Berkshire vice chair’s family moves to demolish landmark building

Billionaire Charlie Munger, who owned the Brentwood office property for decades, tried and failed to build a mixed-use complex there

Nov.November 07, 2019 02:09 PM
William Harold Borthwick, Charlie Munger, and the Barry Building (Credit: Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy)
William Harold Borthwick, Charlie Munger, and the Barry Building (Credit: Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy)

For years, Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman and billionaire Charles Munger tried to demolish a landmark Brentwood building in order to replace it with a 73,000-square-foot mixed-use complex.

But preservationists and neighbors opposed Munger’s plan to redevelop the 26,500-square-foot parcel and some surrounding vacant parcels. In 2013, he withdrew his plan. Eventually, a trust Munger controlled transferred ownership of 11973 San Vicente Boulevard to a relative.

Now, the family again wants to take a wrecking ball to the property, and this week began the formal environmental impact review that is required. They separately filed for a demolition permit in September.

The property now belongs to 11973 San Vicente LLC, an entity controlled by William Harold Borthwick. He is a member of the family and an attorney at the Downtown law firm Hill, Farrer & Burrill LLP.

Known as the Barry Building, it has been in Munger’s family since it was built in 1951, according to Andrea Warren, a land use attorney with Alston & Bird, which is representing the family.

Munger, the 95-year-old vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, long sought to demolish the building but consistently met fierce opposition.

There are no plans to build a new structure or sell the parcel, Warren said.

She added that the owners were faced with a choice: tear down the building or undertake a costly earthquake retrofit to bring the building up to code. That work would “pull out the thread” on other work needed to modernize the building, including asbestos abatement, electrical rewiring, and new plumbing, she said.

The two-story building is soft-story construction, meaning the ground floor is vulnerable to failure in the event of an earthquake. Those kinds of buildings across Los Angeles collapsed during the 1994 Northridge Earthquake and in 2015, the city required owners to retrofit all 12,865 soft-story buildings in the city. Thousands of buildings still require the retrofit.

The building has been vacant since 2016 when Munger moved out all tenants citing the its seismic vulnerability.

The city designated the Barry Building a Historic-Cultural Landmark in 2007. It was designed by architect Milton Caughey because of its mid-century architecture, particularly its unique center courtyard design.

The review process to demolish a Historic-Cultural Monument requires public hearings and allows the Cultural Heritage Commission to suggest alternative plans. Only a handful of the roughly 1,000 Historic Cultural Monument-designated buildings in the city have been demolished over the years.

In a statement, the L.A. Conservancy said it would “advocate for a preservation-based solution.”

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