A week after hearing about federal officials swinging through a vacant office building close to Los Angeles International Airport, Hawthorne City Manager Arnold Shadbehr is still confused.
Shadbehr hasn’t heard from the federal government or anyone else — other than reporters — about the visit to study homelessness in California. The Washington Post last week reported that officials with the administration of President Trump had “secretly” toured the one-time Federal Aviation Administration facility in Hawthorne as part of discussions about turning it into a government-run homeless shelter.
The glassy building at 15000 Aviation Blvd. is in the process of being sold to a commercial developer and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, raising even more questions about why the Trump delegation supposedly chose it.
“We were baffled,” Shadbehr said.
Worthe Real Estate Group, the Santa Monica real estate company that’s in escrow for the building, had no idea that federal officials had planned to visit, said Janna Boelke, a vice president with the company.
The sale of the building will close Dec. 2 and Worthe plans to use the building as office space, Boelke said. The idea of a homeless shelter, Boelke said, was “news to us.”
The former FAA building was designed by Cesar Pelli and Anthony Lumsden in the mid-1960s and built in the early 1970s.
The design was groundbreaking, according to the L.A. Conservancy’s website. While the mirrored skin building design would soon become common in corporate architecture, it “fittingly saw its start here in the world of aerospace.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti said last week that he was in the dark about Trump’s homeless strategy for Southern California and suggested that the federal government’s habit of providing few details about its plans was part of its approach.
“The playbook out of this White House has been to try to sow fear even when they get nothing done, whether it’s with immigrants, now maybe with homeless individuals,” Garcetti said.
Hawthorne officials also said they had no information about the delegation’s visit to their city, which has a population of about 87,000.
The city is undergoing a resurgence, adding new homes, restaurants and breweries. Rocket maker SpaceX has its headquarters in Hawthorne, and a Courtyard by Marriott recently opened on one of the city’s major thoroughfares.
City Councilman Alexandre Monteiro questioned putting a homeless shelter on Aviation Boulevard at a time when the city is seeing so much development.
“I have to tell you, the reaction from the community is going to be very negative,” Monteiro said. “It’s not the right spot.”
Hawthorne resident Miriam Kay, 26, said she supports putting a homeless shelter in the city, but “they would have to be strategic” about the location. She worried that homeless people would gather outside the shelter in the same way they do in L.A., where skid row has become a magnet for encampments.
Shawn Steel, Republican national committee member for California, planned to greet Trump on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport and congratulate him for bringing attention to the issue of homelessness.
Trump arrived in the San Francisco Bay area on Tuesday morning, and planned to attend a fundraiser in the Los Angeles region in the evening before heading to San Diego on Wednesday.
Using vacant government buildings to house people “shows good common sense,” Steel said.
Hawthorne has just about 100 homeless people, compared with L.A.'s more than 36,000, according to the latest count. But those living on the streets in this South Bay city said there are few services in the area.
Darryl Barrett, 64, said he’s been homeless since his rent gradually rose from $900 to $1,700. Barrett said he had slept the previous night on the sidewalk outside a nail salon off El Segundo Boulevard. If a new shelter opened, “I’d be there quick,” he said.
The U.S. General Services Administration didn’t immediately provide ownership status about 15000 Aviation Blvd. The federal government already is required to lease or deed vacant federal properties to nonprofits for free or to cities to use for shelters or other aid for homeless people.
The idea of repurposing government buildings and architecturally significant structures for homeless shelters is increasingly popular in Los Angeles.
Earlier this month, a women’s shelter opened in a restored Midcentury Modern library building in Hollywood. Another nearby housing facility operates out of a 1920s Mediterranean-style building designed by famed architect Julia Morgan.
Adrian Scott Fine, director of advocacy at the L.A. Conservancy, spent about two hours at the building at 15000 Aviation Blvd. on Monday with representatives for the developer. The conservancy is working with Worthe and the federal government to maintain the property as it transfers from public ownership into private hands.
“We’re all as curious as anyone,” Fine said of news that Trump officials had toured the site. “What does it mean?”
Times staff writer Laura Nelson contributed to this report.