History on Repeat: A pair of buildings by architect Julia Morgan await reuse
The Architect’s Newspaper
By Mimi Zeiger
November 12, 2015

Two long-vacant Julia Morgan–designed buildings are moving forward this fall with plans for renovation, restoration, and adaptive reuse. The architect, famously known for the expansive Mediterranean Revival Hearst Castle estate, also designed the Downtown Los Angeles headquarters for the Hearst’s sixth newspaper, the Herald Examiner Building, and the progressive YWCA in Pasadena. Both structures will take on new uses and re-engage their urban settings in the coming years.

Opened in 1915, the Moorish-style Herald Examiner Building at Broadway and Eleventh stopped printing in 1989. Located at the juncture of two rapidly-developing downtown areas—Broadway Corridor and South Park—there’s been much speculation as to its eventual redux. Properties on either side of the building have been sold off and at one time it was speculated that a Morphosis-designed high-rise would fill one lot. As of 2014, Forest City was developing two seven-story mixed-use buildings for the flanking properties.

Prior to its close, nine years of worker strikes led to the newspaper boarding up the building’s street side arcade facade. In the years since, it has hosted film and television shoots—uses that kept the building from falling into total neglect. Development partners Georgetown Company and Hearst Corporation have partnered to redevelop the historic building, bringing in Gensler to transform the structure into more than 100,000 square feet of mixed-use retail and office space. The hope is to capitalize on the area’s revitalized street life and L.A. real estate’s demand for creative workspace.

Robert Jernigan, architect and Gensler principal, noted the building’s singular ceramic domes and terra-cotta details, vowing to approach the renovation carefully and “with a high degree of honesty.” He pointed out the potential of the largely intact, roughly 1,500-square-foot lobby to become a bar, cafe, or lounge area leading for a ground floor restaurant. “It’s a building that went through a lot, but it wasn’t a precious building,” he explained. “There’s an internal stair that has a brass railing that is dimpled because the strikers took sticks and beat the railing.”

He relayed a story about how the sawtooth skylights over the printing floor were blacked out during World War II and never uncovered. He suggested that the restoration will bring back the natural daylight.

“The cultural history is important,” said Michael Fischer, vice president of Georgetown Company, explaining that there are plans to also work with historical consultant. “The Hearst Corporation is staying in the deal with us. This building was very important to them and they will remain as stewards. There are a lot of stories in this building. We’re thinking about the history and how to incorporate it into the old new design.” He anticipates that the building will reopen in the middle of 2017.

In Pasadena, a proposal to convert Morgan’s 48,000-square-foot YWCA building in the city’s civic center into a Kimpton Hotel is working its way through approvals. Architectural Resources Group is leading the effort, which also includes an adjacent 87,000-square-foot, six-story building. Pasadena citizens are carefully watching the design development of the addition, which sits across the street from Pasadena’s Beaux Arts City Hall. According to Kevin Johnson of Pasadena’s Design & Historic Preservation Section, an environmental impact report is expected to be released at the end of October.

Combined, the new hotel buildings would feature 179 guest rooms and suites, meeting rooms, and a 140-seat restaurant. The design also converts the old gym into a large event space. Morgan’s YWCA buildings were known for their beautiful indoor swimming pools. Here, the pool will be kept intact, but covered and used for a ballroom.

In the late 1980s, the YWCA left the building, finding that the upkeep and maintenance of the historic structure was beyond the organization’s mission. It sat empty for decades, with some promising change in ownership, but little came of those efforts. The City of Pasadena, who now owns the building through eminent domain, is leading the current proposal. There’s been some opposition to the new building component, which sits on land that—while not an official park—is considered by many a public green space. The city’s proposal notes that the nearby Robinson Memorial is unaffected by new construction.

Conservation non-profit Pasadena Heritage has long been interested in Morgan’s Mediterranean gem and helped to protect the structure during its 100-year history. “Pasadena was a progressive community in the 1900s and local women were part of having a vision for the city—one of the things to happen was to have Julia Morgan design our YWCA,” explained executive director Sue Mossman. “Pasadena was on the cutting edge of hiring a woman architect. We are lucky to have this building and have it largely intact with very little change over the last 100 years.”

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