Big Projects Fill in Where Once Stood Major Aerospace Efforts
By DANNY KING
When Hawthorne was one of the seats of the region’s aerospace business in the middle of the last century, bigger was better. It still is, although the focus has changed.
A two-mile of stretch along El Segundo Boulevard is the focal point for several new projects accounting for millions of square feet of commercial development and hundreds of new homes.
At the city’s northwest border, a joint venture of Kearny Real Estate Co., Catellus Development Corp. and Morgan Stanley is proposing to convert more than 39 Los Angeles Air Force Base acres at El Segundo and Aviation boulevards into about 850 for-sale townhouses.
As part of the project, which would also include rebuilding the 40- to 50-year-old military buildings on the site, 52 acres of the former base would be annexed to Hawthorne from El Segundo, potentially adding 2,500 residents to the South Bay community of more than 86,000. Approval by both city governments could happen as soon as July.
“We’re pleased people think Hawthorne is worth investing in again,” said Gary Parsons, city councilman for Hawthorne. “We’re trying to get a diversified economy.”
Nowhere is the effort more evident than along El Segundo Boulevard between the Air Force base and the former Northrop Grumman Corp. electronic systems campus.
Since the defense giant vacated the 105-acre site three years ago, Lowe Enterprises Inc. has been buying up the property near El Segundo and Crenshaw boulevards piecemeal and redeveloping it into a 1.8 million-square-foot mixed-use project called The Exchange.
Last May, Lowe flipped 12 acres to Lowe’s Cos. Inc. (no relation) for a 170,000-square-foot home improvement center set to open next month. It also wants to develop another 135,000 square feet of retail space nearby and will finish building 500,000 square feet of industrial buildings by the end of the year. Lowe Enterprises bought a 375,000-square-foot office building from Northrop in October.
“The opening of the 105 (Century Freeway) took a remote location and put it right on a freeway,” said Tom Wulf, vice president at Lowe Enterprises. “It’s a land mass that has been underutilized.”
Meanwhile, near El Segundo and Hawthorne boulevards, the city is building a new police station next to the 911 dispatch center that was completed last year. Across the street, developer Charles Co. is converting Hawthorne Plaza from a 900,000-square-foot indoor mall into South Bay Center One, an office complex. It has secured L.A. County as a 170,000-square-foot anchor and only tenant.
“We’re putting commercial where commercial belongs and industrial where industrial belongs,” said Parsons.
Named for author Nathaniel Hawthorne, the city was incorporated in 1922 and evolved into a working class, predominantly white community when the former Northrop Aircraft Inc. opened its plant there in 1939 and Los Angeles Air Force Base opened its facility at El Segundo and Aviation in 1958.
Hawthorne was hit hard by defense cutbacks in the 1990s, however, causing median household income to increase just 3 percent between 1990 and 2000, compared with 21 percent for Los Angeles County overall, according to Census figures.
Last year, homes in Hawthorne, now 44 percent Hispanic, sold for a median price of $255,000, versus $274,000 for L.A. County, according to DataQuick Information Systems.
“Most of the businesses on Hawthorne Boulevard near Rosecrans Avenue went vacant,” said Parsons, a Hawthorne resident since 1991. “Nothing took the place of defense.”
El Segundo Boulevard remains a work in progress. While Rosecrans Avenue to the south has benefited from new commercial development that is making its way east from tonier Manhattan Beach, much of the boulevard is still a hodgepodge of restaurants, stores and houses that have remained unchanged for decades.
Additionally, the new office projects at The Exchange and South Bay Center One are suffering from an office slump that has pushed South Bay vacancies to 18.3 percent for the first quarter, versus 16.1 percent countywide, according to Grubb & Ellis Co.
“We need more job expansion in the South Bay,” said Steve Cramer, senior vice president at Colliers Seeley International, who is one of the brokers marketing South Bay Center. “Until we get it, we’re not going to have anyone to put into South Bay Center One.”