Old Department Store Converted to Offices : Former Ohrbach's in Miracle Mile Turned Into Two-Story Suites Around an Atrium

Times Staff Writer

"What the hell do we do with this ?"

Builder J. H. Snyder's reaction was understandable. He was looking at a cavernous 90,000 square feet of former Ohrbach's Miracle Mile department store interior, decorated with dust and furnished with old records and files heaped floor to ceiling. The two-story, concrete and steel building had no outside windows except a few show windows along Wilshire Boulevard.

A more unprepossessing prospect would be hard to find.

It is connected to the adjoining 10-story tower now called Museum Square, formerly the Prudential Insurance Co. building, which the J. H. Snyder Co. and Ogo Associates have revamped into a modern office building. The records and files were left from the time Prudential used the old store as a warehouse.

The immediately apparent options were unexciting at best: to develop a new kind of warehouse space; to chance some kind of ground-floor retail operation--although they felt the surrounding neighborhood could not support more retail stores--or to tear it down and build something new.

Offices Around Atrium

They did none of these things. Today, three years later, the old store is The Promenade, where two-story office suites surround a two-story, 22-foot-high, 30-foot-wide atrium with gardens, marble floor and 18-foot-tall trees.

The imaginative architects, Swimmer, Cole, Martinez, Curtis & Associates, carried out Snyder's conception of up-and-down office space to maximize available space and to "accommodate a different type of tenant than those occupying the office tower." For example, an option is an interior staircase giving an air of grace and elegance to a suite.

One of the available spaces has its own private circular motor court, with parking just outside its main door.

The smallest office space is 5,000 square feet and the largest 20,000 square feet, with windows looking out onto the greenery of the central atrium. A tenant may, if he wishes, take more space on the larger second floor than on the ground floor.

Cliff Spangler, director of marketing for The Promenade and the other Snyder/Ogo project next door, Museum Square, said, "With a pre-lease rate of $1.85 a square foot for the first level and $1.35 a square foot for the upper level, medium-sized firms are able to move into something exciting and different for a very attractive rate. (Rates will rise to $2 a square foot downstairs and $1.50 upstairs on May 1.)

"Rates for comparable space both east (downtown) and west (Century City and Beverly Hills) of the Miracle Mile are considerably higher. Nothing compares to this," he said. "People still recognize a true value."

As evidence, he cites that 40% of The Promenade's space was leased before it was opened for showing. Signed tenants to date include Selkirk Communications Inc. (Selcom), which has moved in; Alpha Graphics and Pacific Brokerage Co. The leasing office is in Museum Square at 5757 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 35 West.

The cost of transforming the old department store into The Promenade was given by Snyder/Ogo as $2 million--which includes only the renovation and rebuilding, not the purchase of the land and building.

The Promenade is the final stage of Snyder/Ogo's Museum Square renovation. The office towers are 95% leased, with major tenants including Ogilvy & Mather, an advertising firm; the Securities & Exchange Commission, New York Life Insurance Co. and INA.

Renovation and refurbishing of the tower cost $30 million, the developers said, which again does not include the cost of the building and land but does include the new parking garage.

Snyder sees Museum Square as a prototype for the revitalization of changing urban centers.

"I know this same approach can work in other cities," he said. "It's an opportunity for developers to create something different and give something to communities at the same time."

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