WEHOville

The Pacific Design Center: Its Impact Is Visual, but What Else?

Mon, May 08, 2017   By Michael Jortner    13 Comments

The Pacific Design Center, which dominates WeHo’s landscape.

“Meet me at Melrose and San Vicente,” your friend says. What is the first image popping into your mind? Eating a salad on the outdoor patio at Zinque? Checking out a book from the library? Testing your celebrity status with camera-clutching paparazzi assembled outside Catch?

“Wait. There is that big glass building,” you say to yourself. “It’s green. No, red? Blue? There’s that big metal chair on the corner.”

Pacific Design Center is the term you’re looking for (aka PDC), and it does boast three large glass buildings – one red, one green and one blue – totaling 1.6 million square feet. “Red Green Blue” is even part of PDC’s branding.

The PDC, or at least parts of it, has been in West Hollywood since 1975, before the city was incorporated. But, if after all these years, you’re not sure what the PDC does, why it’s in WeHo, or what impact it has on the city, you are not alone.

Wolfgang Puck’s Red Seven at the PDC. (Photo courtesy of the PDC)

Patrick Shandrick, a WeHo West homeowner living three blocks away, describes the site as “iconographic” because of its color, design and, well, size. “It’s not a community space, yet they have such a presence here,” he said.

A Center for Design

Jeff Sampson is the PDC’s marketing vice president. “’The Blue Whale’ debuted in 1975,” he said, referring to the original building facing Melrose. “Designed by Argentinian-American architect Cesar Pelli, [it was] an effort to centralize L.A.’s disparate design industry in the Beverly-Robertson-La Cienega area.” Additions, the Green and Red Buildings, also designed by Pelli, arrived in 1988 and 2013, respectively.

More than 80 interior design showrooms make a home in the PDC, Sampson told WEHOville. Brands such as Armani/Casa, Dedon, Donghia and Holly Hunt sell 2,000-plus interior and exterior furnishing lines. So designers know. Anatomy of Style’s Jennifer Aos, based in Sherman Oaks, wrote in her Yelp review: “If you know how to use this resource, it is amazing.” She shops at the PDC “regularly for fabrics,” adding, “despite the fact that some showrooms have left due to the recession, this is still the best design center in the U.S.”

The seeming emptiness of the PDC is a point of contention for some. Again, Sampson: “The Great Recession, coupled with the advancements in the online market, certainly made its imprint on the design world, forcing companies to rethink their business models.”

Some brands exited the PDC, opening what look like retail storefronts in the West Hollywood Design District and the La Cienega Design Quarter. An official business improvement district (BID) since 1996, WHDD is “the walkable radius of Melrose Ave., Beverly Blvd. and Robertson Blvd.,” per its website. An area where, Sampson adds, “Rates and the visibility to the consumer may have been more appealing.”

But according to a recent announcement on its website, the PDC has “recently welcomed five international showrooms in the furniture, fabric, wall coverings, theater and accessory categories.”

For Sampson this is “a significant trend in PDC leasing,” both by previous tenants relocating back “from the street” as well as brands new to the market. Either way, Sampson said these companies “realize their success lies in the value of a Design Center presence.”

And for Consumers?

What about regular people? Can anyone walk in? “You need not be an interior designer to enter the Design Center,” Sampson said. Residents and visitors can shop there, though some showrooms are trade-only. He added, “Our Designer on Call and Buyer Referral Service programs can assist consumers in the purchasing of products, or match a prospective client seeking full services with an interior designer.”

Yet the PDC has drawn sneers on social media from some consumers. Consider these Yelpers:

The lobby of the PDC’s Blue Building (Photo courtesy of the PDC)

• Keesha F: “The outside has always been quite enchanting, and I’ve always wondered what was inside.” Showroom “prices were far outta the average person’s range” but she found “inspiration.”

• Anna N: “Beautiful…but not very welcoming to guests…Discouraging for design enthusiasts.”

• David V: “This place is quieter than the library across the street. You can spend the whole day there and not see a single person.”

And, though the parking garage is easily accessed from Melrose Avenue, parking within it vexes many, even those familiar with the building. “I work here so I have to deal with this insane, confusing, labyrinthine structure every day. Huge design fail,” said Alex C. on Yelp.

In response to criticism, Sampson says, “People seem to forget, or perhaps do not realize, that before PDC was built, the property we sit on, including the Sheriff’s Station and the MTA Bus Station, was the former site of West Hollywood’s rail yard.”

A location that “used to be a low-scale residential and commercial area of West Hollywood,” says the L.A. Conservancy’s website.

Criticism May Start at the Top

Part of WeHo’s mixed feelings toward the PDC may have to do with landlord Charles S. Cohen of Cohen Bros. Realty Corp., based in New York City. Although Cohen has been president and owner since 1999, and has a condo in the exclusive Sierra Towers on WeHo’s border with Beverly Hills, there are many who feel he doesn’t necessarily have WeHo’s best interests at heart.

Cohen’s PDC is just one of four design centers he owns and operates (the other three are in New York, South Florida and Houston). And for WeHo, the developer’s plans may be significant. According to the Los Angeles Times, in March 2015 Cohen had the “MTA bus storage lot” adjacent to the PDC in his crosshairs for development. WEHOville has reported on heated community conversations about the proposed project since 2013.

Where Is the Value?

So what’s the answer? Has the PDC added value to West Hollywood? Again, the L.A. Conservancy reports the center is “at once beloved and reviled by its neighbors…an icon of glass skin design…a landmark of undeniable impact.”

pdc, theatre

The Silver Screen theatre at the Pacific Design Center (Photo courtesy of the PDC)

Undeniable may be the word. If you walk along Huntley Drive, a north-south residential street on the design center’s eastern flank, the western side of the street is, quite literally, in the PDC’s shadow as the sun goes down. Still, there are those who appreciate the PDC just as it is.

“It’s magnificent,” said Mark Cregar, who owns a duplex on Keith, right behind Pavilions, and did work with a PR agency based in the center. “The beauty of the façade,” especially the landscaping, appeals to Cregar. He would agree with Sampson when the PDC exec says that the complex’s construction “helped transform not only the parcel we occupy…but the entire complexion of West Hollywood from a rough-and-tumble frontier to a chic, cosmopolitan enclave.”

The PDC has allowed itself to become accessible to the larger community. Shandrick said he heard the center is permitting access to its fountain-accented courtyard on San Vicente to Pride festival goers this June. WEHOville reported that such access will be granted for undisclosed sum.

A Multi-Fold Purpose

“PDC’s purpose and value to the region is multi-fold,” Sampson said. The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) has a satellite gallery – look for the beige concrete cube – across the street from West Hollywood Park. Wolfgang Puck offers restaurants Red Seven and Spectra. And the Silver Bullet Express and Design Café serve “order-out food and beverage options.” All four restaurants are open to the public.

In addition, specific PDC initiatives do offer residents and visitors a way to interact with the complex. “We welcome design enthusiasts,” Sampson said. “Our designLAb [note the unique spelling emphasizing “LA”] and MOCA Pacific Design Center arts programs connect with the general public.” They host around ten public exhibitions each year. (For a list of upcoming events check out: http://www.pacificdesigncenter.com/events/)

You also may host an event within the PDC. The 14-acre campus offers “dramatic public and private spaces for screenings, exhibitions, lectures, meetings, special events and receptions,” per its website. Its cushy SilverScreen Theater screens films for audiences up to 294. You might even run into a celeb or two (Lily Tomlin and Jane Seymour, for example, have both been spotted by Trish Hoffman, COO of Prefec Hardwood Floors, a PDC tenant). And if you need a conference space, its 200-seat Blue Conference Room can be rented out.

Charity and Online

It also should be noted that “The Elton John AIDS Foundation Academy Award Party has traditionally been held at the PDC,” per the center’s Wikipedia page. An entertainment industry Oscar party of epic proportions since 1993, it annually raises millions of dollars for charity. And let’s not leave out online. Again, Sampson: “Trade and consumers seeking the latest design information and inspiration can learn more at pacificdesigncenter.com,” and its Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages. There also is Cohen Design Center’s blog Go Design Go.

Pacific Design Center Red Building

Pacific Design Center Red Building (Photo by Jon Viscott)

Beyond Design

The PDC has also become home to companies doing business in industries beyond interior design. The Red Building contains the offices of Grindr, the successful male-to-male meet-up app, media-tech firm Whalerock Industries (it relocated to WeHo from Santa Monica) and talent/literary agency Abrams Artists Agency. Many see the arrival of such brands as part of WeHo’s evolution into a diverse and creative professional working city.

Sampson added, “PDC’s Green Building is currently under renovations in anticipation of the continued demand for premier office space leasing we are experiencing.”

When asked what the PDC might do to enhance its relationship with WeHo residents and those not doing business with the center, Shandrick and Cregar had some thoughts. “Maybe they could open up a restaurant on the street level, where the fountain is,” Shandrick said “a place where people could go to lunch and enjoy the space more.” His comment underscores how many locals remain unaware that the existing restaurant options already are available to them. And Cregar wondered, “What about a design open house? Throw open the showrooms with an art tour, like on a Friday night.”

Tagged , , , ,

Michael Jortner

About Michael Jortner

Michael Jortner writes about entrepreneurs, leaders and influencers running small businesses in and around West Hollywood. More information can be found at michaeljortner.com and Jortner can be reached at writer@michaeljortner.com

View all posts by Michael Jortner →

You might also like:

13 Comments

  1. taiestebanMon, May 08, 2017 at 9:53 pm

    @MichaelJortner- Bravo on a great article. I’m a fan.
    @ Don, @Todd- I agree that the building has always seemed un-inviting, distant, cold. Even when I walk by.
    @Kab1200- You’re right as well. The PDC isn’t a public facility, per se, unless you count the show rooms. Given that, it’s not meant to be inviting, unless you’re a tenant.

    My bottom-line: The building is good for the City in that it’s an imposing landmark that dots the skyline when you fly into LAX. If I’m hiking at Griffith Park or Runyon, I look for the PDC as a reference point.

    And if the tenants are spending their dollars at our neighborhood shops and restaurants, then that’s good for our local economy.

  2. RobertMon, May 08, 2017 at 9:41 pm

    Great article. Those buildings are so beautiful. I’m fortunate to have a view of the red building from my condo. I agree with Patrick Shandrick that there should be a restaurant on the ground level of the green building by the fountain. I’d add a fun (not exclusive) bar high up in the red building.

  3. Jessica MitfordMon, May 08, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    It’s an international showplace. The gleaming home of world-famous Grindr aka hook-up central for a $150,000 job at WEHO City Hall – mainly walking the dog, driving bosses to LAX along with being pinched on the bottom by elderly men. And it’s all worth it with a $500,000 exit pay package to get out of Dodge.

  4. MannyMon, May 08, 2017 at 5:04 pm

    Dead Zone…..Too bad, it could be so great.

  5. kab1200Mon, May 08, 2017 at 3:38 pm

    I don’t understand why privately owned property is supposed to be what others want it to be. It is not a public park, and it is a showroom and office complex. Not sure why they have a responsibility to anyone, other than those paying to use space there. So tired of the overreaching in Weho. The city does not own the PDC.

  6. angry gay popeMon, May 08, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    There are many guards at these buildings making sure nobody has any fun, esp. in the outdoor “public garden” area. NO taking photos, NO playing in the fountain for kids and dogs, pretty much NO anything. No wonder the lovely fountain area is always deserted. The owner of this building does NOT want locals to enjoy it.

  7. John JuricekMon, May 08, 2017 at 11:33 am

    A cold, pretty giant fortress, not welcoming to the local residents who occasionally work up the nerve to timidly approach its grounds, not sure if the guards will permit them to enjoy the fountains and lawns or not.

  8. Brian HoltMon, May 08, 2017 at 10:40 am

    Great article; well done, Michael, Hank and the WeHoville team. I truly feel informed. Thank you.

  9. Woody McBreairtyMon, May 08, 2017 at 9:25 am

    I’ve always called the PDC “West Hollywood’s Versailles”. The buildings themselves may be a bit looming & foreboding, especially from a distance, but the overall closer-up picture, with the meticulous, exquisite landscaping, colorful flowers & dancing fountains, is a stunning sight. I don’t think I’ve ever given a visitor a local “tour” who wasn’t awestruck by the sight. I was one of those who spoke in favor of the PDC expansion & I still have my quote from the L.A. Times, Dec, 19, 1985 issue. Considering the present trend of constructing lifeless, generic square buildings with straight lines of square metal framed windows, the PDC may soon be the only outstanding architectural landmark site in West Hollywood.

  10. Jim CMon, May 08, 2017 at 9:18 am

    I was originally a bit suspect of this ‘art-utisement’ for the PDC when it started with one of those typical initial presentation lines at a potential client/building-realtor meeting. I was right – this is a mildly historic marketing piece for the PDC, it’s amenities, and newly soon to be available ‘first class office space’ in the green building. If you didn’t pay to have this article ‘placed’ in wehoville, you got one heck of a deal.

    As one of the lucky architecture students at Yale, when Pelli was working on at least parts of the building – I was an instant fan if for no other reason, it was neat looking and really distinctive and sculptural – not words typically found in descriptions of Pelli’s work. All of the students used to joke about(not really joke) a fourth ‘yellow’ building which always deteriorated into an ‘argu-scussion’ about green’s validity as a primary color. Anyway – I have to agree that this is arguably the only building in West Hollywood that people remember visually – in a good way.

  11. fine7760Mon, May 08, 2017 at 9:18 am

    The PDC Blue building is the only one that is appealing to me with the Red building being one of the ugliest buildings I have ever seen. The pictures in this article of the Red building have apparently been Photoshopped. Plus the Red building was poorly designed and it’s northern loading area is not accessible to large trucks due to it being located to close to the southern property line of the MTA Division Yard. During construction the MTA allowed the contractor access the Red building site via the yard. It’s my opinion that defect was the primary reason the Cohn Bros. proposed to re-develop the MTA property.

    In order for the Division 7 Yard to be redeveloped while preserving the number of buses assigned there it would have to be extended to include that property on Huntley Dr. and perhaps beyond. There are no other MTA Bus Divisions located this far west within L.A. County. The one in Venice was closed down approximately one year ago partially because CNG refueling facilities could not be safely located within its yard.

  12. Todd BiancoMon, May 08, 2017 at 9:11 am

    Part of the problem with the whole complex is that it appears to be very quiet – almost dead – even during normal business hours. If you go to most vibrant office buildings/complexes (DTLA, Santa Monica, Century City, etc.) you have much more foot traffic. You expect to see a steady stream of people walking to get coffee, pick up something for the office, go to/from meetings, eating in the courtyard, etc. I had hoped that with the opening of the Red Building that there would be a significant bump in people patronizing local bars & restaurants for lunch and after work. I don’t see it.

    I’ve lived in LA all my life and in West Hollywood, within a 5 minutes walk to the PDC, since 1992. While I like the looks of the buildings, the primary colors, the beautiful (if a bit cold) landscaping and fountains, it’s never found a way to become stitched into the fabric of the community. Perhaps it’s the nature of the businesses there, but I had hoped for a bigger engine for local employment and the surrounding businesses. Maybe if they build a movie theater into the ground floor of the Blue Building it would drive a change in how the buildings are perceived.

  13. Don AzarsMon, May 08, 2017 at 7:28 am

    Nice article overall. I’ve been living in WeHo since 1978 – seen the Blue Whale argue about providing parking until they wanted to build the Green and eventually the Red Bldgs. THEN they were required to provide parking. They used to participate in the PRIDE festival when they had space. But they overall complex has always been “distant” from local residents in many ways, if not by declaring themselves “designer only” oriented to just becoming a commercial rental facility..save for the MOMA and Sir. Elton’s annual Oscar event. I believe they could be more welcoming to people in several ways mentioned and more. Still, the PDC is a class icon in our city of mostly retail and now, mixed use buildings.

Leave a Comment (300-400 words maximum please)

Let WEHOville Email the News to You