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Westwood Project : Tower Work Start to Cap 10-Year Struggle

February 07, 1988|LEON WHITESON | Leon Whiteson is a Los Angeles-based design writer. and

The Feb. 16 ground-breaking ceremony for Center West, a 22-story office tower including a three-story base with ground-floor retail space, at the northeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard at Glendon Avenue, will end a decade of struggle for Brentwood-based developer Kambiz Hekmat.

"I bought the site 10 years ago," Hekmat said. "Since then I've had to battle local homeowners, an ambiguous city councilman and a host of architectural preservationists to achieve what I believe will be a cultural contribution to Westwood as well as a superior business address."

Hekmat had to battle preservationists to achieve the September, 1984, demolition of the beloved 1950s Ships coffee shop that occupied the prominent corner site.

Designed by Martin Stern, the Westwood Ships was recognized by architectural historians and local residents as a masterpiece of the flamboyant "Googie"-style design.

Googie architecture has only recently been recognized as characteristic of an expression of Angeleno energy in an expansive period of the city's evolution.

The $39.5-million Center West, designed by New York-based architect Romaldo Guirgola in conjunction with executive architects Daniel, Mann, Johnson, & Mendenhall (DMJM), features a red Karelia granite tower that turns its main face to Wilshire Boulevard, coupled with a retail podium oriented toward Lindbrook Drive and Westwood Village to the north.

"This configuration derives from the site's peculiar double zoning," explained planning consultant Edgardo Contini. "The front half of the site, on Wilshire, has a permitted floor area ratio (to lot area) of 10-to-1, while the rear is rated at 3-to-1.

"The basic design problem was how to reconcile these two zones without producing an obviously schizophrenic complex."

At expected completion in mid-1989, Center West will total 296,000 square feet, with typical office floors of 16,500 square feet. Entry to the partially above-ground parking garage is mainly from Lindbrook, with a VIP auto access directly off Wilshire.

Design Winner

Guirgola won the Center West commission as result of a limited design competition held in 1982. A field of eight architects was narrowed to three: Guirgola, Cesar Pelli and Harry Weese & Associates of Chicago.

Originally, Guirgola's design solved the schizophrenic character of the zoning patterns by separating the tower from the base.

The main entry to the complex was located at the Wilshire-Glendon intersection, and a secondary entrance to the retail sector was set on the corner of Glendon and Lindbrook. An internal court gave access both to the office tower and to a skylighted mall lined with shops and restaurants.

The current plan moves the main entry onto Wilshire and fuses the base of the tower with the retail podium and the parking structure.

Gateway to Westwood

Hekmat said Center West, along with the recently announced Armand Hammer art museum planned directly across Wilshire, "will create an eastern gateway to Westwood."

The height and density-limiting Westwood Village Specific Plan, scheduled to be voted on by the City Council this week, will make it unlikely that Center West's gateway prominence would be challenged by further high-rises on Wilshire Boulevard.

Parking Foyer

Hekmat, who has not sought a major tenant for Center West, envisages the office tower's future occupants as "a mix of show business and other professionals, renting spaces that vary in size from a few thousand square feet upward."

Contini gave particular consideration to the integration of the parking circulation patterns, with the access to the office tower main lobby. A feature of the design is a three-story, semi-underground parking foyer with large windows on the street. Office workers and visitors enter this foyer directly from the five parking levels, and then make their way to the ground-floor lobby and its main elevator banks.

"In most L.A. office buildings the main street entry is more symbolic than functional," Contini said. "Most people enter by car, into what are usually dismal subterranean caverns stinking of gas fumes. In Center West we have tried to make this daily experience of arrival and departure more pleasant by recognizing this obvious fact of Angeleno life."

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