One of the best views in Los Angeles has panoramic vistas of Downtown, the Westside and the San Fernando Valley. And it's not owned by a movie mogul.
The mountaintop site south of Mulholland Drive in the Hollywood Hills (elevation 1,508 feet) is owned by Lockheed Corp., which built an antenna facility there during World War II for airplane communications. But the Calabasas aerospace giant has moved its legendary aircraft operations away from their longtime base in Burbank, and no longer needs these transmitting towers.
Enter David Maddox and the telecommunications revolution.
The Boston investor agreed last July to buy the nine-acre site from Lockheed for an undisclosed price. He made the deal contingent on city approval for a conditional-use permit, which he expects in another four to five months. If Maddox receives that city approval, he intends to lease space on five antenna towers to as many as 40 wireless communications companies. Those would include possibly cellular phone companies, but more likely paging and dispatch service operators, plus entrants to the new market for personal communications services (PCS).
Maddox, 52, and his newly formed Briar Summit Wireless LLC--named after the road where the facility is located--aren't likely to make a huge fortune off the venture. With expected monthly rents of $300 to $400 per company, the antenna facility would generate less than $200,000 in revenue a year.
Nonetheless, industry insiders consider Maddox's plan smart and timely because the explosive growth of wireless telecommunication, which many believe is just beginning, means that companies will be looking for transmitting sites to lease. Maddox saw that Lockheed's Briar Summit facility was attractive because its height and clear views in many directions could allow customers to send signals long distances and into tough-to-access pockets of surrounding hills and canyons full of affluent homeowners. "We're buying this because we know it's going to service a lot of people," he said.
Richard Somers, president of American Mobile Systems Inc., a Woodland Hills operator of mobile radio systems, said that he had unsuccessfully approached Lockheed about buying the Briar Summit facility around the time of Lockheed's 1971 bailout by the federal government. Had Somers known it was for sale recently, he said, he would have bid on it.
Somers noted that the Briar Summit site wouldn't serve well as a communications relay station like those atop Mt. Wilson, where signals are sent directly from a mobile unit to the antenna station, then to a main office. Mt. Wilson is high enough that it can send signals without interference, while signals from Lockheed's current site could be partially obstructed by surrounding hills, he said. But, Somers said, the Briar Summit site would be ideal as part of a broad network of paging, cellular, microwave or other mobile communications. "It would be an excellent addition to a network of multiple sites."
Maddox and others believe there will be enough demand for transmitting sites, in part because of the federal government's recent auction of part of the broadcast spectrum for new wireless communications services known as PCS. The auctions have attracted hundreds of companies that have bid billions of dollars collectively for the right to offer new mobile phone services and data services such as faxes over the airwaves.
The PCS licenses "give new entrants to the marketplace the opportunity to build new wireless systems, and they would absolutely need a place to transmit from," said Amy Damianakes, a spokeswoman for AirTouch Communications Inc., the San Francisco-based cellular phone company that was spun off last year from Pacific Telesis.
Many companies will also choose to lease space on existing towers because it can cost upward of $1 million to build a new "cell site," said Mike Houghton, spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Assn. in Washington.
Maddox came upon the Briar Summit site largely by chance. A former Southern Californian who moved to Boston a decade ago to develop real estate, he had joined with other investors in 1985 to acquire 600 acres in Ventura County near Simi Valley. They donated 100 of those acres to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Maddox and his partners later split up, and he ended up with 300 acres. He is now seeking approval to develop part of the property into a residential housing development with six 10-acre estates.
During those dealings, Maddox heard about the Lockheed transmitting facility being offered for sale. Maddox currently owns a 1,200-foot transmitting tower in Boston that he leases to broadcasters and paging companies, so he recognized the potential of the Lockheed site.