Feds put “ziggurat building” back on auction block in Laguna Niguel 

Minus mandate to preserve Brutalist office building, early bids jump to $125M 

Feds put put 1M sf Ziggurat building back on the auction block in Laguna Niguel
Architect William Pereira with Chet Holifield Federal Building (Los Angeles Times, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons, Carol M. Highsmith, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, Getty)

Uncle Sam is once again putting the Brutalist office pyramid known as the Ziggurat up for auction in Laguna Niguel, this time without a requirement to preserve it.

The General Services Administration said it would accept bids starting at $70 million for the seven-story, 1 million-square-foot Chet Holifield Federal Building at 24000 Avila Road, the Orange County Register reported.

The bidding opened at midday Monday and closes at 9 a.m. July 31. Any broker who brings the highest bidder will receive a finder’s fee.

By late afternoon on Wednesday, the highest bid was more than $125 million.

“We’re excited about potentially developing the property and having a successful bidder,” Laguna Niguel City Manager Tammy LeTourneau told the Register, adding that the City Council would work with a new developer on a design proposal.

The federal government has tried for years to sell the 53-year-old concrete building designed by William Pereira that resembles a Ziggurat, an ancient stepped pyramid in Mesopotamia. 

The federal agency tried to sell the building at auction in late 2022, with a starting price of $70 million. However, by its close in April of last year, no bidders stepped up for the auction.

The auction rules stipulated that any buyer would have had to create a “preservation easement” for 26 acres that included the terraced building, two guard stations, a driveway and 4,800 parking slots.There was also a mandate to lease a portion back to the federal government.

Those conditions are no longer required as part of the deal, “so a purchaser may consider a wider range of redevelopment options in working with the local community and stakeholders,” Mary Simms, a spokeswoman for GSA, told the Register.

Ryan Harman, a broker with Lee & Associates Irvine, said the removal of the stipulations is “huge.”

“If you don’t have to preserve that structure, you can raze it and start fresh,” Harman told the Register. “And you don’t have to lease back to the government. That has opened the gate to take this site seriously.”

Harman also pointed to a study by the Urban Land Institute last year that recommended what the City of Laguna Niguel should do with the 91-acre property, such as accommodating between 2,000 and 4,000 homes, with a density of 60 to 80 units per acre. 

“I think they’ll have bids north of $100 [million] to $130 million,” Harman said.

The Brutalistic building, completed in 1971 for North American Aviation, has historic importance in its resemblance to “the ancient ziggurats,” according to the GSA.

For decades, the building housed thousands of federal employees from up to 12 agencies, including about 2,000 from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. For the past several years, it has only been about half full, according to the Register.

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.

He also designed the master plan for the city of Irvine and the UC Irvine campus, as well as a Ford Aerospace headquarters in Newport Beach later replaced by homes.

— Dana Bartholomew

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