A Forgotten Insurance Building Finds New Life as a Humming High School

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By Kelly Vencill Sanchez / Published by Dwell
Following a sensitive renovation at the hands of DSH // architecture, the Larchmont Charter High School in Los Angeles settles into a midcentury gem originally designed by Welton Becket.

Architect Welton Becket left an indelible mark on postwar Los Angeles, designing spaces like the Capitol Records Building, in 1956, and the Music Center, in 1964. While those structures remain beloved parts of the cityscape, time wasn’t as kind to his 1955 New York Life Insurance Company Building, which saw years of alterations and less-than-faithful additions. Charged with transforming it into a campus for Larchmont Charter High School, architects Chava Danielson and Eric Haas of DSH // architecture looked beyond later renovations to embrace the structure’s key features: a courtyard, a curtain wall with operable windows, and a louvered brise-soleil. 

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Contemporary on the inside and modernist on the outside, this school stands as a model of successful and sensitive adaptive reuse.

"There’s a great deal of smart planning and environmental sensitivity to this building, which is exactly what contemporary architects are talking about," Haas says. "There isn’t a place where you don’t have a sense of air, light, and views of the city," Danielson adds. After taking the edifice down to its studs, the duo reorganized the interior to optimize classroom space and circulation, relocating a corridor and salvaging terrazzo tile and walnut paneling along the way. The place now hums with youthful energy. Notes Haas, "The kids are proud of it; they’re overjoyed to be there."  

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DSH // architecture carried out an adaptive reuse project, which preserved key elements of Welton Becket’s original design, but modified the interior.

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“The circulation areas are more than just ways to get places, but spaces you actually want to be and hang out in,” says Eric Hass, a principal at DSH.

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Lime wall insets enliven the school's hallways.

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The Larchmont Charter High School's facade hasn't changed much since Becket designed it.