Caruso Affiliated got the green light Thursday to initiate a project to revive the long-unused Masonic Temple building in downtown Glendale by the end of the year as a major real estate firm has already announced plans to move in and set up shop.
The Historic Preservation Commission voted 3-0 to let the developer of the Americana at Brand — located across the street from the temple — to replace the scattered window pattern on the sides of the building with a more symmetrical layout, despite concerns from local historians.
The nine-story structure at 234 S. Brand Blvd. was built in 1928 and was home to several masonic groups, but has sat vacant for decades other than housing performances by the theater troupe A Noise Within in the basement through 2011.
Caruso Affiliated announced a deal to buy the property a few weeks ago with the goal of revitalizing it and renting out commercial office space.
Although certain design elements are still being finalized, commercial real estate company CBRE has already signed a letter of intent to lease five floors, Dave Williams, executive vice president of architecture for Caruso, told the commission.
The intent is to maintain the front façade design, but one of the most noticeable changes will be to substitute the irregular window patterns on the sides with larger windows in a vertical pattern.
Sean Bersell, executive director of the Glendale Historical Society, said the group recommends an alternate design that would have the window sizes decrease from the top of the building to the bottom to maintain a semblance of the old asymmetrical pattern.
The current windows were installed in their peculiar order to reflect Masonic uses, but commissioners said they were fine with the proposed alteration.
"The lack of windows does, in fact, reflect the intent the original uses of the building and that is an important historical clue to the building's function," said Commissioner Lora Vartanian. "But it is also the window pattern and the lack of windows that has made the building dormant for almost 80 years."
John Lesak, an architect brought on as a consultant for the project, said the newer windows would let in more light and allow for lengthy sustainability down the road.
The commission's vote modifies a pair of past votes on plans to rehab the Masonic Temple by its previous owner, Frank De Pietro and Sons, but were ultimately abandoned and the undertaking was left incomplete.
The window-replacement effort is the first of three phases of the rehabilitation project, which will also entail getting the ground floor ready to house a restaurant.
The second phase will focus more on the exterior renovations as well as a new stair tower proposed to be built outside the south side of the Masonic Temple as a means to exit the building, according to the staff report.
In the third phase, final ground-floor design drawings will be reviewed.
Bersell was critical of what he called a piece-meal process.
"Presenting the project in phases in separate hearings makes it impossible for us to grasp the totality of the proposed work, the relations between the various proposed changes and the cumulative impact until the very end of the process," he said.
Evan Krenzien, Caruso's vice president of development, said several design details are still being hammered out, including plans of the exterior staircase, but that communication with city staff will be part of the process.
Commissioner Desiree Shier asked about the old advertisements painted onto the south and north sides of the building and whether they would be maintained.
Part of the second phase includes giving the Masonic Temple a new paint job, but also a lead-paint abatement effort. The paintings will be erased in the process, said Peter Hayden, senior vice president of engineering for Caruso.
"Retention of the signs would almost be impossible," Hayden said. "I don't know how we'd do it."
Arin Mikailian, email@example.com