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Newly Landmarked Van Nuys to Get a $42 Million Update

By Eric Richardson
Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2008, at 10:03AM
Van Nuys Building Eric Richardson [Flickr]

It was a busy December for the 95-year old Van Nuys Building at 7th and Spring. On the 5th, City Council approved the Cultural Heritage Commission's recommendation that the building be given Historic Landmark status. Just two days later the building was again on the Council agenda, with the vote this time to approve $25 million dollars in CRA tax-free bonds.

The money will be used to finance a $42 million renovation of the building's 299 units of senior housing, the first update since the Van Nuys was first converted to residential use in 1982. The bond money will be used to upgrade the unit interiors and to attach a new 55-year covenant onto the units' use as senior housing.

AIMCO, the REIT that owns the Van Nuys, is a trust that nationally owns over $11 billion worth of real estate assets. They deal solely with rental apartment properties, including affordable properties. As mentioned, the $42 million total cost of renovation includes $25 million in tax-free senior housing bonds, which are restricted to use only on expenditures in the units themselves. The remaining $17 million in private funds will allow for renovations in the common areas and to the building's exterior retail.

Charri Hearn is a Senior Director of Development with AIMCO, and project manager for the Van Nuys building. Touring the building last week she emphasized the firm's commitment to the Van Nuys' historic elements. The 1982 conversion gutted most of the upper floors, but Hearn said that her firm is working closely with preservation architect Robert Jay Chattel of Chattel Architecture to assess what original elements remain, and what can be restored closer to its original design. CK Arts, a preservation firm quite familiar with Downtown rehab -- their project list includes St. Vibiana's and the Central Library -- will be leading up work on the building.

The biggest expense of the rehab: restoring the building's original exterior windows. Like many old structures, the Van Nuys has windows that must be preserved as part of the building's historic status. A major aspect of the rehab will be removing the window frames from their positions, sanding them down to remove decades of paint and rust, then refinishing and replacing them in the unit. One possibility is to set up an on-site mill to handle the work.

The building's nearly 15,000 sq. feet of retail space provide the opportunity to add some life to the corner of 7th and Spring. One space on the 7th street side is particularly interesting to Hearn. One shallow site is eyed as a coffee shop that could be open both to the street and to residents via a back door leading directly into the building's community space.

An exact tenant relocation plan has not been finalized, but Hearn said that the firm's size means that they've gotten quite good at getting residents out and back in as quickly and efficiently as possible during rehab. The firm has several other senior properties in the Los Angeles area, but high occupancies make using them as sites for relocation a challenge.

Hearn is one of five AIMCO Directors in charge of affordable projects nationally, and is responsible for the firm's work on the west coast. "I like working on this side of the business," she said. Asked whether the affordable projects are more rewarding, Hearn's reply was quick and emphatic. "Definitely."

The project timetable will be determined by how long it takes for AIMCO to get the appropriate permits, but work is expected to start in the summer. Hearn noted that the slow real estate market has a benefit for her work; less projects applying for permits means that the work here is likely to kick off sooner than it would otherwise.

Van Nuys Building

The building's ornate, original lobby includes a steep spiral staircase that was cut off at the second floor in the 1980s conversion.

Van Nuys Building

This stained glass window is the only one remaining and faces the building's interior light well. It would have brought light into the marble staircase.

Van Nuys Building

Sterile hallways and odd color schemes are quite representative of 1980s design. While the look will certainly be redone, early indications are that hallway ceilings can also be raised to create a more spacious feel.

Van Nuys Building

A closed off mezzanine level could give the opportunity to provide light to the streets. Windows extend up into the mezzanine. AIMCO is investigating adding lights and removing blinds to let light fall onto the sidewalks below.

Van Nuys Building

A smattering of original tile survives in a basement that once housed bank vaults, a coin-counting room, stencil department, mechanical plant, library, gymnasium, locker room, lunchroom, kitchen and assembly room. Today it houses cars.


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