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Office tower has growth spurt : After 20 years, it shoots up from 8 to 17 stories

September 22, 1985|TERENCE M. GREEN | Times Staff Writer

Buildings grow from the ground up but they usually don't stop and wait for 20 years in the middle of the process.

The 655 Hope Street building, at Hope and 7th streets, did just that. It went up eight stories in 1964 and hovered there until last summer, when it started to grow again.

When its second growth spurt is finished about the end of this year or early next year, it will be a 17-story office tower. And fully modern.

When it was built in 1964 for Republic Federal Savings & Loan, it was planned for 18 stories. But the tenant who was to take several floors changed his mind and dropped out, so the building was stopped with the completion of the eighth floor. It had three floors for retail and financial uses, three for parking and, on top, two for offices.

Two decades passed, and several owners came and went. Then last June, it was bought by The Hammerson Property (West U. S. A.) Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of the $1.5-billion, London-based Hammerson Property Investment & Development Corp. PLC.

As it was put by Bruce Merchant, president of Hammerson West, "Downtown Los Angeles had grown up around this 20-year-old building, which had become obsolete in terms of size and office amenities."

The new owners also realized that it was an opportunity to offer first-rate space in a premium location to medium-sized users, those to whom a 7,500-square-foot full-floor suite would be a good deal.

The design problem was put to Gensler & Associates/Architects, whose Los Angeles office is in Century City.

The existing frame, built to carry 18 stories, needed no rebuilding. The building was stripped and the structural members were boxed, then the new skeleton was built on top.

"Perhaps the most significant design feature is the notched and receding form of the upper nine stories, which recalls the stepped roof lines of many classic 1930s Los Angeles buildings," Marvin L. Taff, Gensler vice president, said.

All interior systems--electric, plumbing, mechanical--are being completely redone to the most modern standards and will incorporate complete high-rise life-safety packages, including sprinklers, smoke detectors, a fire department control room and a rooftop helicopter pad.

The basement will be a retail floor containing a restaurant and reached by two broad staircases down from the street. The "ground" floor (it actually is about 2 1/2 to about 4 feet above the level of the slightly sloping sidewalk) is designed for a financial institution in the corner and a large retail tenant on the 7th Street side. That floor contains a mezzanine, which is generally referred to as the "third floor."

Next will come three floors of parking, room for about 100 cars, and above that, 11 floors of offices. The top floor, the 17th, is unusual in that it contains the building's machinery in about half its space. The rest of the floor is suitable for offices and the intention is to rent it in conjunction with the floor below for two-story offices.

The building contains about 80,000 square feet of office space, about 20,000 square feet for retail and financial uses and about 35,000 square feet of garage space.

The cost of the reconstruction and addition is put at about $8 million.

In addition to the Gensler firm as architect, the general contractor is Robert E. McKee Inc. and engineers are Brandow & Johnson Associates, structural; James Knowles & Associates, mechanical, and Levine/Seegel, electrical.

Hammerson's Merchant summed it up by saying, "With the design of Gensler & Associates, our project brings the highest and best use to this site in the heart of downtown Los Angeles' construction and renovation boom."

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