Face Lift Completed on One Bunker Hill Building

One Bunker Hill, next-door neighbor of the planned Library Tower project, is having a celebration of its own this week.

Westgroup Inc., owner of the 56-year-old building on the corner of 5th Street and Grand Avenue, will mark completion of the $10-million face lift it has given the property at a ceremony Thursday.

Westgroup has brought the structure's 40-foot-high Art Deco lobby back to life by restoring its sculptured wood and polishing the 17 types of marble on its floors and walls. The ornate gold-leaf ceiling murals were hand-restored.

New electrical, security and plumbing systems have been installed. The elevator system was overhauled and the original mahogany cabs were refurbished.

Cleaned the Exterior

Westgroup cleaned up the 13-story building's exterior and added atrium offices to the property's setbacks. The company also plans to add retail shops and a restaurant.

The history of One Bunker Hill--formerly headquarters for the Southern California Edison Co.--shows how real estate prices in downtown Los Angeles have soared over the past several years.

The structure was built in 1931 for about $5 million--an astronomical sum at the time, considering the nation was in the depths of the Depression. Known then as the Edison Building, it was the first large structure in the western United States to be completely heated and cooled by electricity.

Southern California Edison sold the building and some nearby parking structures to investor Arnold Wisper's One Bunker Hill Co. in 1971 for $8.3 million. The building was renamed One Bunker Hill.

Knew He Took Chance

Wisper later told an interviewer than he knew he was taking a chance when he purchased the property. At the time, the structure was primarily surrounded by vacant land because the city's downtown redevelopment program was in its infancy.

Several new office buildings had just opened, leasing activity was slow, and the massive Arco Plaza--destined to be Los Angeles' biggest and most luxurious office complex--was nearing completion.

Concerns Proved Prophetic

Wisper's concerns proved prophetic; the property eventually fell into foreclosure proceedings. To keep some cash coming in, the building was often rented out to movie and television production companies.

The building emerged from foreclosure in 1979, and its fortunes quickly took a turn for the better. First Business Bank moved in and spent about $500,000 renovating its space, and other tenants followed.

The value of the building began to soar, thanks to double-digit inflation, a firming market for office space and the efforts by the Community Redevelopment Agency and private entrepreneurs to revitalize the downtown area.

In January, 1984, Wisper sold the building to Maguire Thomas Partners for $42 million--a 400% profit in 13 years.

Maguire Thomas immediately sold the building to Westgroup, and today it's valued at about $55 million.

For the Record Los Angeles Times Sunday August 23, 1987 Home Edition Real Estate Part 8 Page 7 Column 1 Real Estate Desk 2 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction An article about One Bunker Hill (June 21) incorrectly stated that the property had once been in foreclosure when it was owned by the One Bunker Hill Co. Maguire Thomas Partners purchased the building, two parking facilities and an option to purchase 75,000 square feet of underlying land in 1984.
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