Shrouded under a green tarp, the first highrise ever built in Westwood (commonly known as the "Monty's building" for its top-floor steakhouse) is like a patient undergoing major invasive surgery.
What will emerge when the dust settles in late 1999 will bear no resemblance to the building that has stood at 1100 Glendon Ave. for the past 34 years.
Arden Realty Inc. is undertaking a $21 million makeover that will transform the mid-1960s concrete artifact into a sleek, modern green-gray glass structure. Brentwood-based Arden purchased a controlling interest in the building a year ago for less than $30 million.
Such renovations are not uncommon in markets like Los Angeles, where the approval process for a new commercial structure is time-consuming and expensive. Even with approvals in hand, major renovations can be completed much quicker than new construction, because the foundation and frame are already in place. That allows the building's owner to get cash flow sooner.
To market the Monty's building, Arden has been giving weekly breakfast briefings to small groups of leasing brokers, who are reminded that the building's true name is Westwood Center, not the Monty's building.
"It was really chopped up in little offices. We have to reintroduce the building to the brokerage community," said Molly Hobin, vice president of leasing for Arden. "It's going to be a class-A building throughout. It was always a C building in an A location."
Westwood Center is located at the corner of Glendon and Tiverton avenues and contains 314,000 square feet of office and retail space.
Los Angeles-based Nadel Architects has designed several changes to the old structure, including floor-to-ceiling windows with stainless-steel accents. The air conditioning and heating systems have been moved to the perimeter walls from the center of each floor, allowing for higher ceilings.
Trusses on the outside are coming off and an upturned metal canopy is being added to the penthouse floor, which will be illuminated at night. New plumbing and high-speed elevators are being installed, as well as advanced voice and data technology.
"Everything is brand new, rebuilt," said John Kamus, a principal of Shlemmer+Kamus who redesigned the building's interior.
The 22-story tower is scheduled to be ready for occupancy by year end, and several brokers said Arden will likely have a few tenants signed up long before then.
Prospective tenants being targeted by Arden are in the entertainment, media, professional and financial services industries. Arden is also having preliminary discussions with neighboring UCLA about the university leasing some office space. In addition, several high-end restaurants are eyeing the ground floor.
"It's definitely going to be a knockout and the nicest thing to happen in Westwood in the last few years," said Tim Macker, president of Westmac Commercial Brokerage.
The project also happens to be in a strong submarket. Westwood has an office vacancy rate of only 9.2 percent, and any tenant in need of more than 30,000 square feet would find very few options in Westwood, said Gary Weiss, senior managing director at Julien J. Studley Inc.
"There's no product like this available," said Eric Hasserjian, regional leasing manager for Arden.
At $2.85-$3.25 per square foot, Westwood Center's asking monthly rents are in line with other Westwood office towers, but about 50 percent more than they were before the work began.
So far, the asbestos has been removed and tenants have been relocated to other Westside buildings. Two tenants Monty's and investor relations firm Silverman Heller Associates are staying open throughout the construction.
Gene Heller said his firm has been in the building for 12 years and didn't want to be dislocated, both because of the economics of moving and the building's location. Although Arden warned him about disruptions, it's been more difficult than he anticipated.
"It's the noise, the dirt, the inconvenience," Heller said. But he agrees Westwood Center was badly in need of an upgrade.
"The building was not adequate and had continued to deteriorate. The building certainly needs what Arden is doing," he said. "We as tenants will be in a better-quality building."
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