Nate Cherry, a vice president of architecture firm RTKL Associates,
which is working on the LA Live entertainment complex adjacent to Staples Center a
half-dozen blocks north of the proposed auto row. "I would consider [Figueroa] a very
pedestrian oriented street."
Cherry's concern is prompted partly by the corridor's recent mini-resurgence. Along with
the activity created at the northern end of the stretch by Staples, developers have built or
are planning a handful of residential projects. In May, crews wrapped up the mixed-use
Texere Plaza at Figueroa and 23rd streets. The 300,000-square-foot mixed-use Tuscany
project is expected to break ground this month at Exposition Boulevard and Figueroa
Meanwhile, USC, the corridor's southern anchor, is spending $288 million over the next
year to improve its University Park campus, including constructing the $70 million Galen
Center at Figueroa Street and Jefferson Boulevard. Also nearby, Los Angeles Trade-
Technical College is getting a $240 million renovation. The planned Mid-City/Exposition
Light Rail Line, a $632 million project to link Downtown with Culver City, would also
pass through the corridor.
Some expect the dealerships will have a positive impact. Mike Pfeiffer, president of the
South Park Stakeholders Group, said that portion of Downtown needs an invigorated
retail component. He thinks the string of showrooms will help fuse Downtown with USC
and Exposition Park. Holter's plan "will only attract more kinds of business and
residential activity into the area," Pfeiffer said.
It's a point echoed by Holter, who expects his plan to be a boon for the entire
"If I could build a critical mass in this area based on location, then dealerships will
come," he said.
An Auto Row Redux
If Darryl Holter, CEO of the Shammas Group
, is successful with his "Downtown Auto
Center" concept, it won't be the first time a portion of Figueroa Street south of Downtown
serves as an auto sales hub. In fact, Holter's father-in-law helped turn Figueroa into a kind
of auto mecca starting a half-century ago.
Nick Shammas, who died in July 2003 at 87, was a pioneering auto dealer in Los
Angeles. He owned a string of showrooms along Figueroa Street south of Downtown,
starting with the Felix Auto Center he founded in 1955. The center became famous after Shammas erected a Felix the Cat sign to usher motorists off the freeway.
Through Shammas Automotive Group, he would go on to create six dealerships: Felix
Cadillac, Felix Chevrolet, Nissan of Downtown LA, Porsche of Downtown LA, Audi of
Downtown LA and Volkswagen of Downtown LA.
In the 1970s, as car dealers moved out of Downtown - and opened in places like
Glendale's Brand Boulevard and Van Nuys Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley -
Shammas bought their old buildings. "Along the way, he amassed a lot of properties,"
- Chris Coates - Los Angeles Downtown News