221-225 Santa Monica Boulevard - Santa Monica, California
Gross surface area: 54,631 sqft
Floors: 12 above ground
Year of construction: 1929
Architect: Albert R. Walker, Percy A. Eisen
Designated use: offices – commercial
Year of purchase: 2013
Built between 1929 and 1930 in the Art Déco style, the Clock Tower Building is the highest skyscraper in Santa Monica, on the Californian coast. For around 40 years it held the record for the tallest building in the skyline. The skyscraper was commissioned by the Bay Cities Guaranty and Loan Association from the Californian architects Albert Raymond Walker (1881–1958) and Percy Augustin Eisen (1885–1946), whose firm, Walker & Eisen, with a staff of more than 50 draughtsmen, was the leading practice in California in the 1920s. Among its many completed projects, the firm had recently designed the extraordinary skyscraper in the Romanesque Revival style known as the Fine Arts Building in Los Angeles (now owned by Sorgente Group), one of the most representative buildings in the city. The Clock Tower Building, not far from the beaches washed by the ocean and with an unobstructed view of the nearby mountains, occupies a rectangular lot located at 225 Santa Monica Boulevard, in the heart of the city’s business district and close to the main thoroughfare Third Street Promenade. The ground floor of the skyscraper, in the form of a compact parallelepipedal block surmounted by a tower, is occupied by retail spaces, and the upper storeys by offices. The seemingly monolithic image of the building is actually enlivened by slight volumetric shifts that divide the high-rise into three sections: a wide basement level characterized by the large entrances to the retail areas; a robust second block, slightly tapered towards the top, that houses offices from the second floor to the twelfth, and lastly a square stepped tower which, placed off-centre with respect to the base, rises skywards and has clock-faces on each side – hence the name Clock Tower. The skyscraper, with a load-bearing structure in reinforced concrete and steel, is faced with slabs of limpid, pure white stone that both absorbs and reflects the bright light and the clear Californian sky. The snow-white slabs of the cladding, in which smooth surfaces are alternated with fluting and decorations in relief, are skilfully composed to create the intricate fabric of the precious facing. The geometries of the skyscraper evoke the forms of ancient architecture, the juxtaposed volumetric blocks recall the simple lines and austere geometries of Egyptian religious constructions. The large masses and wall decorations of the skyscraper are reminiscent of pre-Columbian architecture, the pure geometries of the stepped temples and the pureness of form found in Mayan and Inca building. Each of the four imposing façades presents a different design: the main façade overlooking the ocean is cadenced by impressive pilasters that stand out slightly from the wall and divide the front of the building into an equal number of sections where pairs of windows are alternated with orders of narrower pilasters. By contrast, the wall on the opposite façade has many windows on either side but is almost completely solid in the off-centre section from which rises the vertical block of the tower – the most original and representative element of the high-rise. The twelve office floors are crowned by a crenellated border, where the most ornate decorations on the cladding are concentrated: lanceolate leaves and geometric zigzag patterns in relief combined with dense fluting, all strictly monochromatic. The tapered, stepped tower on the top is also faced with white marble slabs, which form a zigzag pattern in relief on the sides and around the edge of the summit; it is visible from everywhere in the city and rendered instantly recognizable due to its rectangular clock with four black dials (one on each side of the tower), and whose shining hands mark the exact time and are an urban signal in the city. Inside the building the offices are characterized by a rationalized distribution of the space cadenced by the two rows of aligned pillars that divide the rectangular plan into three bays. The service areas and vertical connections are all located along the secondary façade, behind the enigmatic, completely solid part of the external wall. Due to its height, its imposing volumes and the immediate recognizability of its architecture, the Clock Tower Building has possessed a powerful urban identity since it was built. This makes it a true landmark that acts as a compass and guide in the boundless Santa Monica cityscape.