Downtown’s Broadway Trade Center prepares for its epic transformation

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broadway trade center tour interior
The Broadway Trade Center as seen from Hill Street, shrouded in netting and ringed in scaffolding. Workers are cleaning the building’s terra cotta exterior.
Photography by Elizabeth Daniels

A photo taken Downtown about two and a half weeks ago showed a line of 150 concrete trucks queued up along Hill Street. It turned out that the trucks weren’t coming to pour for any of the towers planned for Spring Street or a 50-story skyscraper planned at Eighth and Olive, but for the Broadway Trade Center (BTC), where a massive mixed-use project containing a hotel, a Grand Central Market-esque food hall, retail, a private club, multiple bars, and a rooftop public space is planned.

The trucks were literally laying the foundation for the adaptive reuse project to take shape: Seismic standards required that the foundation for the 108-year-old former department store be redone so that it would be sturdy enough to meet modern standards.

That sounds like a lot of work to do before the build-out to change the inside even starts, but it’s all part of the territory when dealing with adaptive reuse, says project manager Sarah Cahill of Omgivning, the architecture firm handling the overhaul. Curbed toured the building at Eighth Street between Hill and Broadway a couple weeks ago with Omgivning and got a firsthand look inside the BTC. There’s a lot of work to be done before the project opens, renewed.

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In the background, a side view of two of the BTC’s lovely Art Deco escalators.

Though no new stories are being added to the 15-story building, many of the physical floors will have to be replaced. As we stand on the first floor’s mezzanine level, Cahill notes that much of that level was built with wood, which is no longer acceptable under current building codes. So the floors will be removed section by section, and replaced with concrete.

Some elements that aren’t in line with code will just be refurbished and bypassed, like the building’s Art Deco escalators, which will be restored but kept in the BTC for decorative purposes only. New elevators will be installed to ferry visitors between floors.

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The future home of creative offices.

One of the challenges of working on an existing building is that all the elements are already in place, Cahill says. Ceiling heights and column sizes are already decided, and while it’s not impossible to change them, it’s usually expensive—prohibitively so.

So instead of trying to alter the building, architects just got creative with what was already there. Or as Cahill puts it, “We like to approach each building from a perspective of ‘What does this space want to be?’” The floors with the higher ceilings—the second through fifth floors—made sense as the building’s creative office space, she says. The ceiling heights on the upper floors were more appropriate for hotel use, so that’s where they put the hotel.

A rendering of the light court.
Courtesy of Omgivning

One element that architects are hoping to change is the amount of natural light that comes into the 1.138-million-square-foot structure. The plan is to add three light courts into the building, allowing for not only more sunlight but also for a little bit of greenery: The light courts will be dotted with small, landscaped patios that will be accessible from inside the building.

So far, the work on the building has just been seismic or cosmetic, like the 50 workers a day who clean the terra cotta along the outside of the building. (Spectra Company is handling the exterior restoration.) Permits for the build-out that will transform this place from an empty hull into an exciting mini-city aren’t expected to be received until the first quarter of 2017, and from there, work is expected to take about 24 months. From the plans thus far, the Broadway Trade Center will certainly be worth the wait.

  • A view of the building’s Art Deco escalators.
  • The view from one of the building’s mezzanines.
  • This high-ceilinged floor will eventually become creative office space.
  • Another escalator in rough shape.
  • Future hotel space.

California Broadway Trade Center

830 S. Hill St., Los Angeles, CA

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