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'Quality Is Remembered After Cost Is Forgotten,' Beverly Hills Mayor Says : Lush Civic Center Slowly Coming Along

June 18, 1989|MATHIS CHAZANOV | Times Staff Writer

It's bigger than Union Station, bigger than the Sports Arena and when its pieces are added up, it's bigger than almost every other public building in Southern California. What is it? A hint: The parking structure can hold as many as 553 Mercedes-Benz convertibles.

Yes, it's the new Beverly Hills Civic Center, now taking shape over 10 acres and spanning Rexford Drive at a cost of $83 million. Even Mayor Max Salter says the structure is, well, a bit much.

"There's no question in my mind that it is overbuilt somewhat," Salter said. "But as against piddling around for another 20 years until you've finally decided on something, I'd opt for what we have. Quality is remembered long after cost is forgotten, and that's what people should remember."

Made up of city offices, a library, a firehouse, police station, jail and parking facilities, the complex totals nearly 600,000 square feet. By comparison, there is 507,715 square feet of usable floor area in the Los Angeles City Hall.

1985 Ground Breaking

The new civic center has been long in coming. There was a ground-breaking ceremony in 1985, and the project was originally scheduled for completion in 1987. It was held up for redesign after a theater and a cafeteria were dropped to save money, and delayed again after the discovery of asbestos in the walls of the existing library building.

Some of the work is finished: The parking structure and the fire station, complete with two shiny brass poles, have been in business for two years.

But the police station, library and a pedestrian bridge over Rexford Drive are still under construction, and work is also under way at the 58-year-old City Hall, a Mexican baroque landmark that sticks out above the low-rises on Santa Monica Boulevard.

"God Bless This Job," says a graffito spray-painted onto a bare girder at the job site. "Go Lakers," says another.

The Lakers went, but Salter is determined to move into his new office by December. This December.

Serve the People

"Every day I take out the whip and give them a few lashes here and there," he joked. "We're going to have a sensational City Hall when it's all completed, and it's going to serve the people for the next 100 years."

Inside the old City Hall building, which also housed a courthouse, police station and morgue when it opened in 1931, the City Council chamber has been expanded by removing a small room that was once used for study sessions.

Craftsmen from A. T. Heinsbergen & Co., the same firm that created the elaborate ceiling in 1931, are about to restore the gilded paint job and duplicate its floral motif in the extension and in the old courtroom down the hall, where it was hidden for decades by a false ceiling.

The Council chamber, which once seated 80, will now have room for 130. Two-way audio-visual links with other meeting rooms will enable as many as 400 people to take part in debates. This is a prospect that members of the current City Council, who are proud of their briskly run meetings, may find daunting.

Workers are about to restore the colorful tile work and reapply gold leaf to a knob atop the cupola of the eight-story tower, but A. T. Heinsbergen, son of the man who did the original job, said he wanted no part of that assignment.

Gold Work Is Tricky

The gold work is especially tricky, he said. The gold leaf is just one two-thousandth of an inch thick and can easily blow away. The glue that holds it on has to be applied the night before and it can be too sticky or too dry, depending on the humidity, he said.

"They didn't ask me to do it and if they did I wouldn't have, because my dad told me he lost his shirt on it in 1931," Heinsbergen said. Another contractor, Pacific Coast Painting, has taken on the job.

Building codes were considerably less stringent when the old City Hall was built, but tests have shown it to be structurally sound, said John Hartsock, the consultant who is managing the construction project for the city.

The architectural details--leaves, flowers and other delicate forms cast into concrete from hand-carved wooden molds--were also a testimony to the workmanship of those days, he said.

But the building's interior walls, made of hollow clay tiles for fire safety, had to go for fear they might collapse in an earthquake. The new walls will be made of steel studs and dry wall, Hartsock said.

Seal Off Four Floors

Safety also figured in the decision to seal off four top floors of the City Hall tower. There would have been virtually no room for office space if the upper stories were fitted with the elevator and two staircases required by law, city officials said.

An argument could be made for an exemption because the tower was in place long before the latest building code, but that would be wrong, said Howard Rattner, economic development manager for the city.

"How do you justify saying we're above the code? It's important to comply with the code, that the City Hall be the example, not the exception," he said.

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