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Commercial Exchange Building

The Commercial Exchange Building is the winner of a 2018 Preservation Design Award. Award recipients are selected by a jury of top professionals in the fields of architecture, engineering, planning, and history, as well as renowned architecture critics and journalists.

The Award will be presented on Friday, October 19, 2018 at a gala dinner and awards ceremony at Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. Tickets and sponsorship options are available at

About this project

Described by the Los Angeles Times as one of the most “substantial, utile, and handsome [buildings] that talent and money can produce,” Walker & Eisen designed the Commercial Exchange Building in the Renaissance Revival style in 1924. The building was the first in its immediate vicinity built to the maximum allowable building height. It also boasted three high-speed elevators, offices with abundant light, elegant mahogany trim and millwork, and coveted two-hour street parking in the immediate vicinity. Upon its opening, the Owl Drug Company Headquarters held office space for the notable Tarzan author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and many dentists (4 floors to be exact). In 1935, due to a City mandate for the widening of Olive Street, the building owners chose to cut the building and move the west portion of the building 5 feet inward to avoid removal of the ornate west façade. It was completed over a weekend for $60,000 by the Kress House Moving Company.

The building thrived throughout the 1900s but stood largely vacant throughout the early 2000s and was disregarded by many developers due to it’s narrow footprint and limited site access. In 2017, Sydell Group completed the adaptive reuse of the Commercial Exchange Building into Freehand LA, a 226-key boutique hotel. The Freehand combines the social culture of a hostel with a creative, amenity-rich environment. With four food and beverage outlets and a retail space, the Commercial Exchange Building has become a cornerstone of the Downtown LA scene.

The development of the recently designated Historic Cultural Landmark included the pursuit of Federal Historic Tax Credits. The Secretary of Interior Standards for Rehabilitation were followed in detail throughout the project interior and exterior, with ongoing review by the State Historic Preservation Office. This project demonstrates high quality materials restoration and craftsmanship along with thoughtful design incorporated into the historic structure. Choices were made throughout this project to restore the buildings historic fabric – including the original building entrance which was based off of historic photographs. Missing and damaged exterior materials such as the terracotta were repaired or replicated and replaced by skilled craftsmen.

Photo Credits: Jim Simmons,

About Spectra Company

Founded in 1985, Spectra’s unique expertise and unparalleled technical knowledge in the areas of historic preservation and specialty construction make us the #1 Specialty Historic Contractor on the West Coast.

We offer a diverse range of historic construction, restoration and preservation consulting services. These services range from managing entire rehabilitation projects as general contractor to restoration of all the many materials found on historic buildings to conservation of decorative paintings and murals.

For over 30 years, we have been entrusted with the rehabilitation of over 300 of the most cherished historical, architectural and cultural landmarks in the country.



Project Team

Project Lead & Architect/Landscape
Tarrah Beebe
KFA Architecture

Jake Lamstein
Sydell Group

Plumbing Engineer
Marina Shver
Creative Engineering Group

Structural Engineer
Jacob Rodriguez
Nabih Youssef & Associates

Mechanical Engineer
Irina Dmitryev
Creative Engineering Group

Electrical Engineer
Richard Ibrahim, E.E
Creative Engineering Group

Historic Preservation Consultant
Tara Hamacher
Historic Consultants, Inc.

John Lopez
Shangri-La Construction

Historic Restoration Sub-Contractor
Troy Parry
Spectra Company

Interior Designer
Robin Standefer
Roman & Williams Buildings And Interiors

Lighting Designer
Sean O’Connor
Sean O’Connor Lighting, Inc.

Civil Engineer
Kristen Sharer
KPFF Consulting Engineers

Kitchen Consultant
Foster Frable
Clevenger Frable Lavallee

Land Use Consultant
Elizabeth Peterson
Elizabeth Peterson Group, Inc.

Façade Restoration Consultant
Richard Koenigsberg
Koenigsberg Engineering, P.C.