Big Plans for a Huge Arts District Building

San Francisco’s Shorenstein Properties has purchased the 1912 Ford Motor Factory Building in the Arts District and plans to market it to creative office tenants, with retail on the ground floor. The renovation will start in the spring.

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - As the Arts District has boomed in the past few years, one mammoth structure has stood quiet. That is about to change.


San Francisco-based real estate giant Shorenstein Properties purchased the 102-year-old former Ford Motor Factory building at the southwestcorner of Seventh Street and Santa Fe Avenue, and two accompanying structures, for $37 million in April. Last week, Shorenstein officials revealed details of their revitalization plan at a meeting hosted by the land use committee of the Los Angeles River Artists and Business Association. 

The vision involves turning the approximately 300,000-square-foot complex into creative office space with ground-floor retail on Seventh Street and Santa Fe Avenue, said Jim Pierre, senior vice president of Shorenstein. He said he expects construction to begin next April and be completed in spring 2016. No budget has been announced.

Shorenstein owns and manages 26.2 million square feet of office and mixed-use buildings across the country, including Downtown’s 1.1-million-square foot Aon Center, which it acquired for $270 million in October. Pierre said the company was drawn to the Arts District by the growth in the residential sector, transit improvements and an increasing number of restaurants and entertainment options.

The vicinity of Seventh and Santa Fe has seen the creation of housing complexes and the arrival of the artisanal bakery Bread Lounge and Stumptown Coffee, among others. Pierre said these developments, which he termed “urbanization trends,” have resulted in an increased office demand from a variety of industries, including tech and media. 

“That trend and the unique history of this special property made the investment very appealing to us,” Pierre said.

The project will be called the Ford Factory. Renderings reveal floor-to-ceiling windows on the ground floor. The four levels above the street also will feature large windows. 

One major change will be the rooftop. Shorenstein Development Manager Jeanie Ranier told the LARABA committeethe company envisions a deck that would offer sweeping views of Downtown and Boyle Heights.

Shorenstein representatives said they plan to keep the existing water tower on the roof, though for decorative purposes. The steel window frames will also remain, but the glass will be replaced. Pierre described a 340-foot-long skylight stretching down the middle of the building as “just amazing.” 

He said plans call for using recycled materials from the property in the new construction. In past Shorenstein projects, Pierre said, the company turned a 1,000-pound door into a conference table and used marble from a bathroom floor to create lobby tiles.

Pierre would not discuss possible retail tenants, though he indicated the company will not pursue chain stores.  

“Retail creates a vibe we want — cool retail. We don’t want a Starbucks,” he said. “I don’t think that would be in keeping with the neighborhood.”

No More Model T’s

The Ford building opened in 1912 as Ford Motor Company’s primary Southern California assembly operations for Model T’s and Model A’s. It functioned as the headquarters of Los Angeles-based Imperial Toy Company from 1972 to 2005. Shorenstein bought the three buildings on the roughly four-acre site and plans to demolish one structure to erect a parking garage.  

It is not the only prominent project set for the area. Mark Borman, the original developer on the project that became 940 E. 2nd St., has purchased two properties east of the Ford Building, and owns another property at 2045 Violet St., south of Shorenstein’s acquisition. He is in the midst of preparing plans and said he thinks the clutch of developments can heavily increase foot traffic in the community. 

“I think the activity will keep continuing all the way down to the 10 Freeway,” Borman said. “It’s going to create a lot of jobs and continue to be unique and dynamic.”

In 2013, Bolour Associates and Crescenta Capital partners purchased a collection of 11 warehouse and industrial buildings on the north side of Seventh Street at Santa Fe Avenue. Their AMP Lofts will be a $130 million development with 320 live/work apartments and 20,000 square feet of retail space. It would include 60,000 square feet of open space. 

AMP project manager Ryan Granito anticipates breaking ground by the middle of 2016, with an opening in 2018. Residences at AMP Lofts would range from 525 to more than 1,200 square feet.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2014