By Jack Witthaus CoStar News September 7, 2022 | 3:43 P.M.
Office buildings in downtown Los Angeles typically sell for about $200 per square foot. One ownership group says it's highly unusual a building could fetch five times that. What makes their building different? A 13 foot-by-33 foot mural by U.K. artist Banksy called "Girl on a Swing." Owners Alfonso Campos and Tarina Tarantino said their roughly 26,000-square-foot building at 908-910 S. Broadway with the Banksy mural painted on the side is worth $30 million. Real estate analysts aren't so sure. Commercial property brokers say that, art or no art, it can be tough for a half-leased office building hitting the market during a pandemic to sell for that price. The works of the elusive artist, whose true name and identity have been kept secret from the public, have sold for more than $20 million. But Banky's art in the past has been carved off a building and resold instead of being sold with the structure. The roughly 26,000-square-foot office lit up at night along Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. (CoStar) "It's not a straight real estate transaction," Campos said. "I think the entire thing is art, and it's got a Banksy married to it." Northbrook, Illinois-based Hilco Real Estate is selling the building at auction, with offers due Oct. 20. Campos and Tarantino purchased the building for $4 million in June 2007 and set about renovating the structure and bringing in tenants. The full renovation was completed in 2018. The pair bought the building partly for a place to host their jewelry business and because they loved the building's architecture and history. The seven-story structure, built in 1914, is nestled along Broadway's historic movie theaters and was featured in the 1923 Harold Lloyd film "Safety Last!," which famously featured the silent film star dangling from the arms of a clock atop the tower. By the time Campos and Tarantino arrived to take over the building in the 2000s, the surrounding neighborhood in downtown Los Angeles was largely abandoned, Tarantino said. Harold Lloyd hanging from a clock face atop 908-910 Broadway in Los Angeles in the 1923 film "Safety Last!". (Public Domain) Artistic Inquiry In 2010, the owners got a call from a friend that would alter the building. The friend asked for permission on behalf of an artist to paint something on the structure, but the friend couldn't say who the artist was. Then, after the art appeared, crowds began gathering around the mural, which later was authenticated as a Banksy. The artist had been in town for the premiere of acclaimed documentary "Exit Through the Gift Shop" and completed other murals around Los Angeles while visiting. It's believed "Girl on a Swing" is Banksy's only work in Los Angeles that remains in its original location. Banksy created the entire mural, including the "PARKING" lettering with the faded "-ING." Tarantino said her interpretation is that the mural is a commentary that downtown Los Angeles has too many parking lots and not enough parks. Campos and Tarantino have encountered issues since the mural's completion. The artwork was defaced in 2014, and the owners had to obtain an easement from an apartment developer who built a multifamily building adjacent to the property that would have covered up the artwork, Campos said. The mural currently is fenced off but is visible from the street. The mural was painted on the building's side a few steps away from the sidewalk and about 7 feet off the ground. "It was always a constant battle to save that piece of art," Campos said. Now, the pair's role as the artwork's stewards is coming to a close. They are selling the building after running into financial hardships during the pandemic and filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. They described the decision to sell as "heartbreaking." A look inside the interior of the more than century-old 908-910 S. Broadway building. (CoStar) It's unclear what value, if any, the artwork adds to the building, though the owners said in 2014 the mural added $650,000 in value to the structure. Campos and Tarantino told CoStar News the mural's value has increased alongside the rise in demand for Banksy works. Still, real estate brokers at major firms who are familiar with the market said the area can make it a challenge to sell because there's relatively low demand despite the revival of downtown in recent years. The building, ironically, also lacks parking. An attempt by CBRE to sell the structure in 2021 was unsuccessful. Campos said the building couldn't sell with CBRE because the brokerage house "didn't have the platform for an auction" and that the building needed to be sold at auction. A CBRE representative did not respond to a request to comment from CoStar News. The 908-910 S. Broadway building in downtown Los Angeles is up for sale. The building features the 13-foot by 33-foot "Girl on a Swing" mural by U.K. artist Banksy. (CoStar) That said, there has been an uptick in demand from owner-users for downtown Los Angeles buildings around the size of the 908-910 S. Broadway building, said John Anthony, executive vice president and managing director of Kidder Matthews, who is not involved in the building's sale. Anthony has sold multiple buildings nearby in recent months to owner-users and expects the building could generate interest from a similar buyer. "I would see it selling to a user who looks at the art as a value that's added to the real estate," Anthony said. "And perhaps they'll pay a premium because of it." Banksy has never spoken with the owners about the mural. But over the years, the owners have watched as T-shirts, mugs and art exhibits all made money creating copies of the artwork on their building. "So many people have profited from that mural," Campos said, "except for us."