LABJ's LA Stories

Glass Menagerie

People who work in glass offices

Jeffrey M. Kalban & Associates Architecture is trying to make the cubicle more like the corner office with a trick of the light. The firm designed the 12,000-square-foot Century City headquarters for software company CompuLaw that will give everyone from the administrative assistant to chief executive a killer view.

Construction started last week on the glass-enclosed building at the corner of Olympic Boulevard and Century Park West. Its loft-style design is intended to bathe every corner of the two-story office in sunlight. A curved ceiling that sweeps to the front of the building will serve as a sunshade and also channel light inward. During the summer, thermally efficient light-green glass will deflect the sun's heat; during the winter, sunlight is harvested to warm the building.

The firm's 30 employees will be consolidated from three nearby offices and are expected to move in fall 2005.

"It creates a better work atmosphere for people who don't have the privilege to sit at a window," said Jeffrey Kalban, the firm's principal. "It shows, in a prototypical way, a better way of designing office space. This is a chance to make a statement."

Kathryn Maese

Quick Hits

-French Rags, an L.A.-based fashion company, has launched a line of dogwear yes, clothes for canines called French Wags. The quadruped garb includes sweaters, coats and accessories. The line also includes matching outfits for pooches and their owners.

-Step Up on Second, a Santa Monica facility that specializes in assistance to the mentally ill homeless, celebrates its 20th anniversary with "Art Heals," a fundraising event at the Lowe Gallery on Sept. 30. The artwork was created by program participants, and will be moved to the Community Focus Gallery inside Santa Monica Place for an exhibit that runs through October. Step Up on Second houses 34, and last year offered counseling and meals to about 1,200 people.

-'Sex and the Valley' was a recent headline over an item that read: "With chic nightspots multiplying faster than soccer moms, the Valley has emerged as the new party destination." The Web site then listed the hot spots of nightlife there. There were five. (Three in Studio City, one in Sherman Oaks, one in North Hollywood.)

Steve Silkin

Sonic Dunes

Call it Whoopee Cushion science. Except instead of an air-filled bag that makes an embarrassing sound, you sit on a mountain of sand to trigger a "dune boom."

"It sounds like a low flying propeller plane," said Melany Hunt, a Caltech professor of mechanical engineering who has been studying the phenomenon for three years with about a half-dozen graduate students. "It seems to travel. We do it different times of the year. When it's really dry, it's the loudest."

Hunt has been traveling to sand dunes in the Mojave area for work on the project, which was inspired by the sonic mystery that first intrigued explorer Marco Polo. In addition to their investigations with sand-sampling and radar, Hunt and the students sit on dunes between 200 and 400 feet tall, and slide down about 100 feet to set off a boom.

It was believed the booms were caused by shifts in the sand patterns. But Hunt has found that the dunes absorb moisture, which hardens them about six feet below the surface, and so she believes the change in pressure between the hard and soft layers creates the booms.

Hunt acknowledged that it was "pure science" with no expected practical applications. "It's fun," she said. "The students are actually interested in it. One student who wanted to be an engineer wants to be a geologist now."

Steve Silkin


1991: Banking Future

'What now the fate of $50.3 billion-in-assets First Interstate Bancorp?" the Los Angeles Business Journal asked in August 1991. "It will become the largest Los Angeles-based bank holding company once the Bank of America-Security Pacific merger is completed. And Wall Street said last week another big bank bonding is likely. San Francisco banking giant Wells Fargo, with $54.4 billion in assets, is touted as First Interstate's likely mate."

The Business Journal reported that industry insiders predicted Wells Fargo would be forced into the takeover in order to compete with the $1.93 billion "BofA-SecPac entity."

If the industry "scuttlebutt" was accurate, the Business Journal reported, L.A. would be without "a single major bank based here."

And the rumors were true.

In 1996, Wells completed a hostile takeover of First Interstate in an $11.3 billion deal that led to closures of hundreds of branches and the loss of 7,000 jobs.

A 1997 study by CSC Research Services painted the First Interstate merger as a failure.

"Wells Fargo alienated the staff of its acquisition, including key managers," the study found. "It fired many First Interstate employees and imposed its own competitive culture, where workloads are much heavier. Wells also misjudged its new customers. Its disgruntled clientele was welcomed by Wells Fargo's competitors (one even provided stagecoach rides to its branches). The financial fallout has been severe."

Today, Wells has a happier view. The merger "doubled Wells Fargo in assets and extended it across 10 Western states," the bank notes on its Web site.

The bank doubled in size again in 1998, to $186 billion, in a merger with Norwest Corp. of Minneapolis. Norwest took Wells' name and moved its base to San Francisco.

Steve Silkin

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