“Ziggurat” auction in Laguna Niguel to start bids at $70M

Brutalist-style federal building on 87 acres must be preserved, guidelines say

William Pereira and the Chet Holifield Federal Building at 24000 Avila Road (Getty)
William Pereira and the Chet Holifield Federal Building at 24000 Avila Road (Getty)

A federal building in Laguna Niguel known as the “Ziggurat” for resembling an ancient Mesoptamian stepped pyramid will soon hit the auction block. The starting bid is $70 million.

The General Services Administration will start a public auction on March 7 for the 87-acre site of the Chet Holifield Federal Building at 24000 Avila Road, the Orange County Register reported.

The catch: The buyer must create a “preservation easement” for 26 acres that includes the terraced building, two guard stations, a driveway and 4,800 parking slots. In short, the 51-year-old building must be preserved.

Uncle Sam has determined the Brutalistic-style, seven-story building designed by William Pereira has historic importance in its resemblance to “the ancient ziggurats.”

Chet Holifield Federal Building at 24000 Avila Road (Getty)

Chet Holifield Federal Building at 24000 Avila Road (Getty)

“The Chet Holifield Federal Building’s style is extremely rare,” according to a GSA report on its landmark eligibility. “Locally there are no other buildings of this type in the city of Laguna Niguel. The style is also rare statewide and nationally with only two modern ziggurat-style buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places.”

Pereira, who died in 1985, designed hundreds of Modernist projects, including the “Theme Building” at Los Angeles International Airport, CBS Television City in Fairfax, the USC master plan in Exposition Park, the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco and the Disneyland Hotel.

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He designed the master plan for the city of Irvine and the UC Irvine campus.

Pereira also gained fame in the 1960s for designing futuristic offices and production spaces for Southern California’s aerospace industry. He designed the Ford Aerospace headquarters in Newport Beach, replaced with housing in the 1990s, according to the Register.

The 1 million-square-foot Ziggurat was supposed to be, at the time of construction, the nation’s largest manufacturing site, as well as corporate offices. “The building is characterized by its horizontal massing, ziggurat form, sloped walls and textured precast concrete cladding,” according to the federal report.

Its original owner, defense contractor North American Aviation (later Rockwell International), began construction in 1968 in what was then a rural, lightly populated area. Ziggurat was completed in 1971 in response to Cold War aerospace demand.
But it was never used by Rockwell following federal defense cuts.

The building stayed vacant until 1974 when it became federal offices after a swap with Rockwell for government defense plants in Los Angeles. Local federal offices slowly relocated to what became known as the Chet Holifield Federal Building.
The building is in bad shape, according to the Register. The federal review called Ziggurat a “large but obsolete building” … with “substantial repair and building safety requirements.”

— Dana Bartholomew

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