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National News

February 8, 2013

Korean Air’s L.A. building to be tallest in West


Ambitious South Korean enterprises continue to make noise on the global economic stage.

Electronics giant Samsung is giving Apple fits in markets across the globe with its hot-selling smartphones and tablets. Seoul-based Hyundai and Kia have been among the world’s fastest-growing automakers in recent years. Portly singer Psy put South Korea on the pop culture map with his monster hit “Gangnam Style,” which has become the most popular video of all time on YouTube with nearly 1.3 billion views.

So it was only natural that Thursday, South Korea’s top airline, Korean Air, took the wraps off its design for a dramatic, skyline-changing tower for downtown Los Angeles. The $1 billion skyscraper will soon become the tallest building west of the Mississippi River — and a symbol of South Korea’s status as an up-and-coming economic powerhouse.

The 73-story hotel and office building will include 900 guest rooms, double-decker elevators and an observation deck that will afford views of the Pacific Ocean. Slated to replace the old Wilshire Grand Hotel at Wilshire Boulevard at Figueroa Street, the new building will be slightly taller than the nearby U.S. Bank Tower, which has held the title of tallest building west of Chicago since 1989.

Originally planned as two smaller towers when it was announced four years ago, the Korean Air plan has morphed into a single tower that will give the Seoul company bragging rights to the highest skyscraper on the West Coast.

Experts said that’s in keeping with South Korea’s hard-charging business ethos. The skyscraper, currently dubbed the Wilshire Grand, is an outgrowth of a competitive corporate culture that has come to dominate the South Korean economy over the last 30 years, according to University of California, Riverside Ethnic Studies professor Edward Taehan Chang.

After the nation endured poverty, dictatorship and political unrest during much of the 20th century, attaining superlatives has become part of the country’s fabric, Chang said. Corporations strive to dominate their respective industries, while younger generations take pride in the near universality of South Korea’s popular culture.

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