Mid-century building gets spruced up
The building at 1040 Manhattan Beach Blvd. has stood in the same spot less than a block west of Sepulveda since 1953. But when its new owner, Nina Ritter, told people about it, they didn’t know what she was talking about.
“Everyone used to say, ‘What building?’” said Ritter. “They never noticed it.”
For one thing, it was not particularly eye-catching. Ritter, who bought the building in 2013, is trying to change that.
“I drove by and it was always such an eyesore,” said Ritter, who now lives in Rolling Hills but used to live in Manhattan Beach. “I wondered why no one renovated it.”
So Ritter, who loves mid-century architecture and flips buildings for a living, decided to take on the challenge as an “experiment.”
Ritter began flipping houses as a hobby with her ex-husband. But three years ago, at the age of 50, she started a real estate business, Double T Management, which operates out of her home. So far, she has bought and renovated a couple of apartment buildings in Palos Verdes, a warehouse in West LA and is about to renovate a house in Long Beach. She also has some projects in the Northeast, from where she moved 30 years ago.
The building in Manhattan Beach is her first commercial building. According to the Manhattan Beach architect whom she hired, Jim Fasola, it was designed by John Merrill Gray, who also designed a house at 931 Highview Ave. Before the renovation, the sides of the octagons that weren’t windows were covered in small white tiles. A thick green strip surrounded the base and another the top. Three tall palm trees stood in front.
It might come as a surprise that she didn’t try to make the most of the high value of real estate in Manhattan Beach and build a taller building.
“It probably would have been a better investment if I had dug a big garage and built a big building,” she said.
But she hopes to use it as a calling card for her growing business. At worst, she figured, she could use it as her company’s office. She’s had a hard time letting go of her other buildings, and so far has only rented them, rather than selling them.
“Unfortunately, I become a little too attached,” she said.
So far, she’s already had two offers to buy this building, even though it isn’t even finished. She turned both offers down, and instead agreed to rent it to ReMax, which she said plans to open in March once the construction is finished.
Ritter, who used to be an illustrator, came up with her vision for the building and drew it up in Photoshop. Then she hired Fasola and a landscape design team to make it happen.
From the beginning, she knew she wanted to use a special kind of wood from Central and South America, ipe, for the building’s outside. She’s used it in buildings on the East Coast and likes the way it weathers. It’s also extremely hard, she noted.
“You can’t even hammer into it,” she said. “It breaks drills. You need clips to assemble it.”
She also knew that she wanted a fountain to go in front of the building. She turned to Bruce Hollister, a landscape designer from Venice, to design it. When it is installed in a couple of weeks, it will be 36-feet-long, with river stones and light inside. But, Hollister says, it will be “quiet and subtle,” without showy water jets.
Hollister, who works with Nick Tan of Urban Organics, also plans to incorporate an olive tree, which is already planted, into the fountain. He notes that standing on the slope above the tree, the viewer can see other trees in the distance.
“It ties together the whole neighborhood,” he said. “So much landscape architecture ignores the fact that you have neighbors. It’s not just your lot.”
In the back had been a traditional asphalt parking lot. Because of zoning, they were required to keep the parking.
“So we thought, what if we do drivable grass parking?” said Hollister. He and Tan used a crisscrossing grid of concrete with grass growing in between. They noted that this prevents polluted stormwater from washing into the drains and then the ocean.
Like Ritter, Hollister felt a special connection to the building as soon as he saw it.
“I just fell in love with it,” he said. “Four octagon-shaped building are not something you see everyday. I was just like, ‘I have to do this job.’” ER