Personal and Professional Ties Enhance a Celebrated California Office Building’s Restoration

To help ensure the building’s long-term preservation, Sutherlin McLeod had the space listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

To help ensure the building’s long-term preservation, Sutherlin McLeod had the space listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

Hard Decisions

As a testament to Killingsworth’s professional growth, the building shows the development of his design vocabulary. Even the post-and-beam connections between the three pavilions differ because Killingsworth’s ideas were evolving during construction. Photos of when the building was first constructed allowed Sutherlin McLeod to pinpoint which aspects were original and what had changed through the years. The restoration’s master plan targets the original date of construction for the center portion of the building because Killingsworth’s practice began in that space. The north pavilion—where Killingsworth later expanded his growing firms—is maintained the way Killingsworth left it to honor the full spectrum of his career.

But deciding which elements should be maintained in their original form across the restoration proved challenging. For example, a very tall, thin (4-by-4-inch) wood post suffered deterioration due to exposure and groundwater. Killingsworth used steel framing in later projects but in 1955, he used wood for his office building. Although steel would have been a more practical replacement material, Sutherlin McLeod took into account more than mere practicality. “I am a steward of Ed’s legacy, not just this building,” she says. “We removed the painted finish from this post and its flanking beams and found joints where Killingsworth had replaced this post during his lifetime. He could have used a steel post for replacement but he kept it as wood.” Sutherlin McLeod’s new replacement post will also be wood to maintain Killingsworth’s vision.

The large glass doors’ thin metal frames had rusted, were delaminated and they leaked. The original manufacturer would not consider repairing them and only offered new doors with a completely different profile. Instead, KSMA’s team found a specialized fabricator who could save the door frames by making pieces to replace the rotted areas or combing through stockpiles to find old parts for reuse.

Original exterior paint colors, confirmed through documentation and onsite forensics, are once again in place. KSMA is restoring the building interiors, too. Many of the furnishings date back to the 1955 construction, including the integral marble table/bench that Killingsworth designed.

“As with all conservation-based projects, it’s a process to carefully evaluate and assess how to treat original materials—what is to be maintained versus replaced, what is significant and why, and how can authenticity be preserved in a way that is relevant today and for years to come,” Sutherlin McLeod says.

KSMA opens its doors to architecture tours and students on a regular basis because Killingsworth had always welcomed people in to see the space. Knowing what Killingsworth valued has a profound effect on Sutherlin McLeod and her approach to the restoration project. “The fact that we can connect with the people who designed and lived in these spaces is an exciting aspect of preserving our recent heritage,” she says. “It allows us to better understand the buildings and preserve their authenticity, and I’m extremely honored to be the steward of this very important resource.”

Retrofit Team

Project Architect: Kelly Sutherlin McLeod Architecture Inc., Long Beach, Calif.
Architectural Historian: Francesca Smith
Structural Engineer: Structural Focus, Gardena, Calif.
Project Conservator: Griswold Conservation Associates LLC, Los Angeles
Conservator (Light Fixtures): Rosa Lowinger & Associates, Los Angeles

Photos: Julius Shulman and Juergen Nogai

About the Author

KJ Fields
KJ Fields writes about design, sustainability and health from Portland, Ore.

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