The Frank Gehry-designed structure with sculpture by Claes Oldenburg. (Los Angeles Times )
Reporting from Los Angeles and San Francisco — Google Inc., the ever-expanding Internet search giant, is establishing a beachhead in Venice.
In a rare bright spot for the region's sluggish economy, Google is leasing more than 100,000 square feet of office space in three buildings, including the famed Binoculars Building designed by Frank Gehry. Sitting in front of the building is a huge binocular sculpture created by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, perhaps befitting of the company's search theme.
The move is part of a major expansion by Google in Southern California and could set up a new center of operation in the region.
Google representatives confirmed Tuesday night that the company had signed a lease for the properties, saying its employees would begin moving into the offices this year. Google's new complex of buildings will have more square footage than its current facilities in Santa Monica, where the largest of the three buildings has 45,000 square feet and houses 300 employees.
"Los Angeles is a world-class city with a talented workforce, and we're thrilled to expand our presence as we enter our biggest hiring year in company's history," said Thomas Williams, a senior director of engineering at Google.
Opening a Venice campus is part of an ambitious hiring plan for the Mountain View, Calif., company, which earlier Tuesday announced it would add more than 6,000 workers this year.
The hiring spree comes as Google fights for top talent against upstart rivals including Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. — so a marquee location in Los Angeles could help the company score points with potential hires. In its recruiting efforts, Google has bragged that its Santa Monica offices "are strategically located just a few short blocks from sunny beaches" and benefit from "over 300 days of sunshine."
Although Google would not comment on the precise number of new employees the move would bring to the city, the new space is likely to become a de facto Los Angeles campus, consolidating employees at other nearby locations, according to real estate sources.
The landmark building at 340 Main St., which was completed in 1991, was Gehry's last major project in Los Angeles before the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003. First to occupy the building was another friend of Gehry's, ad man Jay Chiat, who headquartered his powerhouse Chiat/Day ad agency in the building. Chiat died in 2002.
Los Angeles city officials welcomed the news.
"I am ecstatic that Google will be opening offices in Venice," said Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes the properties, in a statement. "I am particularly happy that its large number of employees will be contributing to our local economy. This should be a huge boon to the restaurants and shops on Main Street, Rose Avenue and Abbot Kinney Boulevard."
Google opened its Santa Monica office in 2003 with a few dozen employees. That outpost has grown into one of the company's biggest, with hundreds of employees spread out over several buildings.
Over the last decade, Southern California has played a frequent role in the 12-year-old company's story of growth and expansion. In 2003, Google spent $102 million for Santa Monica-based online ad start-up Applied Semantics Inc., which helped launch AdSense, a program through which advertisers bid on specific keywords. The following year, Google bought Pasadena-based Picasa Inc., which makes photo management software.
Google's continued interest in the region was fueled by the presence of the entertainment and media industries, as well as a steady supply of technical talent from local universities.
Google is expanding on both coasts. Its New York office got its start with a single person working out of a Starbucks on 86th Street in 2000. Today it has more than 2,000 employees there, and the company in December shelled out a record-setting $1.77 billion in cash for 111 8th Ave., where it was already the largest tenant with 550,000 square feet. Google, which also has offices in New Jersey, is expected to dramatically expand its headcount there in coming years.