The news spread quickly last summer when Baker, Knapp & Tubbs, the largest tenant at the Pacific Design Center, threatened to forsake the West Hollywood building for a competing design center downtown.
In a business that lives and dies according to trends, the rumored move appeared to be a blow for the West Hollywood center and a coup for Palace Square, a 1.2-million-square-foot design emporium that is scheduled to open at 830 S. Hill St. in 1987.
But the Blue Whale, as the West Hollywood center is popularly known, survived the challenge. This fall, it signed Baker, Knapp & Tubbs to a lease that will keep it there until the year 2000.
The lease agreement left the whale completely occupied with about 200 tenants, including some of the most prestigious firms in the design business. Now, the whale hopes to solidify its dominant position in the Los Angeles market with a massive expansion, according to executive director Murray Feldman. "It will refocus the attention of the international design community on the Pacific Design Center," Feldman said.
Will Stay Put
Owners and managers of local design firms said that, for now, they will remain in West Hollywood where interior designers, architects and space planners can look at furniture, carpets, drapes and accessories in one stop.
But showroom owners and managers said they may be forced to move eventually if rents, already almost double those downtown, continue to rise.
The design center's expansion proposal presents the city of West Hollywood with a dilemma: How to accommodate an industry that threatens to go elsewhere without damaging the environment for neighboring homeowners who worry about traffic, noise and parking problems. Discussion of the specific plan is scheduled for tonight's City Council meeting.
If approved, the specific plan will set most of the important guidelines for the development, such as the size and location of the buildings and the number of required parking spaces. Details such as landscaping will be considered by the council later.
No one has denied the style and daring of architect Cesar Pelli's plan to expand the giant blue glass design center, at Melrose Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard.
Pelli plans to place two massive, irregularly shaped glass buildings on an extended base of the existing center, increasing it from 725,000 square feet to nearly 1.6 million square feet.
Deep Green Glass
The first addition would be nine stories tall in deep green glass and the second a sweeping slice of maroon glass, eight stories high. Facing San Vicente would be a large, landscaped plaza edged by a small amphitheater and a free-standing exhibition gallery.
But neighbors on residential streets east of the project said their view will be not of the stylish glass buildings, but of a seven-level bare concrete parking structure, dubbed the "gray ghost" by one man.
"It looks like an afterthought," said Peter Freed, whose home on Huntley Drive would be across the street from the garage. "It's as if it were designed by the Corps of Engineers of the U.S. Army. It looks like a bunker."
After neighbors complained about shadows that the parking structure would cast and noise and fumes of cars, Feldman agreed to set the garage farther back from the homes, and to terrace it and landscape it to lessen its impact on the neighborhood.
Feldman also said the first two or three levels of the garage would be enclosed to prevent car noise and fumes from disturbing neighbors.
Neighbors, still concerned about traffic and parking problems, have asked for an extension of public hearings for several weeks, while Feldman said he hopes to get City Council approval tonight so the structure can be completed by March, 1987 in time for West Week, the center's annual design conference.
A staff report recommends approval of the specific plan for the project although the buildings are taller and denser and the parking structure smaller than required by local zoning. The city staff also asked for conditions that would require the developer to:
- Pay 50 cents a square foot, or about $437,000, into a fund to construct affordable housing in the city as proposed by a community development corporation. The center would also have to pay $50,000 to help start up the corporation.
- Open a child-care center in the building or pay the city 10 cents per square foot of project area, or $87,500, to help the city provide child care at another location.
- Set aside 10 days a year in the exhibition gallery for use by the city.
- Pay 1% of the project cost to the city for art in public places. For completion of the $85-million first phase, that would be $850,000.
- Pay roughly $218,000 to help establish a transit system linked to the design center.
If the project is approved, the design center would also be required to widen streets and improve several major intersections near the building.
But Freed said the conditions would do little for neighbors of the building.