To some, the angular, white Fujita building on Ventura Boulevard in Encino is an eyesore. To others, it's the kind of distinctive architecture that is rare in the San Fernando Valley.
But to its owner, the giant Fujita construction company of Tokyo, and to its leasing agent, the firm of Julien J. Studley, the real question is whether the building is a big white elephant.
The Fujita building is now easily the largest single block of vacant office space in the Valley. Completed in January, it is still just 10% to 15% leased, which is regarded as slow even when Valley office space is in such generous supply that 12 to 24 months is usually required to lease up a building these days.
"When a building is finished and ready, you like to see 20% leased," said John Battle, a vice president at Beitler & Associates, a Sherman Oaks real estate firm.
The Fujita structure at 15821 Ventura Blvd. is first-class office space in a prime location. It fills the entire north block on the boulevard between Gloria and Densmore avenues, not far from the San Diego and Ventura freeways.
Yet, despite its location and striking appearance, some Valley real estate agents say the building is liable to remain largely empty for a good while.
Its unusual shape produces offices that are the wrong size and shape for the lawyers and accountants who are its logical market, and who require many small offices with windows, many observers say.
Encino Terrace Center, as the Fujita building is known formally, is partly a creature of a city-imposed restriction that, until October, limited new construction on Ventura Boulevard in Encino to six stories.
So the Fujita building has six stories, but that doesn't mean it is small. It contains 400,000 square feet, more than the nearby 21-story American Savings & Loan tower on the southeast corner of Ventura and Sepulveda boulevards.
In large part because of the Fujita building, which met the old regulations, the limits were tightened to three stories, said Cindy Miscikowski, chief deputy to Councilman Marvin Braude, whose district includes Encino. New limits on square footage also were established.
The Fujita building's bulk is apparently both a point of controversy and a factor in its slow leasing. The building makes up for its lack of height with a length of 575 feet, or nearly two football fields, and has a maximum depth of about 135 feet.
Those dimensions yield enormous floors of 60,000 to 80,000 square feet--four times the 15,000 or 20,000 square feet considered standard. As a result, tenant identification, that feeling of prominence a relatively small tenant can gain with half of a 15,000-square-foot floor, becomes elusive, according to some leasing agents.
Also, because the building is so deep--the distance from corridor to window is extremely wide on the lower floors--much of it is best suited for companies that want large, open spaces but don't need many windows.
"Physical characteristics like that make the building more difficult to lease," said Bruce Kusada, a leasing agent with the Charles Dunn Co. in Encino. Kusada placed a regional marketing unit of Coca-Cola in the building, which apparently impressed Coke with its amenities, such as the planned shops and restaurants.
Studley insists there is plenty of space suitable for small tenants, and downplays the difficulties of leasing the Fujita building. Seth Dudley, vice president in charge of the company's Valley office, said he is now negotiating leases on about two floors of space to a variety of large and small tenants.
The Fujita building has stirred debate from the beginning. Those who live behind the building now say their homes are unlivable because of the way the structure shadows them and provides clear views into their backyards.
The building is also controversial architecturally.
"From a planning standpoint, I think it's a disaster," said Santa Monica architect Herbert Nadel. "From an aesthetic standpoint, the building itself is outstanding."
On the other hand, he termed the structure's bulk overwhelming, and said the size and the wall of plantings in front make it "an unfriendly building."
Built on a former supermarket site, the Fujita building reportedly cost $35 million, not counting land-acquisition expenses, which were not disclosed. It was designed by architect Tony Lumsden of Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall in Los Angeles.
Lumsden said in an interview that it represented an effort to create an interesting structure using modern forms while meeting the city requirements and maximizing rentable space.
He dismissed critics who say the floors are too big, contending that such criticism is born of the greater familiarity of some leasing agents with high-rises.
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