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Vintage 1928 Koreatown Building Getting $5M Makeover

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A storied, oft-neglected 1928 hotel in Koreatown is getting a $5 million makeover.

In 2010, the Hotel Normandie at Normandie Avenue and Sixth Street was to be made into a a pot-friendly "pot-tel" by some medical marijuana advocates. But the owner has changed course, opting instead to redevelop the property into a chic 100-room hotel, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Jingbo Lou, a Chinese-born architect who now owns the property, was a consultant to the former owner, who was trying to come up with a plan to reinvigorate the building. Lou eventually found investment partners and bought the building for $4.4 million.

"It's never been a glamorous place," Lou told the newspaper. "We can add some romance."

For years, the four-story, brick, Renaissance Revival building was seedy, with a bar in the lobby and B-girls to encourage drinking.

In its heyday -- the late 1930s -- one of the hotel's most colorful residents was the English author Malcolm Lowry, a legendary drinker. He worked on his novel "Under the Volcano" there. His father sent checks to the manager to make sure the money would go toward rent and food, not booze, The Times reported.

Over the years, some owners plastered over windows and sealed up arches and fireplaces. Many of those architectural touches will be restored. Five skylights, covered for years, will also be opened up and refurbished.

According to hotel consultant Bruce Baltin of PKF Consulting, the regional demand for rooms is growing. In 2012, the occupancy rate in Los Angeles is projected to approach a peak set five years ago. Baltin said he expects the demand to continue for a few more years.

The makeover should take about a year to complete.  Lou is also looking for chi-chi ground-floor tenants, such as coffee and dessert shops.

"The neighborhood is incredibly diverse," he said. "It's young, urban and pedestrian friendly. Places are open super late."

 (©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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