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Americana at Brand developer looks to buy, restore historic Masonic Temple

Americana at Brand developer looks to buy, restore historic Masonic Temple
A detail shot of the the entrance to the Masonic Temple on Brand Blvd. on Thursday, April 9. 2015. Caruso Affiliated, which owns the Americana at Brand, has entered into an agreement to buy the former Masonic Temple, two adjacent buildings and an adjoining vacant lot on South Brand Boulevard in Glendale. (Roger Wilson / Staff Photographer)

Downtown Glendale's development boom continues as multiunit housing projects pop up, but plans announced this week by Caruso Affiliated aim to breathe new life into a nearly 90-year-old building in the downtown area that stands taller than most of its neighboring structures.

Rick Caruso, chief executive of the company, is working to close its purchase of the nine-story Masonic Temple at 232 S. Brand Blvd. — across the street from his company's outdoor mall, the America at Brand — and is looking to restore it as well as renovate it into office space for lease. He also intends to add a restaurant on the ground floor.

"The thing I'm most excited about is bringing the building back to life," Caruso said in a phone interview. "It's been empty for the most part of the last 30 years other than it had the [theater] group A Noise Within for some time."

The theater company produced productions in the temple's basement from the early 1990s through 2011 and eventually moved to Pasadena.

Caruso said he's been eyeing the building since the Americana opened seven years ago, but the deal to acquire the property for an undisclosed amount from the current owners, Frank De Pietro and Sons, wasn't reached until recently.

The restoration is expected to be completed by the end of this year, and roughly 55,000 square feet of office space will be available for lease, he said.

Part of the work entails adding new windows on the sides of the building to accommodate the new office space, Caruso said.

Jay Platt, the city's historic preservation planner, said the rear of the structure will also be getting new windows and the existing window arrangement is sort of a hodgepodge because some rooms were fitted for them, while others wouldn't meet the various needs of Masonic organizations.

Designed by architect Arthur G. Lindley, the Masonic Temple opened in 1928 and has housed six different Masonic organizations. The building is also a designated landmark on Glendale's Register of Historic Places.

While it's important to maintain the integrity of historic properties, they also need to be made to fit in the 21st century, said Greg Grammer, president of the Glendale Historical Society.

"We think Glendale's historic architecture should be very much a part of Glendale's growth and development, which is why we support adaptive reuse of older historic buildings," he said.

Grammer said the society is working with Caruso Affiliated on restoration plans and will continue to offer constructive comments, especially when it comes to the windows and the material to be used in making them.

Caruso has also hired a historic preservation consultant to work on the project.

Frank De Pietro and Sons had, at one point, began its own restorative efforts, but they were later abandoned.

Caruso Affiliated officials are moving forward with modifications to those plans, and they will need to be reviewed by the city's Historic Preservation Commission, Platt said.

The first meeting is scheduled at 5 p.m. on April 16.

Despite its catalog of outdoor shopping malls throughout Los Angeles, taking on the Masonic Temple overhaul is a first-of-a-kind project for Caruso Affiliated's portfolio.

Caruso named his outdoor mall on the Westside, the Grove, as an example of preserving history because it was built to incorporate the adjacent Original Farmers Market.

"We've always been very protective of the history of this region and respectful of it; that's certainly consistent with the approach we're taking at the temple," he said.

The developer also bought an empty lot next to the Masonic Temple which he plans to use for at-grade parking for the time being, as well as two small adjacent buildings that will maintain their current tenants.

Caruso said Americana's management team will oversee the renovated building, though the shopping mall's name won't extend to the newly acquired property.

The words "Masonic Temple" are written near the top of the building, so it won't go by any other name, he said.

"That's what is literally engraved in the concrete of the building, and that will remain," he said.

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Arin Mikailian, arin.mikailian@latimes.com

Twitter: @ArinMikailian

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