What to do with surplus school sites has perplexed many a city, but Norwalk found a solution that might also help enhance its stature as a major community along the Santa Ana Freeway.
The solution is a $70-million mixed-use development that will include a 260-room hotel; six-story, 115,000-square-foot office building; 10-story, 200-unit senior citizens complex; a cluster of two- and three-story apartment buildings containing a total of 180 units; a four-plex movie plaza; 30,000 square feet of specialty and retail shops; a health club, five tennis courts, and space for an 8,000-square-foot, free-standing restaurant.
The 20.6-acre site at Norwalk Boulevard and the Santa Ana Freeway has housed the Henry L. Wright Junior High School, which closed about 1978 because of low enrollment. "Only minimal use--interim rentals--has been made of part of the facility since," Don Rouly, the city's planning director, explained.
Plans for the mixed-use project, which he envisions as "a centerpiece development for the entire city with its creation of jobs and generation of taxes," were conceived with the school's closing, he said. "We developed a specific-plan area type zone to replace the traditional zone on the property. So the zoning calls for a large multi-use development including hotel, office buildings and accessory-type commercial uses."
Shapell Industries Inc. planned to develop the site in 1980, but tight money, fluctuating interest rates and difficulty lining up partners were cited then for abandoning the venture. Later, Eastern Global, a Japanese firm, was interested but also bowed out.
Now London Pacific Investments of Redondo Beach is planning to develop the project with Nadel Partners AIA of Santa Monica as master architect and site planner. Jules Walder, president of London Pacific, expects to close escrow on the property, owned by the Norwalk/La Mirada School District, in June and start construction in the fall.
London Pacific was selected as the developer after a month-long competition last summer involving nearly 200 entries from throughout the state. Walder started the company to focus on development of retail, office-park and hotel space.
As co-owner of Ferrante/Walder Co. with Robert Ferrante, Walder has been active most recently in developing a multiphase office building complex at 801 Civic Center Drive as part of Santa Ana's downtown revitalization of the Orange County Courthouse Center, which is under way.
Walder figures that he has spearheaded $300 million in real estate developments, starting in 1972 with the construction of apartment buildings in Palos Verdes Estates, Redondo Beach and Torrance. He has a doctorate and master's degree in electrical engineering from Cornell University and was a research scientist with the Aerospace Corp. Research Labs in El Segundo before becoming a real estate developer.