For years, the abandoned Uniroyal tire plant alongside the Santa Ana Freeway in the City of Commerce was a shabby monument to an era when a rapidly growing Los Angeles attracted the nation's major tire producers.
The plant was boarded up in 1978, ending nearly half a century of tire production. Its windows were broken and its facade was dingy from exposure to years of freeway exhaust fumes.
But the imposing factory, built to resemble an Assyrian palace complete with turrets, never ceased to turn the heads of the tens of thousands of motorists who pass each day. Its stylized facade concealed a collection of steel buildings in Commerce, five miles south of downtown Los Angeles.
Now the freeway Goliath is being resurrected as a $120-million complex of office buildings, retail stores and a hotel. Some of the stores opened for business earlier this month.
Preservationists laud the work done by developer Trammell Crow Co. to breathe new life into the structure. Its six-story administration building is intact, as is all but about 150 feet of its massive wall.
"There was a question of whether it was going to survive in the long run," said Jay Rounds, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy. "It's a very important reminder that Southern California was second only to Detroit as a center of the automobile industry for a good part of the century, and second only to Akron (Ohio) in producing tires.
The human-headed, winged bulls surrounding the entrance to the administration building have been spruced up, as have the winged genii and kings who grace the turrets along the massive wall. Steel reinforcing beams have been added to make the building and wall earthquake safe. A fresh coat of paint covers the royal facade. The firm that designed the colors for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles produced the paint scheme.
Newly cast friezes depicting Assyrian warriors in horse-drawn chariots adorn the lobby of the tower, which served as the administration building for tire manufacturer Adolph Schleicher in 1930.
Offices in the tower are being leased, as is space in newly constructed office buildings. Construction has not yet started on the hotel. The entire project will not be finished for more than a year, a Trammell Crow spokesman said.
Trammell Crow won the right to develop the project after assuring city officials that it would tread lightly on the landmark. It has spent $6 million to restore and renovate the administration building and wall, said Trammell Crow partner Hayden C. Eaves III.
"I was born and raised in Los Angeles," Eaves said. "To have done anything less than we have done would have been a disaster to the community."
Trammell Crow hired various restoration and design experts to work on the project.
The administration building and wall are designed to look as if they were constructed from huge blocks. But the structures are made of reinforced concrete, mostly eight inches thick, which was poured into molds at the site.
Structural engineer David L. Houghton came up with a system to reinforce the administration building and wall to resist earthquakes. Almost all of the original metal manufacturing buildings to the rear have been razed and new construction has gone up in their place.
A Gardena firm, which has done work for movie studios, was brought in to replicate the friezes and other ornaments that had been damaged over the years. Sussman/Prejza and Co. Inc. of Culver City was hired to develop the color scheme.