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Designers Pitch in to Cure Space Lack at L. A. Free Clinic

November 08, 1987|TIA GINDICK | Special to The Times, Tia Gindick is a Woodland Hills free-lance writer

So squeezed for space is the Los Angeles Free Clinic that doctors have taken to interviewing new patients in the parking lot.

What's more, anyone with an office, like, say, Executive Director Gary Bess, only has to leave it briefly to find upon his return that it has been "liberated" for a psychological or legal counseling session.

And asking volunteers to work at the clinic, observed Joel Schwartz, first vice president of the clinic's board of directors, "is like asking them to spend the day on a subway platform. About the only place we can give them to work is in the hallway, which can't be more than 5 1/2 feet wide. You got us moving, them moving. It's really stressful."

Come Dec. 17, the clinic's 20th birthday, and it will be the beginning of the end. A ritual ground breaking will be held, but what will happen by the end of January is a razing.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 15, 1987 Home Edition Real Estate Part 8 Page 3 Column 1 Real Estate Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
The size of the new Los Angeles Free Clinic will be 13,000 square feet, not 3,000 square feet, as reported in last Sunday's section. The Los Angeles Community Design Center is designing the facility.

The Los Angeles Free Clinic, a several-times renovated 4,944-square-foot building at 8405 Beverly Blvd., just east of Fairfax Ave., is coming down. And on that land, which the clinic owns, will be built a $2.3-million, 3,800-square-foot facility.

Designed by the Los Angeles Design Center, the new facility--which will be called the Seniel Ostrow Building after the late businessman and philanthropist--is believed to be the first free clinic in the nation designed specifically to be a free clinic.

That means incorporating such needs as sufficient lobby space for drop-in clientele, showers (many people seen are homeless), an ambiance that is welcoming and non-threatening, efficient without being institutional.

The new clinic is also a fascinating study in collaboration. John Silber, architectural director of the Los Angeles Design Center, figures his staff met with at least 100 people connected with the clinic either as staff, volunteer, even patients, pushing them to present wish lists of what they wanted.

Minor Miracle

This is in addition to the normal checks and balances with the clinic's board of directors. The Los Angeles chapter of American Society of Designers (ASID) volunteered to do all the interior design, even to choose and procure all new furnishings from its industry contacts.

No one involved sees this as anything less than a minor miracle, particularly with the eight ASID professional members who have volunteered their efforts for the interiors.

"What you have to remember," said Ivan Beardsley, ASID project director, who with ASID community relations chairman Lillian Chain, is coordinating that group's involvement, "is every designer is giving up their preference for individual style and taste." (The other designers are ASID professional members Bill McWhirter, B. J. Petersen, Kim Bernard Gariano, Alexandra Sullivan, Quentin Rance and Susan Gardner.)

As to how they've managed all the inevitable conflicts, Beardsley said, "Everybody just kind of checked their egos at the door."

Expanded Facilities

The result of all this input: four dental treatment rooms compared to the current two; seven medical examination rooms, two consulting rooms, and a group room, up from just four exam rooms at the old clinic.

Also, nine legal and psychological counseling rooms completely separate from staff offices; 42 parking spaces compared to the current 17; several conference rooms, a volunteer workroom and office for the Friends of the Free Clinic; plenty of waiting areas, and seemingly endless storage space.

The effect is more than simple comfort and convenience. "What we've always wanted to do," said Schwartz, "is expand our program into the community, to not just take care of problems, but also offer educational programs.

"We're not starting from scratch. We see 25,000 people a year, and we're damned good at what we do." Said Mimi West, co-chair with Ellen Hoberman of the clinic's building fund, "The board was simply tired of saying no. For every person we saw, we delayed care for two others."

Silber's design is what West calls "free-style soft tech."

Room for Expansion

The building will be constructed of cement blocks, steel, glass and stucco in tones of gray, teal green and plum with softer versions of the same shades in the interior. A multilevel struct1970431264square feet for expansion, it fans around a glass lantern-shaped core that works as an entry, drawing people in the front door to an initial reception area and from there to more waiting space on the mezzanine or the various programs on the second and third floors.

The design was complicated, Silber said, by the high water levels underground that made it necessary to install much of the parking on the first floor rather than putting it all underground.

The diversity of the clinic programs--not just the medical and dental attention typically associated with free clinics, but also legal services and a variety of counseling services--made standard office design impossible, he said. "Also, we wanted a softer edge than one where you just move people through like an army physical."

Even beyond the obvious considerations of raising the necessary $2.6 million needed for construction and transition and even beyond finding a workable design, Schwartz said, the board of the Los Angeles Free Clinic was adamant that there be no discontinuation of service during the year to 18 months estimated for construction.

Hospital Offers Help

No problem. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is donating its facilities gratis for medical and dental clinics. Legal, pyschological and adolescent services will be offered at a building at 3rd Street and La Cienega Boulevard, and that service is also being provided to the Los Angeles Free Clinic at no cost.

The Los Angeles Sex Information Helpline, the only clinic program offered outside the current facility, will continue at its office in West Hollywood until the new building is completed when it, too, will move in.

With only about $250,000 left to raise by April 1, fund raising is looking almost equally assured.

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