“This building has some magic in it, and I think everyone wanted to be a part of it,” says Sally Breer, of the design firm ETC.etera. The two-story Engine Co. No. 17 building on Santa Fe Avenue was built in 1927, but it’s been decades since its two sets of hulking red double doors served their intended purpose. The Los Angeles Fire Department unit that served here for more than 50 years moved to a relatively modern facility nearby in 1980.
Instead of housing LAFD personnel and equipment, the property now pulses with a radically different kind of energy thanks to hospitality entrepreneur Dustin Lancaster's latest venture, of which Breer is a major part: the Firehouse Hotel. The hotel’s nine individually designed guest rooms—as well as its bar, restaurant, cafe and boutique—are making this block near 7th Street in the DTLA Arts District hotter than ever.
The Firehouse Hotel is Lancaster and Breer's fourth undertaking together, and this time around the effort has gotten a boost from other L.A. creatives, notably culinary-brand founder Ellen Bennett of Hedley & Bennett and accessories designer Clare Vivier of Clare V. “We're big collaborators in general, because the more cool people you can bring on, the better it’ll be,” says Lancaster. “This project is very much about L.A. love.”
In 2016 Lancaster began negotiations to take over the structure he’d seen and fallen in love with many years ago. He immediately wanted Breer on board. Given his successful track record with venues like L & E Oyster Bar, El Condor, Bar Covell, Hotel Covell and Oriel restaurant (the last two designed by Breer)—as well as other projects in his An Eastside Establishment portfolio—certain friends were eager to get involved.
“I drive by this building every day," points out Bennett, whose Hedley & Bennett studio and factory is located in Vernon. She targeted some specific needs and brokered key introductions to help move things forward, such as bringing in Ashley Abodeely, formerly chef de cuisine at NoMad Los Angeles, for the food program. (Bennett describes her own role as “creative-at-large” and designed Hedley & Bennett work coats for the restaurant wait staff.)
The Firehouse Hotel offers more services and amenities than Hotel Covell, which opened in 2015 with the distinctive stamp of Breer’s unconventional approach and aesthetic. “Always our job first and foremost is to respect the architecture and breathe some new life into it,” says Breer. In this case, the team retained the dignified 92-year-old civic landmark’s original wood and concrete floors, exposed wood-truss ceilings and pressed-tin panels. (The building’s previous owner had lived in a loft apartment upstairs; other sections of the building remained mostly raw.)
Larry Schneider, Jr.—a member of a legendary firefighting family that’s served in the LAFD for four generations—shared insights about Engine Co. No. 17’s past to deepen the Firehouse Hotel team’s understanding. There was never any debate, for instance, as to whether the small niches originally built to hold statuettes of the Virgin Mary should stay or go or if the firefighters’ handball court should be incorporated into the restaurant's outdoor seating area. Meanwhile, newly built board-and-batten wall treatments in the upstairs corridor are compatible with the historic fabric.
Breer used a deceptively simple organizing scheme to distinguish the individual guest rooms: color. Upstairs, three rooms—Red, Violet and White/Rainbow—can be configured into a larger suite, while five others (Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue and Indigo) offer unique, trend-free environments. (The Black room is on the ground floor.) Vivier designed leather-tassel key chains that correspond to each color, along with signature seersucker bathrobes and striped leather catchall trays, all available for purchase in the gift shop along with Firehouse Hotel-exclusive souvenirs and other L.A.-centric goods curated by Breer’s ETC.etera business partner, Jake Rodehuth-Harrison.
Rather than being an inflexible mandate, the idea of the color palettes was to pursue “an interpretive version,” Breer explains. “It was really fun to lean into that. Orange is a perfect example—you don't want to live in orange, but I think that room is successful because it’s a mix of everything that is orange.” (Indeed, Breer explores ochre, camel and even pink in the Orange room.)
Throughout the guest rooms and public spaces, Breer turned to her close network of craftspeople and designers. Many furnishings are custom, while some are from ETC.etera’s own collection. Vintage leather sofas bought at Amsterdam Modern, a longtime Breer favorite, sit in two of the guest rooms. Brendan Ravenhill, Simon St. James LeComte and Jason Koharik created dazzling custom lighting and other handmade components throughout, and Breer set her sights on multiple Atelier de Troupe pieces. Curator and dealer Jonath
on Pessin and County Ltd. shop on Hyperion in Silver Lake were essential resources for original art.
There is risk in every space. It’s the rare eye that can successfully juxtapose a bed niche draped with a traditional Schumacher floral pattern in a blue colorway with an oversized lumbar pillow made from a Block Shop Textiles - printed fabric. It’s part of a “pattern on pattern on pattern” tactic that Breer extends to texture and other details. She painstakingly assembled chromatic groupings of square Clé Tile in bathrooms and in select kitchenettes so that the glossiness of the tiles “becomes like a mosaic mirror.” Another bold move is the mirrored mosaic bar downstairs, which Breer repeated in the kitchenette backsplash of the White/Rainbow room.
With its edgy blend of old and new, the Firehouse Hotel is perfectly positioned in the evolving Arts District landscape. Adjacent buzzy businesses abound: Bread Lounge and Bestia attract locals and destination diners; chef Lincoln Carson is opening a French restaurant in the historic Heinz warehouse next door; and Mexico City-based superstar chef Enrique Olvera's highly anticipated L.A. outpost is coming soon. Warner Music Group employees will likely constitute much of the Firehouse Hotel’s clientele when its West Coast headquarters open across the street in the erstwhile Ford Factory complex. But given Lancaster’s preference for places that feel “more neighborhood oriented, where people actually live,” the growing full-time downtown residential population is a plus, too.
distinctive setting and the collective crew involved
, that the Firehouse Hotel represents a cumulative Los Angeles moment. “I do feel like there’s great a creative community here, but there’s also a great sense of community—meaning people are trying to bring other people up with them,” says Clare Vivier. “I think that's what’s making it work so well, because it does take a village to make great things happen.”
Opening in April.
Fire House Hotel, 710 S. Santa Fe Ave.