- Property: Metro 417
- Owner: Forest City Enterprises
- Location: Los Angeles
- Renovation Cost: $55 million
- Length of Renovation: Two years
- Scope of Project: Adaptive reuse of the historic Subway Terminal Building
Once the hub of Los Angeles' Hollywood Subway line, the Subway Terminal Building has sat nearly vacant for almost a decade. But as one of the most popular movie filming locations in Southern California, this historic building has had its fair share of visitors–"Fear Factor" participants stopped by to sample creepy crawlers, Scully and Mulder discovered aliens in the dark depths of the building, and Detective Sipowicz and his fellow NYPD officers chased criminals in the hallways.
But camera crews aren't likely to stop by this building anytime soon. Forest City Residential West, a division of Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises, recently converted the 500,000-square-foot building into Metro 417–an upscale mixed-use rental community. The building's upper floors–formerly a 12-story office building–now feature 277 luxury apartments. The lower floors, which housed the historic "Red Car" subway station until system was shut down in the mid-'50s, will offer nearly 150,000 square feet of commercial space.
The ground floor will most likely feature shops, while options for the lower levels include a museum, gallery, or a nighttime entertainment spot, says Greg Vilkin, president of Forest City Residential West and Forest City Stapleton. "Metro 417 is a phenomenal financial success, and we are delighted to have it in our portfolio," says Vilkin.
Forest City is considered an expert in large-scale renovation projects, yet even its executives readily admit that the historic preservation and adaptive reuse of the Subway Terminal Building (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) was one of its more demanding undertakings. "This [building] was extremely challenging because of its size and its complexity because of the historic nature of the building," says Vilkin.
To qualify for historic tax credits and other incentives, the developer was tasked with restoring the building to its original 1925 state while updating the building's structural and mechanical systems to meet today's standards. The big catch: The National Park Service's historic guidelines forbid any visible changes to the building's exterior.
One resourceful, yet invisible, solution: For seismic upgrades, exterior shear walls were reinforced from the inside using a shotcrete system–concrete that was sprayed onto the inside face of the building's existing structure. "That was the biggest challenge, coming up with a [structural] system that had to be applied from the inside," says Vilkin.
Forest City did get some help with this intricate renovation process. The Subway Terminal Building was one of the first large-scale projects to follow the 1999 City of Los Angeles Adaptive Reuse Ordinance, which gives developers more flexibility to propose changes that may not be allowed by strict code standards. One example: Existing fire escapes were permitted to stay, even though those are typically not allowed in new construction.
The building's interior created another set of challenges for the developer. The previous tenants had little regard for historic details, leaving the project team to painstakingly restore the lobby–which now serves as Metro 417's main entrance and leasing center–to its original splendor. One of the most grueling tasks was repainting the fresco artwork on the lobby's ceiling based on photographs from 1926. "We had artists on their backs, painting the ceiling for months," says Vilkin.
The unit interiors, formerly office space, were gutted to make way for luxury apartments. "The great advantage of the building is that the vast majority of the 976 windows are 4 feet wide by 7 feet tall," says Daniel Gehman, a principal at Thomas P. Cox: Architects, an Irvine, Calif.-based architecture firm that designed the apartments. "The units tend to be wide and shallow in our design so it just really capitalizes on all that light."
The studios, one-, and two-bedroom units–offering 31 unique floor plans–feature an "urban elegance" theme with light maple wood laminate floors, cherry cabinets, black granite countertops, stainless steel sinks, and a quilted stainless steel backsplash. The development team opted for a more traditional design as opposed to the loft-style layout popular in many adaptive reuse buildings. "At the time [of development], it was very much perceived as a counterbalance to the raw loft projects in the Bank District [in L.A.]," says Gehman. Monthly rents range from $1,350 to $8,000.
The building comes complete with a TV/movie screening room–where residents just might catch a shot of their building in an old episode of "The X-Files" or "NYPD Blue."