Metro 417

17 S. Hill St., Los Angeles
Developer: Forest City Enterprises Inc.
Building: Constructed in 1925 by Pacific Electric Railroad in 15th century Florentine palazzo style
Past Use: Twelve-story building originally operated as the Subway Terminal Building, the transportation hub for Los Angeles. The ground floor and two subterranean floors housed the historic Red Car subway station until 1956. Upper floors provided over 300,000 square feet of office space.
Project: Bought by Forest City in 2003, and opened in 2005 with 277 boutique-style apartments. Total cost of $60 million.

The old Subway Terminal Building in Pershing Square was almost entirely vacated and worn with years of perpetual use when Forest City Enterprises acquired the property in 2003 with plans to remodel. Remnants of sets left by film crews were spread sporadically throughout the floors.

In less than two years, Forest City turned the empty building and its history into 277 luxury boutique-style apartments that rent for between $1,200 and $2,800. The townhouse on the top floor goes for much more.

"I think that there is a certain type of person who really enjoys this type of architecture and love living in an old building that has been brought back to life," said Kevin Ratner, the president of residential development for Forest City Enterprises Inc. in Los Angeles.

Since the building opened just over a year ago at the end of 2005, occupancy has been steadily rising. The building recently reached a stabilized occupancy of 90 percent, close to downtown's 93 percent residential average, he said.

Metro 417 is not the only successful adaptive reuse project that Forest City has taken on in the Los Angeles area. In recent years, the company turned the 23-story Getty Oil headquarters in Koreatown into a 238-condo residential building called the Mercury. In downtown, the high rise at 1100 Wilshire is being converted into 228 condominium units and 14,000 square feet of retail. Metro 417 is, however, the oldest structure Forest City has refurbished into modern day luxury apartments.

"The Wilshire building was originally built in 1986 so a lot of the architectural systems were there and operational. In the Subway Terminal Building, it was a lot harder," Ratner said. "We had to figure out how to get all the new mechanical systems into the old building."

And because Forest City wanted historic tax credits for Metro 417, nearly everything with historic value inside or outside had to be maintained, including the entire fa & #231;ade of the building and the mosaic tile floor in the lobby.

"The subway was one of the hardest projects I've ever done," said Ed Stavneak, project manager for lead architecture firm, AC Partners. "We had to keep the historic features and meet the current codes. Different assumptions we made changed over time. Every day we found something we didn't know existed."

Built in 1925, the former Subway Terminal Building still maintains sky-lit coffered ceilings, Italian marble, and carved woodwork. A laundry list of modern amenities have been added in the adaptation process, including a rooftop spa and garden, a private fitness training center, billiard room, club level lounge and private screening room. A 108,000-square-foot parking garage was added.

Unlike many conversion projects downtown, the units in Metro 417 are not lofts but apartments designed for upscale tenancy. Historical elements include ceilings of 10 to 12 feet in height and classic architectural built-ins, and alcoves that complement modern conveniences such as washers and dryers. Metro 417 is now listed as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 177.

"To create a viable product out of a building like this forces creativity and problem solving," Ratner said. "Adaptive reuse is the ultimate recycling, if you will."

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