Converting a 1965 Vintage Office to a New Hotel

H. Kit Miyamoto, Ph.D., S.E.

I am at a vacant and gray 13-story building near Los Angeles International Airport. Construction is underway with noisy jackhammers and pounding metal studs slamming my ears. This development project in LA is ambitious. We and the builder, KCS West, are converting a rundown, 1965-era, ordinary office building on Century Boulevard into a four-star hotel with a new pool deck. Plenty of big-name brand hotels dot this high-profile boulevard and it is not easy to compete in this razor-thin market.

But Aaron, the developer, in conjunction with the California Real Estate Regional Center, CaRE, had a different idea. His plan is to play up the vintage style, add a pool deck floor and convert this to the four-start hotel.

“L.A. hotels are getting expensive and traffic is not getting any better,” he explains. “We are seeing more and more people use LAX hotels as a center for tourism and business activities, so many are staying a week or more.”

He looks up as a Boeing 787 takes off from the runway, then continues.

“I saw a gap in the market. Very few hotels are catering to this new need for longer stays that are more fun. So, we decided to utilize the historic charm of this building and add an activity floor to improve the amenities.”

This is risk taking. Conversion of an office to a hotel requires a full building code upgrade and he is also adding a floor. Obviously, the converted building also must meet L.A.’s strict seismic requirements.

It’s a big design challenge also.

“We try to keep building form as much as possible for historic authenticity and cost saving,” adds Vicki from the architect, Carrier Johnson. “We were able to keep the central core as the circulation system and all concrete skins. We even have exposed concrete waffle slab in each room.”

No one builds like this anymore. It is like discovering a valuable second-hand item in a vintage store.

The structural engineering challenge was also not insignificant. Our engineering team converted circulation core walls to reinforced concrete shear walls, but they soon found that the foundation had to be bigger than the building footprint! Additional seismic force is created by the additional floor, and there are new seismic code requirements. So, they came up with the idea to tie shear walls at roof level with five-foot-deep beams, essentially providing an outrigger system usually used for high-rise construction, utilized here to reduce foundation size.

To me, this is the ultimate sustainable project. It is easier, perhaps, to tear down an old office building and replace it with new construction. But the development team will end up with a unique architectural gem with faster construction by saving the old structure. Some say L.A. is big and ugly. Maybe so, but LA is like peeling the skin of an orange. There is plenty of sweetness; beauty exists inside the skin; and these heritage buildings are everywhere. Walk through rundown Broadway Street downtown. You would not believe the row of turn-of-the-last-century heritage theaters found there – something I have never seen anywhere in the world. Many were still shut down and rarely used. But each has its own unique history and are like jewel boxes. They need to be discovered soon. Developers like Aaron – using a combination of architectural, engineering, and construction creativity – put the street center stage again.   

August 5, 2019

In Santa Monica


H. Kit Miyamoto, Ph.D., S.E., is the CEO and a structural engineer for Miyamoto International (http://miyamotointernational.com), a California seismic safety commissioner, and president of the technical nonprofit Miyamoto Global Disaster Relief. He specializes in high-performance earthquake engineering and disaster mitigation, response, and reconstruction.

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