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Securing the Skyline

For more than 45 years, Nadel Architects has provided comprehensive services from architectural design and modernization of historic properties to master planning. Nadel’s hospitality studio has garnered worldwide attention for their work, including the Futian Hotel at Futian Sports & Entertainment complex, Hyatt Regency-Plaza Alicante, the Baglioni Hotel in Abu Dhabi, UAE and the historic Breakers Hotel in Long Beach, CA.

Principal & Design Director Patrick Winters, AIA, LEED AP, has more than 30 years’ experience in hospitality, specializing in the design and construction of high-quality mixed-use and urban infill projects with a major focus on sustainability.

InspireDesign recently caught up with Winters about his work on the Breakers Hotel, the challenges the project presented and how he preserved the historic skyline staple:

Q: How has this project differed from others you’ve completed in the past? What makes it special?
A: The Breakers Hotel in Long Beach, CA, is a unique project because it is a 1920s landmark building. Marrying this legacy building with a new hotel program, which is intended to be a state-of-the-hotelier-art hotel has been both challenging and rewarding. The hotel also provides a unique challenge because it is community oriented. The hotel has been a prominent part of the waterfront skyline in Long Beach for decades. It has around 180 rooms for the community to utilize. The hotel will need to welcome the community in order to include them in their client base and get their support. The public will find that the hotel will be a positive presence in their lives. An example of this is the hotel’s well-known rooftop dining destination, Skyroom. Skyroom provided and will continue to provide a unique and beautiful place for the community to hold wedding receptions and celebrate events for not only the hotel’s guests, but for the surrounding community as well.

Q: What were some challenges you faced in restoration and how did you overcome those?
A: There wasn’t a lot to work with when we first came into the building because it was very decayed. In the restoration, we needed to do some seismic work, provide structural reinforcement and update all of the electrical and mechanical elements. Even the existing windows and the roof required replacements, and the buildings shell needed significant work done to be up-to-date to modern day standards. In historic preservation, one of the biggest success stories is in preserving the historical character of the building. We had to make sure that this new, vibrant program would be integrated in a way that the Cultural Heritage Commission, planning department and community could really accept and support.

Q: What do you have to keep in mind for a historic restoration project?
A:  One of the first things that the owner undertook was a historic inventory. When you have a historic building that has numerous waves of modernization, it’s important to discern which things need to be preserved and which require modernization. We had another firm working alongside us that was able to determine which elements in the hotel required preservation and which did not.

Q: How do you blend history with modern amenities/safety features?
A: When you have an older building, some of safety features may postdate the original design. You need to be aware of things which may not have been included initially, such as providing enough exits for all of the guests. Ensuring that there are accessibility features such as elevators and handicap ramps is also essential to design. For the Breakers Hotel, we also needed to add new stairs as the old ones were unsalvageable. Aside from the physical design, you have to have technological safety features as well. You have to ensure that alarm systems are in place, and the other electronics are fully functioning.

Q: What were you able to preserve? Why were these features so significant?
A: A key part of our efforts to preserve the hotel was the exterior. The actual building is an iconic part of Long Beach and so we did our best to ensure that was preserved. Inside the building, we preserved numerous significant elements of the hotel. Lobby ceilings were preserved in an attempt to maintain the original Breakers Hotel atmosphere. Another major part of the project was the lawn in front of the building. The front yard of the property is actually Victory Park, a historic park that stretches along Ocean Blvd. We took extra care in our planning to preserve this, as we redid the drop off area in the front of the hotel. The loading and unloading area is a critical part of a functioning hotel and the city really wanted to preserve the park so it was imperative that we honored that in our design.

Q: Do you see these types of projects as trends (historic restorations, boutique properties)?
A: I think in Southern California right now, we can see a really epic phase of development. We are experiencing exponential growth specifically in housing and hotels and there is a shortage of land that is available to build on. The prime properties are located in urban and walkable areas. Formerly neglected urban cores, including downtown Long Beach, are now the prime locations to build. In these areas though, there are many buildings that are older and are historic and need to be preserved. You can’t just tear them down and rebuild. Companies need to find a way to either preserve the building or adaptively reuse it. These challenges are a part of building in these very desirable core urban areas. Regarding boutique properties, they are becoming more of a trend as people seek out unique experiences in their hotel stays. Many people purposely seek out niche and smaller brand hotels. Oftentimes, these hotels are often actually owned by bigger operators, whether it’s Marriott or another large hotel group. They’re creating interesting new niche brands that become part of their hotel portfolio.