LocationAlhambra , CA
The complex of stately brick buildings is located at the corner of Fremont Ave. and Mission Road. It carries the name The Alhambra, which is apparent on the footbridge high above Fremont Ave. that connects the main campus with a row of restaurants and shops across the busy street.
Thousands of cars make their way along Fremont each day to nearby freeways. And for many in the cars, the sign on the footbridge may offer a question.
“What’s The Alhambra?,” some might ask.
The simple answer would be a truly unique 45-acre business park. A larger answer reflects the location’s long history in Alhambra and the fact that over the years it has become something of a landmark. Today’s tenants include the Los Angeles Country Department of Parks and Recreation, the USC Keck School of Medicine and the Eastern Los Angeles Regional Center among others. There is a two-story, 50,000 square foot L.A. Fitness facility with swimming pool at the northwest corner.
But for much to its history, there was just one occupant, a petrochemical and engineering company with a worldwide footprint owned by C.F. Braun. At the height of its prominence in the 1950s, Braun’s company employed over 6,000 people and had revenues over $100 million.
One constant in the facility’s history is the architecture. Braun started developing the campus in the early 1920s after relocating from San Francisco. His land holdings at the current campus once included what is now the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works building to the north. When Braun owned that property he used it as a regulation-size baseball diamond for his employees.
He hired the prominent Pasadena architecture firm headed by Sylvanus Marsten to create a new look for his company’s world headquarters. That look was completed in the early 1940s and much of the current facility retains the spirit of that design.
Another aspect of the current business park is the layout of the facility itself. There are 17 buildings in the complex and they all face inward most over courtyards of greenery and gardens. Many of the offices and hallways retain the wood paneling from an earlier time. There is also an auditorium on campus that seats 200. Vehicular parking, which in many business parks is directly adjacent to individual buildings, is located on the perimeter of the complex.
So the 3,500 people who work there interact with the surroundings on the way to their offices. At lunchtime, many use the inner courtyard, where there are enough tables, chairs and benches to offer pleasant seating with enough shade to make one want to linger. There is also walking loops of various lengths and a putting green. A Bocce Ball court and Butterfly Garden are coming soon. Bicycles are available for those wanting to go into Alhambra without their cars. Just this month, The Alhambra began hosting a weekly Farmer’s Market on Tuesday’s from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at a spot near the northeast corner of the campus. Many of the farmers and food providers that populate the Sunday market in downtown Alhambra also work the Tuesday market.
“The emphasis here,” says Wayne Ratkovich, the founder and CEO of the Ratkovich Company, which bought the facility in 1999, is “quality of life for our tenants.”
As a boy growing up in Alhambra, Ratkovich asked the “What Is It” question as he rode his bicycle by the C.F. Braun facility.
Ratkovich was born in South Gate and spent the first ten years of his life in Alhambra. He is the youngest of six children and his family lived in a house on South Fourth Street.
Ratkovich’s father left his job at the old Shopping Bag Market due to a health issue and his family relocated to what is now Hacienda Heights when Ratkovich was 10. The family took up farming and Ratkovich graduated from La Puente High School before going on to UCLA where he earned a degree in political science.
He had planned to go into law but decided instead on real estate. He is the founder, President and CEO of the Ratkovich Company. Part of his business model, as expressed in a simple phrase on the company’s web site, is the notion of “seeing what others miss” in considering the possibilities in renovating historic buildings and distressed properties. In his over 40 years in business, those projects have include the Wiltern Theatre complex in Los Angeles; the Hercules Campus at Playa Vista, which is a reimagining of the old Howard Hughes office buildings; and the San Pedro Public Market, which will occupy much of the space of the old Ports O’ Call Village. One of his first purchases in the 1970s was the historic James Oviatt Building in downtown Los Angeles with its Art Deco feel.
Preservation to Ratkovich is a business model to be proud of.
In an interview with Ratkovich some years ago, Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times noted that “instead of resisting historic designation, he’s made a speciality, and his reputation out of it.”
To that end, he has been active in the Urban Land Institute and is a Trustee Emeritus of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
He came upon what is now The Alhambra again in 1999 when the owners solicited him to lease space. C.F. Braun had died in 1954 and the business and property had changed hands several times since his passing. Ratkovich learned that the complex was on the market and recalled touring the property that he had ridden past as a boy.
“This is different, this is beautiful and would be attractive to tenants,” he remembered thinking as he looked around the grounds.
“The human environment here was more important than convenience to the car,” he told the Alhambra Source. “That is a theme that is very important to my business thinking. Improve quality of life in a work setting. Tenants want a good human environment and we now have a 90% occupancy rate (at the Alhambra).”
So the Ratkovich Company bought the 45 acre parcel and, over the years, spent tens of millions on renovation and expansion. According to Ratkovich, there were 38 acres on the east side of Fremont and seven acres on the West, which was essentially a parking lot, in the original purchase.
“We didn’t need more parking so we considered the possibilities,” Ratkovich said. “We developed the 17,000 square foot commercial parcel on Fremont to provide services to our tenants across the bridge and in the surrounding neighborhood.”
Ratkovich told the Alhambra Source that growing up in the San Gabriel Valley gave him a great feel for the region and its place in Southern California history and a window on its future.
“I understood that the SGV was a collection of bedroom communities that supplied workers to the manufacturing plants to the south or the office market in downtown L.A. The El Monte busway, for instance, was one of the first mass transit projects from the bedroom communities to downtown L.A. The SGV was great place to access the labor market.”
Some of that bedroom community or suburban feel has changed over the years and there is now a shortage of housing in the SGV. According to The Alhambra web site there are projections of around 5,000 new residents in Alhambra by 2040.
The accommodate some of that the Ratkovich Company is planning to develop part of The Alhambra complex for residential use with 545 rental units and 516 residential units for sale, according to the web site. The plan also includes adding 400 trees to the project site, This long-term project, which may take much of the next decade, will be called The Villages at The Alhambra. There is a detailed site plan with mockups of what the structures will look as well as a draft environmental impact report on The Alhambra website.
In an effort to reduce its carbon footprint in the area and maximize savings, The Alhambra has expanded its capacity using Bloom Energy Servers and is now achieving 75% of its total power with these futuristic fuel cells. These servers, the fourth generation of the company’s technology, will generate up to 1 MW of power for the campus, with expansion capabilities as the campus grows.
“We’d like to be an example of capitalism in its most admirable form,” Ratkovich told Morrison. “We function in the private market, not with government subsidies, and we fulfill our mission to profitably produce developments that improve quality of urban life. That allows us to do well and do good at the same time.”