Architects have been showing a new liking for downtown Los Angeles lately. It's not so much to design buildings there, but to house their own offices.

Not only is the Southern California Institute of Architecture moving to the artists' loft district, but several high-profile firms are in the process of migrating to or expanding in downtown skyscrapers.

Altoon + Porter Architects plans to move 75 employees from the firm's home base of the past nine years, Wilshire Courtyard in the Miracle Mile, to 444 S. Flower St. It will nearly double its space in the process.

"We've been on a long search for expanded facilities," said James Porter, a partner at the firm, which is designing mixed-use projects all over the world.

In addition to Altoon + Porter, Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall, L.A.'s biggest architecture firm, is hunting for 100,000 square feet downtown for its 500 employees.

The firm, currently located in Mid-Wilshire, is considering Arco Plaza, 707 Wilshire Blvd. and 333 S. Hope St.

Architectonica has moved its L.A. office to the 444 S. Flower building from Mid-Wilshire; Leo A. Daly just moved to new, bigger offices within downtown; and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill also anticipates a major expansion downtown.

For Altoon + Porter, it was a matter of needing more space and of finding a good deal. "It's a good time to be (downtown), and it was the best deal rent-wise, and the quality of the space attracted us to it," Porter said.

Wilshire Courtyard was a great deal a few years ago, but the building has become a sought-after address and is filled to capacity, with rents pushing $3 per square foot a month. Hollywood trade publication Variety, another Wilshire Courtyard tenant, is already said to be negotiating for Altoon + Porter's current space.

When Altoon + Porter moves to its new offices in December, it will occupy the 47th and 48th floors, which were originally built out for Wells Fargo & Co., with high ceilings and an interior staircase.

"The challenge is to do something creative and unique and establish our own personality," Porter said.

Altoon + Porter is subleasing from Wells Fargo for 11 years. Sources estimated the value of the deal at more than $7.5 million. The space has been occupied by Sumitomo Bank, which is moving to another floor and downsizing.

"Downtown has great opportunities for tenants on the Westside who are prepared to change their culture a bit," said John B. Stern, a principal at Cresa Partners who represented Altoon + Porter.

Meanwhile, the Southern California Institute of Architecture, or SCI-Arc, plans to move its campus, along with 500 students and staff, from Marina del Rey to an old railroad freight building at the corner of Third Street and Santa Fe Avenue. Another design institution, Art Center College of Design of Pasadena, is also weighing a move and expansion downtown.

Other architecture firms already downtown include AC Martin Partners, RTKL and Johnson Fain Partners.

"Architects are interested in the urbanity of the city and the price is right," said William Fain, managing partner at Johnson Fain, which designed offices downtown with a Westside flair high ceilings and exposed ducts.

Leo A. Daly's new offices at 550 S. Hope St. also have an open feel, with lots of maple woodwork. Daly recently moved and expanded from its 12,000-square-foot offices at 911 Wilshire Blvd. to 17,000 square feet of space, along with a balcony.

Of course, the jury is still out on whether arts, culture and design will lead to an upswing for the still-soft office market. It might be more a matter of simple economics.

"I know a lot of Westside people feel, 'There's no way I'll ever move,' but when the rent is more than twice as much (on the Westside), when do you start to look at the bottom line?" Stern said.

Hollywood Deals

TrizecHahn Corp. has been hard at work building the 640,000-square-foot Hollywood & Highland retail-entertainment complex, but hasn't said much about the tenants, besides the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a couple of others.

Last week, it announced two others in the lineup. Schwab's drugstore is returning to Hollywood and Duty Free Shops is opening a 42,000-square-foot DFS Galleria store.

Schwab's, where legend has it that Lana Turner was discovered at the soda counter, will be a "hip, high-energy drugstore," complete with soda fountain, according to TrizecHahn. The high-end drugstore, developed by Entertainment Venue Development, will also feature a deli and sell the latest, cutting-edge cosmetics, accessories and other merchandise. John Tronson of RamseyShilling Co. represented the tenant.

DFS Galleria will offer brand-name ready-to-wear, leather, cosmetics, fragrances, shoes, accessories and tobacco and liquor products.

New Lease on Life

Trans World Airlines struck a blow to L.A.'s struggling Central City West area last year when it announced it would close its only reservations center on the West Coast, phasing out 400 jobs there.

Now the 36,000-square-foot building is about to have a new, public-sector occupant: The Los Angeles Unified School District, which plans to house its personnel services division at the building, at 1543 Shatto St.

About 75 people will be employed at the site, which will be used for professional training and will replace personnel services activities currently based downtown.

The 10-year lease is valued in excess of $7 million. Rob Fuelling of Investment Development Services represented the school district. John Archibald and Casey Adams of Grubb & Ellis Co. represented building owner Morgan-Adams.

Water Garden II Inks Deal

Getty Images, a leading e-commerce provider of imagery, has signed a 10-year lease for 25,000 square feet in the second phase of the Water Garden office complex in Santa Monica.

Getty Images plans to consolidate its current Studio City, Hollywood and Santa Monica offices into the project later this year. Headquartered in Seattle, Getty Images has a library of more than 70 million images and 30,000 hours of film.

Josef Farrar and David Kluth of Julien J. Studley represented Getty Images and Brendan McCracken and Scott Chalmers represented landlord J.H. Snyder Co. in-house.

Elizabeth Hayes can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 229, or at ehayes@labusinessjournal.com.

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