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Commercial Real Estate | Form and Function: Innovative
Uses of Southland WorkSpaces

Software Firm Basks in El Capitan's Glamour

Office atop movie palace building is a 'contemporary interpretation with a historic feel.'

April 27, 1999|MORRIS NEWMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Few buildings symbolize the "old Hollywood" glamour as aptly as the El Capitan building, with its Spanish Baroque facade and its magnificently restored movie palace.

One firm that is basking in the glamour--and occasionally, some of the inconvenience--of old Hollywood is Brookfield Communications Inc., which occupies a portion of the office space directly above the theater.

Although he said he is not a nostalgia buff, Brookfield owner Jeffrey Lane said he likes the historical flavor of the building, erected in 1926, where he and his staff produce informational software for entertainment clients.

Indeed, it would be hard to escape the building's historical associations: Classic columns on the building's facade are clearly visible from all the windows.

To design the interiors, Brookfield hired John Ash Group, a Hollywood-based architectural firm that had earlier redesigned the office lobby of the El Capitan, as well as the building's common areas. (The historical-preservation work on the theater was done by another firm, Fields & Devereaux.)

Rather than create a rhinestone version of old Hollywood, project architect Dick Gee said he opted for "a contemporary interpretation with a historic feel."

In fact, much of the office portion of El Capitan is new. The building's owner, CUNA Mutual Life Insurance Co. of Madison, Wis., hired Ash Group to handle the redesign after the building was severely damaged in the Northridge quake.

Brookfield's Lane especially liked the cherrywood paneling in the building lobby, so Gee designed new wooden work carrels in the same material. The dark finish reminds Lane of a "a banker's office in the 1920s."

One goal of the design was to leave the office as open as possible to take advantage of natural light from the tall windows. In enclosed areas, the architects added etched glass, "which is a material we see in many historical-preservation jobs," Gee said. The translucent glass provides privacy without blocking light, he pointed out.

Although glamorous, working atop a movie theater can have its drawbacks. Arguably, one downside occurs four times a year when Walt Disney Co., the theater operator, unfurls a giant banner across much of the building's facade to promote an upcoming movie. The animated feature "Tarzan" is the current headliner.

"We live with it," said a philosophical Lane, who pointed out that Brookfield's lease allows Disney to use the building as a billboard at certain times. Still, "It's certainly not the view we'd like to have there permanently."

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