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Wednesday, Oct 4, 2023

Fast-Track Designer

From the heart of Tarzana, architect James Heimler has designed hundreds of buildings for clients in the Valley region, from schools to offices, apartments, franchise outlets and even a commercial kitchen. His latest projects include a modern apartment building at 13558 Moorpark St. in Sherman Oaks, a 24-Fitness on Ventura Boulevard in Encino and a remodel of Bruce’s Catering & Events in Panorama City. The last one, for a catering firm specialized in serving the motion picture industry, features a massive 23,000-square-foot kitchen. When it comes to assignments, Heimler enjoys maintaining a diverse and eclectic slate. “If I do the same thing over and over again, it gets boring,” Heimler told the Business Journal. Few design firms can match James Heimler Architect Inc. in terms of productivity. With the help of firm partner Arnie Levine, Heimler manages some 80 to 100 projects annually, ranging from entire buildings to build-outs, in-fills, interiors and additions. His work covers every quadrant – commercial, institutional, residential and multifamily. “I guess you’d consider me his chief of staff,” said Levine, who has worked with Heimler since 1994. “I’m more of the nuts-and-bolts kind of guy managing dealing with the clients, the government agencies, whatever it takes to get the project moving.” Levine said Heimler excels at problem-solving. “We’ve always considered the firm service-oriented to make sure the clients get what they want, as opposed to doing great architecture that we want,” he said. “He’s very good at being able to come up with a design very quickly.” NBCUniversal to McDonald’s To sustain the output, the firm maintains relationships with repeat clients in the construction, development and entertainment industry. For one frequent client, Comcast’s NBCUniversal in Universal City, Heimler’s firm worked with fountain designer WET on the Universal City Walk Fountain Replacement. “Our team was responsible for all the engineering, architectural design features, project coordination, permitting and assistance as requested during the construction process,” Heimler wrote on his company’s website. Heimler’s firm has also designed the interiors of Coffee Source in Studio City, worked on the equestrian center at Pierce College in Woodland Hills and pulled off a renovation of the Sherman Oaks location of upscale chain Café Bizou. The firm also designs everyday staples such as McDonald’s and Trader Joe’s. For the latter, the firm has created 110 of the supermarket chain’s stores throughout Southern California, including the location on Riverside Drive in Woodland Hills. Work on the stores for Pasadena-headquartered Trader Joe’s has ranged from improvements of small portions of markets to entire new 14,000-square-foot locations. For more than 20 years, Heimler has had a working relationship with client Los Angeles Unified School District, which has led to more than 150 projects, such as at Reseda High School’s 25,600-square-foot upgrade of a school auditorium, including new sound systems, ticket and concession booths. “Upon investigation, it was determined that the existing auditorium floor in the seating area was sloping at angles greater than allowed by accessibility requirements,” Heimler wrote about the assignment on his firm’s website. “We worked with the DSA (Division of the State Architect) to achieve the proper seating for the disabled without tearing out large areas of the floor. The scope of work also included upgrades to all restrooms with path of travel improvements for disabled access.” Heimler also created Canoga Park High’s Tech Career Academy. Operating on a budget of $1.65 million, Heimler’s firm did a remodel for the Building Assets for the Integrated Technology academy, which involved installing blue and green screens and audio-visual equipment for filming and recording. It was the firm’s third project on this LAUSD campus alone. Commercial and institutional The Scotty Building in Sherman Oaks, which came Heimler’s way right after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, proved to be nearly a ground-up reconstruction for the five-story, 1965-erected office building. “We saved the building from being put out of commission,” Heimler said of the project. “I call it a remodel.” In the area of hospitality, Heimler has worked on courtyards and driveways for Westlake Village Inn Porte Cochere and Westlake Village Inn Mediterranean. Most significantly, the Heimler firm handled the high-profile 2014 renovation of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. Heimler’s firm has also created structures for churches and synagogues, from Shepherd of the Hills in Porter Ranch to the 3.8 acres of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Winnetka, which entailed a master plan to allow for phased growth of the assembly areas, administrative offices, multi-purpose gymnasium, parking lots, offices, washrooms and classroom wing. “We coordinated the design and schematic plans with the owner and neighbors to reduce related inconvenience,” said Heimler, who also created a prefabricated membrane-type structure for Temple Beth Haverim in Agoura Hills. With the 2008 Shepherd of the Hills project, the 600-seat overflow sanctuary “was designed to be a full high-end recording studio for the church,” Heimler said. “The sanctuary space was also designed as a mixed-use space to allow for NBA-quality basketball with folding bleachers, hoops and scoreboard.” The project’s biggest hurdle, however, was acquiring a conditional use permit. “This required a number of hearings,” Heimler wrote. “In the end, we were allowed to use the existing conditional use permit tied to the hillside height requirements with only an amended (permit). We proved that we fell under the original conditional use permit by right because of the looseness of the original approval. This was not an easy task. (It) required a lot of hand holding (with neighborhood councils and city agencies).” Almost as colorful as Heimler’s completed projects are the near-misses, such as an aborted project at the Calabasas site featured in the 1970s ABC show “Fantasy Island”; and the 133-unit housing project Maclay Street MF Building in Sylmar, which won Heimler a design award — even though the project never came into full fruition. Green streak For the last 30 years, Heimler’s firm has occupied space on Ventura Boulevard in Tarzana; he’s currently at 19510 Ventura Blvd., where his firm employs 16, down from 30 employees at its height. The payroll includes Heimler’s wife Cindy, who works at the firm as controller and secretary. Heimler said that if the volume of projects is a measure, his firm only fully recovered from the Great Recession in the spring of last year, when his employee count swelled from six to 16. But he is quick to add that his firm has never truly struggled, sustaining itself during the economic fallout of 2008 thanks to work from LAUSD. When feasible, Heimler pushes for sustainable architecture, employing such touches as green framing systems and clerestory windows to provide natural light. Heimler’s own home – which he designed – is a green-certified Woodland Hills residence which has been the subject of media coverage. On his firm’s website, Heimler maintains a blog, musing on everything from high-density housing along transit routes to architectural aesthetics and environmental issues. “He’ll always recommend putting in green items into projects,” LeVine said. “It’s never snuck in; it’s always letting the client know it’d be good for the project.”

Michael Aushenker
Michael Aushenker
A graduate of Cornell University, Michael covers commercial real estate for the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. Prior to the Business Journal, Michael covered the community and entertainment beats as a staff writer for various newspapers, including the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, The Palisadian-Post, The Argonaut and Acorn Newspapers. He has also freelanced for the Santa Barbara Independent, VC Reporter, Malibu Times and Los Feliz Ledger.

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