Located in El Segundo, California, 888 Douglas is a former aerospace research and manufacturing facility that has recently been repurposed into a creative office campus. (©Fotoworks/Benny Chan)

El Segundo, California, has long been home to aerospace and aviation-related firms drawn to its proximity to Los Angeles International Airport. As the market diversifies, however, industrial buildings are finding new life as creative office space. Attendees of the 2023 ULI Fall Meeting in Los Angeles will have the chance to visit 888 Douglas, a former aerospace research and manufacturing facility in El Segundo that has recently been repurposed into a 600,000-square-foot (55,741.8 sq m) creative office campus.

A Hackman Capital Partners affiliate purchased the 25-acre (10 ha) site from defense contractor Northrop Grumman in 2016, with Northrop Grumman leasing back some of the spaces. The oldest building dates to 1930. “The existing structures had very few windows, meandering hallways, and lots of heavy infrastructure that had no utility,” says Mike Racine, executive vice president of Hackman. “We spent months solely on nonstructural interior demolition.”

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(©Fotoworks/Benny Chan)

At the same time, Hackman and architecture firm Gensler celebrated the history of the structure, sandblasting the underside of the roof and the mezzanine to expose old wood and retaining the original sawtooth forms, steel sash window frames, trusses, and freight elevators. “We cut out a large section through the middle of the building and created a breezeway, which we call the ‘runway,’” Racine says. “That brought light into the interior and allowed us to break it up into manageable suite sizes. No one likes to sacrifice square footage, but sometimes you give a little to get a better project.”

A portion of the parking lot became a more than one-acre garden courtyard area with wood decking, chaise lounges, ping pong tables, and lush landscaping. “It’s like an oasis,” Racine says. “It gets a lot of use from our tenants, who installed a half-court basketball court, gardens, and a dog park. Employers are embracing health and wellness in their amenities, so their employees can go outside and be active.”

Hackman leased the building entirely during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2021, even as demand for office spaces was falling elsewhere in Los Angeles County. Beyond Meat, a plant-based meat company, took 280,000 square feet (26,000 sq m) for its headquarters and research facility. L’Oreal, the beauty company, leased 110,000 square feet (10,200 sq m) for the headquarters of its Los Angeles-based brands. Both tenants have customized their spaces to reflect their identities and cultures. “We also kept two bridge cranes for the entryways of Beyond Meat and L’Oreal,” Racine adds. “They each have a five-ton crane in their reception areas, which is a great conversation piece.”

The campus’s location helps in attracting employees from all over Los Angeles. Less than a mile from Los Angeles International Airport, at the intersection of the Interstate 105 and 405 freeways, it is also across the street from a Metro station that serves two lines, encouraging employees to use alternative modes of transportation. The campus also provides bicycle parking. “They say ‘Nobody walks in LA,’ but that’s becoming less and less true,” Racine says. “To be next to a Metro line is going to be a big benefit in the long term.”

El Segundo, which bills itself as the “aerospace capital of the world,” has historically been known for its oil refineries and defense contractors. “Those will always have a presence here,” Racine says. “But defense contractors are shrinking their footprint, and developers are helping to spur the next iteration of El Segundo. 888 Douglas is next to the new headquarters of the Los Angeles Times and near the Los Angeles Lakers’ training facilities. There’s a lot of great properties around here, begging to be upcycled.”

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RON NYREN is a freelance architecture, urban planning, and real estate writer based in the San Francisco Bay area.