Culver City emerges as hot address

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Los Angeles ad shops have been looking for architectural inspiration since Frank Gehry sold Chiat/Day on the idea that if you wanted to think outside of the box, you couldn't work in one.

Now, long after Chiat/Day moved out of the architect's "binoculars building" in Venice, Calif., other agencies are emigrating from Wilshire Boulevard high rises, for decades the address of Los Angeles advertising.

"Unequivocally, people are fleeing Wilshire Boulevard. It's not cool," said Lee Kovel, chief creative director of Kovel/Fuller, who pioneered agency moves into the emerging creative community of Culver City by rehabbing a former party-goods warehouse.

WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather late last year left a 16-story Wilshire building with traditional beehive office space for its own warehouse space in Culver City, a town of 40,000 on the west side of Los Angeles. Ogilvy's new digs share a wall with architect Eric Owen Moss' dramatic all black "Stealth" building, a design reminiscent of the stealth bomber.

The Culver City buildings are part of the Hayden Tract, an area designed as the epicenter of Los Angeles' entertainment equivalent of Silicon Valley to the North and Silicon Alley to the East. The complex, frequented by hundreds of architecture students and aficionados every week, is home to digital and production operations as well as such artistic endeavors as a dance company.

"The building reinforces a lifestyle which is more casual, less traditional," said Joe McDonagh, Ogilvy's co-president and executive creative director.

"You can see everybody and communication is spontaneous," added Co-President Angus Fraser, comparing the old office to "shirts and ties."

From the glass-front facade, visitors enter the agency through a 44-foot-long tube. The face of founder David Ogilvy on one wall is boosted by his words: "We sell or else" -1957 and "We sell or we get fired" -1997. Building features include "The Pit," a sunken meeting area with sliding steel doors that open to the outside.

This isn't the first time Los Angeles agencies have fled to warehouse space. Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day and Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch have moved into former warehouse space in Playa del Rey, not far from Culver City. TBWA/Chiat/Day left high-profile space in Venice that it occupied for a decade.

Emerging industrial-turned-arts districts are cheaper than Grade A space in Wilshire's most desirable buildings. Fringe areas of Culver City have space starting at about $1 a square foot per month, while more prime developments such as those in the Hayden Tract can run about $3 to $5.

Mayor David Hauptman brags about Culver City's emergency services, noting that ad executives will be safe even though they may be stressed in these times of scarce new business opportunities and dwindling client budgets. "If they get sick, our paramedics have two years of training and will be there in three minutes," he said. "We don't lose many people."

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